An open call for KOSUGI KICKS!

It is THE single most recognizable icon of the 80s ninja craze, practically a logo for the ninja boom in and of itself – and one that has endured for decades.

It is THE KOSUGI KICK!

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Shot in a Hollywood studio for the Enter the Ninja press kit, the double wakizashi-waving jumping kicking Sho Kosugi was painted over for the film’s movie poster, ad slicks and subsequent home video packaging. The only other official use of the shot was years later in movie industry trade papers during Canon’s interest-stirring efforts for American Ninja (both the recycled Kosugi Kick and a composited shot of Chuck Norris in the Ninja III: The Domination green ninja suit were used in such ads before the project was rebooted into the Michael Dudikoff vehicle).

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Note the subtle differences between the various ‘takes’ of the famed pose. The retail poster had a more upright quality with the head turned more to the side, while the airbrush movie poster art had compositional corrections in the arms and swords.

But the image had serious legs outside official usage. If photographers could realistically collect royalties every time their image was duplicated or directly lifted, whoever shot Sho that fateful day would be a billionaire.

Alas…

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From the original press kit. Note the lack of photographer credit or studio copyright.

The Kosugi Kick wasn’t an original idea, rather a carefully calculated effort to evoke the familiar image of Bruce Lee’s famous jump kick, primarily from a press still of The Big Boss, but with their own new stamp. This would be OUR jump kick.

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They took the all-too-familiar pose (an icon and virtual logo of 70s kung-fu grindhouse itself), added the soon-to-be-famous black suit and a couple of swords (and note they’re off-the-shelf samurai swords, not the “ninja-to” that would quickly follow as a merchandise juggernaut) and declared THIS IS THE 80s, LET THE NINJA DECADE BEGIN!

And so it did.

The Kosugi Kick was quickly cannibalized by video game companies for packaging and arcade marquees, cheapie toy manufacturers and myriad knock-off merch pirates, book and magazine cover illustrators, and so many more one can hardly keep track.

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But we want to! Or at least try…

Thus, our open call for help from you, our fan base who love this stuff as much as we do, but hopefully with more free time on your hands.

Below is the tip of the iceberg, images we’ve casually collected over the years in various categories. We want more! Send us whatever you’ve got that has a knock-off Kosugi Kick at the below link, we’ll follow this post up at some point with a major collection.

Email your Kosugi Kicks to Vintage Ninja

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Was the above book from the 1960s Japanese craze a prehistoric ancestor of our beloved Kosugi Kick? And just how many issues of the 80′s Ninja magazine featured a rip-off of the famed photo? Help us find out!

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Kosugi Kicks come in all shapes and sizes, with varying degrees of chicanery. The pose is in Public Domain, so manufacturers re-render the pose in their own art style at will. But, you do also see some outright theft of the original Kosugi classic.

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We love seeing it in posters for other movies. Again it’s typically a knock-off illustration or painting, but sometimes they’ll use the real deal, like the Mexican lobby card for a kung-fu flick seen above. The fact that the home video packaging for one of the Master Ninja tapes (below) had to knock it off is a real head scratcher…

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Kosugi Kicks may date back to 1981, but they are still showing up in 2014.

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They take the form of delicate porcelain…

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…articulated action figures…

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…and not-so-articulated figures.

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Sometimes the pose varies, with a more upright stance and a bent leg here and there, but c’mon, we all know the inspiration for these images.

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Shower us with your findings folks!

Once again, that email address is unknownpubs@yahoo.com

 

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Posted in Art and Advertising September 28, 2014 at 2:38 am.

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My day at the Marxist ninja cartoon marathon…

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Dateline: Hollywood, CA — 9-14-2014

It’s not often I talk ninja cartoons with college educators, but today was the exception.

Jonathan M. Hall, a Japanese film scholar from Pomona College screened three episodes of Shirato Sanpei shinobi TV treasures at the storied Egyptian Theatre in Hollywood as part of the LA Eigafest film festival. Interesting crowd primarily of academics, and me as probably the biggest ninja nerd in the room. Come to think of it, I’m usually the biggest ninja nerd in the room regardless of circumstance.

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Anyway, there I am seeing two episodes of Sasuke (1968) and one of Kamui the Lone Ninja (Ninpo Kamui Gaiden, 1969) on the big screen. One of the primary motivations behind this site’s creation was frustration of being a product of the 80s American ninja craze and never having the superior Japanese source media of decades previous available. Now, I was seeing these anime classics in a bigger and better format than any TV-glued kid in Japan ever did.

In a pre-show lecture, and post-show Q&A, Hall discussed the unique background of Sanpei – trying to live up to his father, a fine arts painter raising a son in tumultuous waters of left-wing politics and Marxist movements. (take a minute to Google some of this socio-political stuff if you want, I had to…) Somehow Sanpei comes out of it doing kamishibai performance art then manga and anime, replacing the marching proletariat with masked ninja.

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SASUKE in manga form and the DVD box set we’ll never see over here because life sucks…

Sanpei never looked to samurai or large scale feudal-era military action as a source for content of his epics, but rather redefined ninja as warriors of uncanny skill that despite living a brutal, lonely and disenfranchised existence became what millions of Japanese youth idolized. His shinobi were decidedly of the lower-class, victims of the system around them and oppression from a privileged minority above, but they had the tremendous strength and resolve to live-on as outcasts and loners — rebels even to their own kind and hunted for it. They were fantasy refuge for young kids struggling through school and office workers stuck in cubicle farms.

It also didn’t hurt that they had cool-ass exotic weapons and espionage gadgets right at the same time the James Bond movies went super-nova in popularity.

But it seems to me Sanpei was somewhat above the 60′s Japanese ninja boom. Sure, it can be argued that his Ninja Bugeicho manga, starting in the late 50s, was the compass of both editorial theme and a standard of excellence for a lot of the comics, cartoons and movies that would follow en masse, and yes, the offspring of that series — Sasuke and Kamui — were hugely popular and influential. But I think he would have created those properties regardless of whether ninja were popular mass media or not. Hall pointed out that the legendary GARO magazine that originally carried the Kamui manga, had a circulation of merely 80,000 per month, tiny compared to the more popular juggernauts that sold 4-5 million per week. GARO was a publication by artists and intellectuals for artists and intellectuals, and if the ninja explosion had never occurred he probably would have found an outlet in those niche-market pages anyway.

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But ninja did explode in pop culture, and four-plus decades later are a household word on every continent, have been redefined by American exploitation cinema, again by animated turtles and then again by video games and so on and so on. Hall’s presentation had a slant of exposing the political roots of fictional ninja to audiences more familiar with Mortal Kombat and Naruto, and indeed most of those on hand were seeing the 60s craze media for the first time. There was some surprise in the audience at how layered and emotionally complex even a kids cartoon could be, and universal shock at how violent and brutal they routinely were. One of the Sasuke episodes ends with a pack of copy-cat children trying to duplicate the ninja kid’s explosive tricks, and blowing themselves to death in the process, leaving a weeping father to bury the charred corpses.

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You don’t have to go far to find R-rating-level violence and gore in KAMUI… this sequence is from the opening credits.

That very quality is likely what kept these series off American shelves in the 1980s, when otherwise, anything ninja was squeezed for every dollar it could yield. Both series were rife with children wielding bladed weapons, innocents being killed, bursts of hyper-violence and despondent anti-heroes walking off into the gloom of night knowing tomorrow would only bring more of the same. While Japan’s parents were evidently fine with their kids watching such after school, there’s no way that stuff was going to play in the States.

However, chunks of Sasuke and Kamui were actually licensed for release outside of Japan in the 80s. English dubs found limited priced-to-sell VHS releases under names like Kiko-Boy Ninja and Search for the Ninja, and episodes were included with Remco’s Secret of the Ninja action figure play sets. The pictures were rather wretched quality then, haven’t aged well, and will likely never see the light of day in any sort of remastered official release.

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Back-of-box art from a low-resnt VHS release of KIKO-BOY NINJA, recorded on EP on on elf those featherweight bargain bin tapes, so yeah, NOT the best quality. And if you’re under 30 you have no clue what I’m talking about here…

The entire run of Kamui was syndicated to TV in Mexico and South America under the title Kamui: El Ninja Desertór, and I believe both series saw the light of day in Italy as well. Then of course VIZ released The Legend of Kamui, albeit at the end of the craze. Most of us back then didn’t even realize it was a ninja comic based on the lack of black hooded assassins on the covers, plus tastes were changing. It was a good thing too late to be the ‘super-ego’ the craze had needed all along.

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SO… some four decades later there we are in a packed theater, marveling at the brilliance that was Shirato Sanpei. The themes of the lone warrior fighting the good fight despite the societal machinery around him resound just as strongly. I mean, who hasn’t idly fantasized about just saying F-this to the gigantic soul-grinding world we know we can’t change, packing a sack of shuriken and living out in the woods with your pet falcon? We all have, right? Right?

Keith J. Rainville

This 1:6 figure of the manga KAMUI is likely the closest I'm getting to the Lone Ninja lifestyle.

I’d live the minimalist lone-ninja-in-the-woods lifestyle, but then I couldn’t buy stuff like this vintage 1:6 manga KAMUI figure, so nope…

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Posted in Film and TV September 17, 2014 at 1:44 am.

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Some crazy rare vinyl on eBay right now!

You people are lucky as hell that I’m kinda broke right now, cuz for once I’m actually sharing some gems I stumbled across on Evil-Bay…

Check out this sofubi of what the seller describes as a “monster ninja” (I read this as “villain”) from Gekko Kamen:

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He’s like a giant version of Savitar!!!

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I have only a passing familiarity with ‘Moonlight Mask’ — who goes back to live action in the late 1950s, the cusp of the 60′s ninja boom in Japan. This 10″ vinyl ninja dude, however, is from the early 1970s anime reboot. But man is the sofubi ever on-model to classic TV ninja from the decade previous. A lot more so than the trippy anime that inspired it.

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Here’s a shot of the line-up via Skullbrain.org. Derivative designs harkening to Devilman, Kikaida, etc., but hey, monster in fedora for the WIN!

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Bid on him here.

Then, there’s this guy:

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I know, right?!?!?!?  That sword…

This manga version of Sarutobi Sasuke currently resides somewhere in Saudi Arabia.

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Bid on him here.

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This is another series I’m not especially familiar with, however I do have a beater VHS of the dubbed version Ninja: The Wonder Boy in the to-be-watched stack.

Happy hunting kids, enjoy my period of eBay inactivity while you can…

 

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Posted in Toys and Statues September 7, 2014 at 12:59 am.

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Can anyone ID these figures?

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Scored these tiny (they’re less than an inch tall) figures some time ago, still unable to ID them so we’re putting this out there, asking for help.

No markings whatsoever, so they might be out of a capsule machine? Or they’re part of a playset, being so tiny. I suspect these are knock-offs of a better-molded original, too.

They have articulation at the heads, shoulders and hips. Some have open hands for accessories but man, they’d be tiny…

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This l’il ninja is why we picked up the lot. The head sculpt is reminiscent of the second version of Storm Shadow from GI Joe.

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This sort of skull-headed robo-skelleton dude is my fave of the bunch. Who cares about a scuba diver or pilot when you’ve got a Deathlok-esque cyborg on your team…

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Any help would be appreciated y’all. Many thanks!

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Posted in Toys and Statues August 25, 2014 at 11:14 pm.

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The Art of Deception

In the face of the death of physical media, DVD and Bluray packaging continues to be, let’s say… inventive… in its methods of persuasion.

Hey, deception was a legit ninja skill, right?

As ninja movie fans we’ve all been duped by shinobi-fied covers to VHS or DVDs of vanilla kung-fu fare shamelessly retitled “Ninja-something-or-other.” These, however, step the game up a notch — one ninja movie camouflaged as another!

Note this new label for the Scott Adkins vehicle NINJA, deliberately biting on the much wider known NINJA ASSASSIN.

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Who can keep either of these 2009 films straight anyway, just buy them both!

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It’s one thing for an indie movie to “align itself for marketing shorthand” to another bigger film coming out at the same time, but THIS is another story altogether:

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This recent overseas label for the Hiroyuki Sanada / Conan Lee slugfest NINJA IN THE DRAGON’S DEN strives for recognition and relevance from the video gamers of the world by shamelessly crowbarring-in a stolen rendering of Sega’s Kage-Maru from Virtua Fighter.

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But they re-color him black so he looks more like Ryu Hayabusa from Ninja Gaiden.

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Us non-gamers will also recognize Ryu Hayabusa from his hit indie film Alien vs. Ninja!

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Oh, wait… no, that’s right… NONE OF THESE CHARACTERS ARE IN ANY OF THESE MOVIES!

Laughable as this chicanery, these hijinks, might be, I do love the idea of Virtua Fighter (and even Matrix) fanatics possibly getting duped, then being subjected to some old-school ninja fare that was… ewww, shot on FILM… that those of us longer in the tooth would consider superior.

If only a small percentage of those victims stick with it, maybe some new fans of old-school ninja media are born?

HA HA HAHAHAHAH HA! Made myself laugh… Like anyone under 40 is going to buy physical media!!!

In fact, ignore this whole post.

I’m going to go fool around with my abacus and listen to player piano reels.

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Posted in Art and Advertising and Film and TV August 8, 2014 at 12:06 am.

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Some ARASHI manga goodness…

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I may just love the illustrated version of Henshin Ninja Arashi more than the much better known tokusatsu version…

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Kamen Rider and Cybog 009 creator Shotaro Ishinomori‘s manga slightly preceded the Toei TV show, although what would have had more production lead time, a TV series or a manga publication? Bit of a chicken-and-egg deal there…

Either way, the B&W page yielded a much darker and more savage transforming hero, with creatures more akin to yukio-e demons than sponge-suited monsters-of-the-week. 

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I really love his use of silhouettes with the outré hero design, too. He’s often as monstrous as the beasts he’s protecting us from.

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Everything in the manga was just one or two steps more demented and spooky…

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Violent as hell, too!

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Such awesome stuff. And there a half-million scanlations of this classic out there too, so go find it! Well worth your time…

…as are several past features we’ve done on Henshin Ninja Arashi!

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Posted in Books and Manga July 22, 2014 at 10:43 pm.

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An obscure old gem back in print!

If you’re a dinosaur like me, then you still dig physical media and package art when it comes to your video library. To that end, I’m a regular customer of the Warner Archive DVD-On Demand service. Tons of great titles, especially if you’re into 60s and 70s made-for-TV sci-fi and horror fare. Not so much by way of martial arts films or classic Japanese cinemathough, save for this nugget which was just made available:

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The 1959 animated feature Shonen Sarutobi Sasuke was given an English treatment by MGM and released a year later as Magic Boy. There may have been some low-rent video tape releases of this, but I believe this is the first time a clean, crisp digitally mastered version has seen the light of day, and in its original 16×9 aspect ratio, too.

From the Warner press release:

MAGIC BOY (1960) Magically-gifted boy Sasuke lives in peace, deep in the forest with his animal pals and his elder sister, Oyu. After their forest sanctuary is violated by a demon witch who devours one of Sasuke’s animal companions, he vows vengeance. Leaving the forest, the boy sets out to master his magical gifts by making a pilgrimage to the home of the wizard, Hakuunsai. While Sasuke learns the ways of magic, Yakusha, the demon witch, terrorizes the countryside, and Sasuke works to complete his training in time. Magic Boy aka Shunen Sarutobi Sasuke is a classic piece of anime history — the first full-length animated feature produced in Japan to reach the shores of the United States. With much of the original storyline left untouched and centering on pop culture staple hero Sarutobi Sasuke (think Bomba the Jungle Boy crossed with a ninja), Magic Boy is an enchanting precursor to decades of imported Japanese ani-magic. 16×9 Widescreen 

I’m sold!

Order MAGIC BOY online here.

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Posted in Film and TV July 12, 2014 at 12:20 am.

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VN’s own 4th of July Tradition…

…we take a look back at AMERICAN NINJA!

There’s no better way to celebrate the birth of the USA than by looking back at a low-budget exploitation flick based on a Japanese martial art, produced by Israelis, shot in the Philippines.

READ ON, FELLOW PATRIOTS:

The seminal film reviewed by us here.

Who was the real “American Ninja” - Dudikoff, Kosugi or Norris???

Read Matt Wallace‘s take on American Ninja 5 here.

See the amazing African version of the movie poster here.

And check out some licensed merchandise for kids here.

Happy 4th!

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Posted in Film and TV July 4, 2014 at 1:10 am.

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Ninja vinyl

No, not a vinyl toy post… this is one for you record collectors.

Spotted on eBay recently:

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(Click for full-size versions)

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I know nothing of this “The Ninja” band, and I’m not an 80s hair metal guy by any stretch of the imagination, but my gaaaawd is this not the beast thing you’ve ever seen? Who new simple mail-order ninja hoods could contain such voluminous hair?!?!? Evidently, this wasn’t the only mid-80s band named “Ninja” either.

Meanwhile, a very nice reader sent me these shots of the 45rpm single released in Japan of “The Legend of the Ninja” — the disco-synth-jazz fusion theme song to Ninja in the Dragon’s Den. This cut truly is the apex of music in the civilized history of mankind.

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With lyrics even!!!

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And here’s about the cleanest MP3 of this gem I’ve ever heard, with the jazzy b-side “Silver Moon” as well.

Bless you, wherever you are now, Alfredo Chen and your wonderful singers…

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If only THE NINJA: Warrïors of Rock had done a hair-metal cover of “Legend of the Ninja”…

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Posted in Collectibles June 29, 2014 at 10:34 am.

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FIVE YEARS!!!

Wow… the fifth anniversary of this site.

You’ll notice some minor cosmetic and navigation updates for the first time in forever. I suppose some sort of profound editorial is in order, but I’d rather just thank everyone who’s plugged this site and contributed, with much appreciation to the folks on tumblr who actually credit where they found their images. More than anything though, I’d like to welcome you new readers.

I’m not a web guy by any stretch, so this site is built on a simple WordPress blog engine, which makes finding past material a bit tedious (although who doesn’t love endlessly scrolling through years and years of great ninja stuff?), so I’ll center this anniversary article on some of the best pieces we’ve published in the past that you definitely shouldn’t miss. Yes, there’s plenty of great pieces from the last five years – some more wordy than the below, some with more pics, some more profound… but these encapsulate the spirit of the site perfectly I think.

So here’s A HALF-DECADE OF ESSENTIAL VINTAGE NINJA ARTICLES:

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1.) THE WEEK-LONG VISUAL BREAKDOWN OF SAMURAI SPY

VN started during an explosion of DVDr trading in fan-subbed Japanese films, granting us access for the first time to decades of old ninja movies that never made it to our shores during the 80s craze. Much of the early tone of this site was Holy crap, we can finally see Mission: Iron Castle! As disc trading has largely become insiders sharing files within invite-only groups, or just YouTube link sharing on social media, a lot of that magic of discovery seems to be waning. That being said, I’ll probably never stop reviewing films via stills, old-school.

The absolute best job VN did of covering a movie this way was a multi-part series on Samurai Spy – a film that’s probably the pinnacle of artistic craft in the genre. Start at the prelude to the four-part series.

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2.) CASTLE OF OWLS WEEK AND BEYOND…

It’s my favorite ninja movie ever, it has a digital-era remake to compare the classic original to, and over the years we’ve scored multiple lots of antique press photos from this Ryutaro Otomo vehicle. There might not be a better visually and editorially represented film on this site. Start at the 2009 series CASTLE OF OWLS WEEK, and continue with a great photo follow-up here.

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3.) THE ‘NINJA-TO’ ARTICLES AND DEBATES

Three years back, Tim and I were looking at some newly offered high end “ninja swords” coming out of the superior boutique-style brands, which were consistent with trends we had seen in the wall-hanger crap sold in Chinatown smoke shops — the blades were now as long as any traditional samurai sword, the handles just as short, and the guards were still square but had shrunk down from the oversized ones made famous by Kosugi and ilk. Basically, there was now a definite version or style of the ninja-to for the 2000s.

These musings turned to actual digging — looking for the origin of the 80′s style ninja-to in mail order ads, and pouring through 60s Japanese films looking for the precursors. It all raised as many questions as answers, but we put together a pretty good look at the fabled weapon as historical artifact, movie prop and merchandise staple.

Here’s a quick-link to the entire series, and the user feedback is a good read, too.

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4.) THE CREDITS THAT LAUNCHED A CRAZE

As much as we love discovering older Japanese fare, this site is run by acolytes of the 80s American ninja craze. I’ve often credited the opening titles to Enter the Ninja as the actual birth moment of the 80s boom — five minutes of pure exotic weapons porn courtesy of Sho Kosugi. I spent a couple hours screen capping and collaging a stills-representation of that greatness, and it went pretty viral. Follow this up with more EtN love: a review of the movie, some foreign lobby cards,  and other publicity stills.

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5.) THE HOLY GRAIL OF NINJA STATUES

Most of the toys and statues you see on here are actually in the collection of myself or a select few other contributors. Being a decades-long ninja collector, there are treasures I have and others I never realistically hoped to possess. The Franklin Mint “Shadow Warrior” statue was one of these grails, a rare high-end collectible that completely embraced the look and feel of the exploitive Canon films of the era. These were too expensive for most of us when released, have increased in value since, and are fragile as hell to boot, so they aren’t getting any more plentiful to say the least. I had pretty much given up on ever having one, until scoring one in 2010 that was passed over by other buyers due to some damage (what I dubbed a ‘Yakuza wound’). I love how 80s this thing is (even if it was produced in 1990). Check out some other craze-era porcelain here and here, too.

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6.) THE EARLIEST NINJUTSU HATER?

Jay Gluck may just have been the first Westerner to write about ninjutsu, with a chapter on the emergence of modern shinobi schools in Japan in his 1962 book Zen Combat. It predates the first articles by Arthur Adams in Black Belt, and the publication of You Only Live Twice. It isn’t a cover feature during the boom, isn’t a lead piece designed to sell copies of anything, so it has a raw honesty. Maybe too raw — Gluck didn’t debunk ninja history, but he surely had no use for the 60s Japanese ninja boom nor any of the modern practitioners of what he called “dirty weapon” martial arts. This is an essential read and a little-known chapter of ninjutsu’s exposure in the West.

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7.) KANA — THE 4-COLOR FOREFATHER OF SNAKE-EYES AND STORM SHADOW

As much as we love Shirato Sanpei’s work and other legendary ninja manga, there are plenty of sites out there covering them already. VN is probably the only spot anywhere featuring indepth looks at long-forgotten pioneering works like GI Combat‘s KANA back-up stories. These nearly pre-craze stories got the drop on GI Joe‘s ninja characters by years, but have fallen into relative obscurity.

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8.) HOLOGRAM STICKER-PALOOZA

It’s no secret, I love cheap ninja crap from the 80s! Battery operated toys, plastic swords, vending machine prizes, lousy generic figures, and yes… these once ubiquitous, now super rare holographic stickers. With art crudely sketched from martial arts magazine mail order ads or stolen from video covers, few things are more of the time than these capsule machine decals. As soon as I posted these, they became kinda hot on eBay and are now nigh-impossible to score cheap. Sorry guys…

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9.) INTRODUCING SHINTARO AND TONBEI TO NON-AUSTRALIANS

One truly baffling and infuriating thing we were denied in the 80s up here was The Samurai (orig. Onmitsu Kenshin), a fully English-dubbed 10-season ninja-infused Japanese TV show that was literally bigger than The Beatles in Australia in the 1960s. Why was this broadcast or VHS-ready product not imported? WHY?!?!? Luckily, Siren Video in Oz made it available on DVD in the mid 2000s, and I had friends in the right places, so we ended up being THE portal for this major yet obscure chapter of ninja media history for those outside the land down under.

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 So what’s in store for the future?

Well, sadly, my time is going to be less free than ever but I’m committed to at least two posts per month. I’d love to write and design some sort of book that reflects this site, and may just do something on my own in the next year or so unless another publisher wants to step up. I’d also really like to get some interviews while the men and women who made the 80s craze are still around and available. And I’m certainly not about to stop buying cheap 80s merch and snapping up rare movies from overseas.

Thanks for being here with us everyone, we’ll try to continue delivering for another five years…

Keith J. Rainville — June, 2014

 

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Posted in Ninja Miscelany June 14, 2014 at 1:04 am.

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