I just adore this article by my pal Maria Alexander — “Why I Hate (Most) Photos and Drawings of Women with Swords.”
Read it. RIGHT NOW. I’ll wait.
There are dozens of tumblrs out there dedicated to babes-n-blades, and they could really all be called Women Holding Katana Wrong, Hot Chicks About to Maim Themselves or This Thing Isn’t Actually Sharp Is It, Tony? as it seems neither model nor photographer has any clue as to how said blades should be held.
And it’s unforgivable, too. What, you couldn’t find any reference anywhere? An old Red Sonja magazine drawn by Frank Thorne or five minutes of Crouching Tiger streaming on Netflix? No???
Well, in an effort to back Maria’s crusade, here’s some stills from the VN Sword Girls archive. These are from Japanese film and TV, where actresses were coached on brazenly theatrical pre-parry and/or post-strike poses based on centuries of stage and illustration traditions. The ways blades were held were not only credible (in a cinematic suspension of martial disbelief way, admittedly), they actually built character. A pile of thought was put into these grips, poses, and movements, and the effort shows.
Take notes, babe-n-blade-buffoons:
Yuriko Hoshi from SENGOKU YARO strikes a confident “I’m a woman and I KNOW how to use this chisa-katana dammit!” pose that makes a band of ninja think about their next move for a second before rushing into their inevitable deaths.
This is Sonny Chiba’s well-schooled action-star daughter Juri Manase, striking a gorgeous ‘Z’ pose. Note how safely AWAY FROM HER DAMN BODY that blade is, gents.
Akiko Kujo in the LION MARU television series used her athleticism and dancer-honed posing to create an equally attractive and deadly female warrior that spent more time killing skull-ninja than she did suffering the usual capture predicaments and damsel-in-distress nonsense seemingly required in TV sidekicks.
Hizuno Takachiho from CASTLE OF OWLS block a full-on katana strike from a man twice her size using a firm grip and the sheath from her hidden umbrella blade for leverage.
Junko Miyazono’s post-strike posing was just phenomenal in the QUICK DRAW OKATSU flicks. Nice extension and follow through…
Reiko Oshida’s character in the same film specializes in breaking up gambling dens, thus she uses a short sword and firm reverse grip for close quarters combat. And looks damn cute doing it, too!
This one… this one’s from PORN! Even porn stars have better blade skills than you, you dweebs! NINJA PUSSY CAT knows how to plant a tanto in your bitch ass.
See, not that hard people. You can embrace either proper martial arts, OR proper cinematic posing geared for dramatic composition. Either one is going to yield a result better than a katana sheathed in cleavage, edge-side-inward. Oy…
Tags: Maria Alexander
Every year we celebrate the site’s birthday by reposting the very first thing we ever did — a look at vintage press still from Akai Kageboshi.
AKAI KAGEBOSHI – the other ‘red shadow’
(originally published June 7, 2009)
Can a respectable, accomplished beautiful woman from noble samurai family possibly say no to a hooded bedroom invader so clearly superior in his warrior fashion sense? I think not!
I may have started this site just to find a good home for this picture. Seriously.
Said hood is Hashizo Okawa, the shinobi son trying to exact revenge on behalf of his tattooed ninja mom-done-wrong in the 1961 Toei film Akai Kageboshi. It’s part tournament movie, part mulit-generational mystery, part ninja romance – all with a supporting cast of staggering chambara manliness.
It all starts with our old pal Hattori Hanzo, played by Jushiro Konoe of Ninja Hunt and the Yagu Secret Scrolls series, who intercepts a ninja on a castle incursion. During their struggle, he realizes his prey is actually a woman, and the two are so turned-on by each other’s shinobi sex appeal, they have at it on the spot.
Couple decades later, that same lady of the shadows is a bitter and obsessed ninja MILF who has trained her son, the offspring of that fateful encounter, in the family trade. Decked out in all sorts of gorgeous ornate get-ups, he is ‘The Red Shadow’ – the instrument of her revenge.
The plot, from that set-up, is full of twists and turns and amazing characters. Sonny-boy’s mission is to collect 10 swords, one of which has part of a map etched onto it’s handle that when matched up with mom’s killer tats will lead them to a Shogunate treasure and vindicate her failure as a shadow agent. The ten swords, however, are the prizes in a martial arts tournament, so Red has to snatch the blades from the victors every night.
This goes along fine, as long as the winners are old semi-retired swordsmen or young hotties practicing Naginata, but when one of the victors is Jubei F’N Yagu, played by Ryutaro Otomo, it’s a whole different deal!
Red throws everything in his ninja repertoire at Jubei, just to see it all bounce harmlessly off his square jaw. Jubei, meanwhile, butts his way into the intrigue afoot, then Hanzo comes out of retirement, Red falls in love, snakes fall from the ceiling and shuriken sing through the night air…
So yeah, Akai Kegeboshi is a pretty damn essential film, for those of you who haven’t seen it. Grey marketeers and fan-subbers have made it readily available, too, so there’s no excuses. Despite literal translations, would be a good idea to refer to this maybe as “The Crimson Shadow” or “The Scarlet Shadow” or something else, as the name “Red Shadow” has a rather significant pedigree elsewhere…
Here’s a ton of images, like the above, from Thai press kits released contemporary with the film’s original theatrical run.
Staged publicity shot, shows how amazing the costumes are in this film. That bo shuriken looks pretty deadly…
A staged combat shot from the publicity kit. AK is actually light on black-suited cannon fodder.
Co-star Satomi Kotaro in publicity pose – check out the ornate fan designs on that tsuba!
That’s Keiko Okawa as Yuri, halberd expert and Shadow’s main squeeze.
Otomo’s Jubei dispenses with the otherwise signature (maybe cliché) eyepatch for a perhaps more intimidating wink of doom. The film does a great job of portraying Yagyu as an omnipotent force of nature with a sword, and Shadow is in WAY over his head facing him.
Shadow is also no match one-on-one for the veteran Hanzo, it’s everything he can do just to escape these encounters. And there are some really cool escapes, too.
The bit where someone has come so close to getting slashed in the head, their straw hat has a triangle cut in it is so damn cool…
Bit of a spoiler here, but it’s not like you don’t see it coming from a mile off. And yes, by contractual obligation, the final showdown is in the shadow of Mt. Fuji.
I’ll wrap this up with some close-up scans of the mission gear. LOVE that mesh soft-armor hood!
Don’t let these sepia-tone and B&W press photos fool you, Akai Kageboshi is a beautiful color film. The print that’s floating about the ‘trading communities’ is probably from TV and is pretty inky, though – but by no means a deal breaker.
On our first birthday in 2010, we did a week-long look at this film, check it all out here.
Tags: AKAI KAGEBOSHI, Hashizo Okawa, Red Shadow
[Sing that title like an old blues number]
Back in the craze daze, we were all victims of “Shinobified” movie titles — kung-fu flicks, often from the 70′s, with no ninja content whatsoever shamelessly retitled to the likes of Fist of Ninja, Dragon Claw Ninja, Tiger Fist Ninja, Fist of the Dragon Tiger Claw Ninja, Ninja in the Claws of the Dragon Fisted Tiger, 3 Dragon Claw Ninjas and a Little Tiger, Claws of the 7 Magnificent Tiger Dragon Ninja, 12 Angry Tiger Ninja Dragon Clawed Men, ad nauseum…
But here’s a weird reversal — a Hong Kong multi-langual flyer for the decidedly shinobi-rific Ninja in the Dragon’s Den with no visual evidence of Henry Sanada in his fine hooded gear anywhere to be seen.
Muscular Jackie Chan-lookin’ home-town hero aside, when you consider the martial movie spirit of the mid 80′s, this was NOT good marketing.
The Mexicans got it better!
And to see the photos that carnival banner-esque painting was based on, click here to see the chock-full-o-ninja Japanese program for the same film, with images like this:
Now, so as not to take a total shit on Conan Lee, I’ll make a tangental plug here for a new four-disc set coming out from Shout Factory in July that features a futuristic and post-apocalyptic sci-fi b-movie orgy, including 80s ensemble exploitation entry Eliminators!
Tags: Conan Lee, Eliminators, Henry Sanada, Ninja in the Dragon's Den
I’ve said repeatedly here that the wild and unknown territory that is generic and bootleg figure collecting affords a lot more joy of discovery and amazing mutated finds than tracking down better known and licensed collectibles from the past. The stuff sold on blankets outside of southwest swap meets, tables in midwest flea markets and dirt malls, shady Chinatown junk shops and even shadier ‘vendors’ hawking crap outside of subway terminals may be plentiful at the time of any boom, but decades later that cheap crap is nigh-impossible to find.
This astoundingly rare 8″ kunoichi was produced by ABC Toys at some point in the mid-80s, and came in black and white variants, at least from what I’ve found. Wouldn’t be surprised if a red version existed, too…
The most peculiar thing about Lady Ninja is she’s in packaging more consistent with boys’ toys. There’s no “pink aisle” Barbie look here. But what boy would have wanted what was clearly a girl’s doll, regardless of how it was garbed or how well-armed she was? Weird choices on top of weird choices…
Tags: Generic toys
What do you do with a half-dozen mail-order ninja suits, some black eye-liner, a few friends willing to tumble around a public park like idiots and a heap of public domain films?
Well, in the 80s if you were Godfrey Ho, you made two million movies comprised of newly filmed ninja-frosted kung-fu fights cut into older crime dramas to fill running time, and duped unsuspecting video store patrons into taking home drek with derivative titles like Ninja Terminator and Full Metal Ninja.
And… if you’re Meagan Rachelle, Ed Glaser and the crew of Dark Maze Studios, you take those very same elements and a couple of Mill Creek dollar-store DVD box sets and go to town, creating the astute and award-winning parody shorts Ninja: The Mission Force.
Oh the pain we all endured back in the day when we got burned by yet another alluring ‘cut and paste’ title with even more alluring shiny package art, only to be crushed by the yellow and pink-clad assaults to all things shinobi-sacred these films delivered. But time, some popular viral memes and the efforts of sites like The Golden Ninja Warrior Chronicles have fostered a hindsight appreciation of one of the most shameless exploitation cinema chapters of all time. And now Dark Maze has taken things one step further…
Ninja: The Mission Force is in the MST: 3K / RiffTrax mold, cutting new footage into old films, replacing original audio with comedic overdubs, etc., but with a perfectly dialed-in homage to the head-slapping bat-shit craziness that were the signature elements of Godfrey Ho’s ninja-verse; headbands that literally say “ninja” on them, ridiculous eye make-up on all the male actors, Garfield phones, toy robots delivering VHS death threats, silly fights in public parks, spinning costume changes and jump-cut disappearances and yes, plenty of scenes of new footage characters “interacting” with old footage characters via phone, mail, expositional slide shows etc. and so forth.
N:TMF goes above and beyond when they cut their Ho-esque ninja gags into some genuine classics like Orson Welles’ The Stranger, Night of the Living Dead and The Magic Sword, mainstream fare like John Travolta’s The Boy in the Plastic Bubble and in fine snake-biting-its-own-tale fashion some public domain ninja-sploitation like Ninja Death and early episodes of The Master.
I salute Dark Maze on their decision to release the webisodes as ‘seasons’ on actual physical DVDs, packed with exclusive extras and cased in package art that hones back to the days of battered VHS. Order them directly from Dark Maze here.
I also salute them on their cool-ass logo, an homage to the old Canon Film’s lock-up. These folks clearly get it, and deserve our support!
And yes, I am a grumpy old “Herbert” who still likes his physical media and watching shit on a real TV from a comfy chair instead of on the interwbs, so bite me!
Tags: Godfrey Ho, Ninja: The Mission Force
I reposted this fantastic publicity still of Maki Fuyukichi as Tonbei the Mist from Greg Newman over at the Facebook “The Samurai” Group.
Got a lot of attention, so I thought this would be a good time to revisit a 2009 article we did, exposing Australia’s #1 ninja folk hero to North American audiences unfamiliar.
(originally published June 2009)
Once upon a time, there was a ground-breaking Japanese TV series called Onmitsu Kenshin (or Onmitsu kenshi), starring Koichi Ose as Shintaro, wandering samurai detective protecting his half-brother the Shogun from various conspiracies and assassins. It was popular in Japan, but when the series shifted gears and integrated ninja as both friend and foe, it blew up and as The Samurai became an international sensation.
International? Sure, it had a HUGE English-speaking fan base! How could you forget in 1965 when those early seasons were dubbed into English and aired on TV daily? Remember when Ose did that promotional tour, greeted by thousands of screaming fans at the airport ala The Beatles? Remember how each subsequent season got more and more popular, with more and more ninja action? Wasn’t it great how they were syndicated for decades after, followed by other dubbed shows like Phantom Agents! Does anyone still have their officially licensed plastic swords they got for Christmas, or the wildly popular Shintaro trading cards?
No… Drawing a blank…
Well, that’s because it all happened in fucking Australia!!!
Not here, NOOOOOO. Why would Americans want to see dozens of hours of Republic-serial like ninja warfare dubbed into perfect English? Fuck it, we’re fine with direct-to-video bullshit like Full Metal Ninja and Seven Lucky Ninja Kids. Give us turtles and leave us alone, we don’t want any of those historically credible martial arts espionage epics here. No way.
OK, bitter rant subsides for now – to the point.
TONBEI THE MIST!
If Shintaro was Japan’s (and fucking Australia’s) Lone Ranger, thenTonbei was the Tonto. Played by career ninja legend Maki Fuyukichi - who would go on to the Watari the Ninja Boy live action film, play White Shadow in Masked Ninja Akakage, Henshin Ninja Arashi and dozens of other TV and movie shinobi roles – Tonbei was sort of half ace-in-the-hole / half comic relief.
Sure, he was Shintaro’s shadow – scout, spy, saboteur – but the character was so prone to capture and to showing up at fights just as Shintaro put the last ninja down, he became the butt of some unintentional humor.
Either way, Maki’s ‘man of Iga’ is a hugely important character in the development of the genre. Born in the mold of more serious ninja fare like Shinobi-no-mono, he was there to show off outre tools and arcane spy gadgets, give clinics on commando tactics and shadow skills, and get in all sorts of cool ass reverse-grip sword fights.
So, we’ll be looking a lot at both The Samurai and Tonbei the Mist in coming months, and Maki was such a prolific ninja regular, he’ll be turning up constantly. Consider the below images a primer, and seek out the now out-of-print season box sets of the show on DVD. The best source of info on both the original Japanese show and it’s success in Oz can be found here.
As of season 2, Tonbei was a regular sidekick to Shintaro, and could call in additional ‘Men of Iga’ as needed. Some of these actors left a bit to be desired in the skill and physicality departments…
The producers learned early on that getting at least one or two mission-gear costume sequences in per show guaranteed ratings.
Well used cramped sets – sneaking around and battling other suppa in the rafters above or the crawlspaces below houses were common sequences.
Maki had great overtured posing and expressions. This pose, where he’s flinging shuriken at the camera’s POV (actually just an empty handed arm motion with whooshing foley) happened two or three times a show.
And would be followed by an immediate, often grisly result. Check out that shuriken right in the mouth! Ow…
“Historically accurate” gear, right out of secret scrolls and Hatsumi books, was often featured. Many episodes had Tonbei giving another character informal clinics on such gadgetry.
Arcane techniques abound as well. Here, Tonbei spreads dust in a hallway to give away the trails of nocturnal invaders.
He was a master of disguise, too, as this Hugo: Man of a Thousand Faces get-up illustrates. Kinda gross, actually…
However wide his shadow skill set, Tonbei’s real job was getting captured by the enemy. He did his job well, he did his job often.
Tonbei in suspension bondage, while a supposed damsel in alleged distress just fine. This is no isolated incident, it happened like every third episode.
He often forgot to pack his Ninja Net-Proofing Spray, as well.
Amusing as the ‘sidekick-in-peril cliches’ become over the seasons of The Samurai, there are just as many great ninja battles, commando raids, trick weapon duels and other shinobi staples to keep things real. I absolutely love this series, and all jokes aside, if there’s one property I truly resent discovering now instead of in the 1980′s, it’s this one. And it was already in English! What’s the excuse???
REVISED: A company in Australia called Siren Visual has released an immense 30-disc box set of the dubbed series, complete with retro trading cards!
Two feature-length films has made the trading rounds under the stiffly translated title “The Detective Fencer.” (I’d have called it ‘Samurai Sleuth’ LOL) The movies are a step above the show in production values, and deliver a relentless barrage of ninja combat. Highly recommended!
Tags: Maki Fuyukichi, Onmitsu Kenshin, The Samurai, Tonbei
This amazingness from the mobile “cinemas” of Ghana, Africa is on eBay right now, for a steal, too!
Plenty more goodness here, as well!
Tags: Five Element Ninjas, Ghana movie posters
Superbly sculpted and detailed 6-9″ figures from Toy Crowd (2001) of Shiranui and Shouki from the 1988 effects-romp we know as Cyber Ninja. I dig these toys as much as I do the film, an indie that spends its modest budget it all the right places – costuming and character design. The ambitious effects come off more like Tokusatsu TV than epic cinema, but you can’t fault visionary creator/director Keita Amemiya for flying too close to the sun.
Tags: CYBER NINJA, Keita Amemiya, MIRAI NINJA
So I was having dinner with my pal, the uber-talented Rafael Navarro, and we were musing on what a ninja would look like if drawn by the legendary Jack Kirby. He whipped this off on a napkin, and seeing as I was footing the bill, I swiped it for myself!
Love those Kirby-esque square fingers!
This inspired Raf to spend a night rendering some better-realized shinobi more in his own style in a proper sketchbook, and here they are — A VINTAGE NINJA EXCLUSIVE!
Watercolor brush pens and a rough-tooth paper stock make for some beautifully expressive lines here. Love these, but I especially adore this dynamic dropping sequence ending in the requisite 3-point landing!
Raf has been a go-to illustrator for me for seemingly forever. A few years back I collected ten years of Mexican wrestler art he did for my magazine and books over at FPU in a nifty tome called Lucha Noir: The Complete Rafael Navarro in From Parts Unknown.
Score a copy here.
Little known fact – American Ninja is the only 80s boom film to have properly licensed mass-produced merchandise.
These grocery store / pharmacy register tchotchkes were obviously for kids, despite being branded with the an R-rated film’s imagery. A “two-penny-toy” manufacturer called Fleetwood produced these in 1985, along with a blowgun target set and a Masters of the Universe-scale generic ninja figure with similar card art.
Interesting that they carry the logo of the decidedly non-kid-friendly film studio Cannon, meaning Fleetwood actually paid to use the American Ninja monicker. Can’t think that they sold any more of the these than they would have by saving those fees and going with simple generic ninja art.
I dig the sketchy brush art used on the decals of the rubber suction shuriken. The hollow cheap plastic knife was molded off a popular piece of training equipment common to dojos in heavy rubber form.
This rubber stamp set shows more of the above art, influenced by both Enter the Ninja and GI Joe‘s Storm Shadow I imagine.
Think they paid Michael Dudikoff anything for his name and likeness?
Tags: AMERICAN NINJA, generic merch, Generic toys, Michael Dudikoff