Support The Ninjaplex, and my new book!

posted in: 8 - News & Notes | 0

I don’t normally shill on this site, but both myself and VN’s shadow-spiritual advisor Tim March have announced side projects in the past week that could use the bandwidth, so deal with it!

First off, I’m ringing the bell to garner support for Tim’s new dojo space:

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Want to support a project that teaches kids the most positive aspects of martial arts, combines performance arts with martial arts and will serve as an event space for creative types, musicians, performers and general weirdos in the the Greenville, SC area? Then click here for the GoFundMe campaign for The Ninjaplex. I love any martial arts training center that hybrids with something decidedly non-martial arts oriented — be it martial arts and dance, martial arts and stunt work, martial arts and calligraphy, whatever…  It vastly expands the spiritual experience of the trainee, exposes the faithful of both pursuits to the possibilities of the others’ passion, and can genuinely provide hybrid training that opens doors on unexpected career opportunities.

The GoFundMe campaign is based solely on the rental and renovation of an industrial space, rescuing it from its decidedly un-colorful state and giving it a colorful new life. The world needs more efforts like this, so let’s all throw a few bucks their way… every little bit helps.

Speaking of other charitable causes — COUGH! — in my spare time I’m an indie book publisher. OK, stop, put the canned goods and first aid relief packages away, it’s not that bad…

Over at my other hooded passion in life — the Mexican masked wrestler-based imprint From Parts Unknown — I’ve announced a new fiction novella coming from the superb writer Matt Wallace (you may remember him from his great write-up on the American Ninja sequels from a few years back). Rencor: Life in Grudge City is a four-fisted tag-team adventure that reads a lot like an old Starsky and Hutch episode or the movie 48 Hours, but the reluctant partners in question are luchadores, and they HATE each other! And then the mummies attack…

Matt’s write up on the project is a lot more readable than my ramblings, so check it out here.

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More good Blu news for 2016!

posted in: 1 - Film and TV | 0

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Well, it took 30 some odd years but we’re finally getting close to having all the classic Sho Kosugi fare well represented on home video. Arrow’s superb sounding release of Pray for Death hasn’t even shipped yet and they’ve already announced a follow up — the end-of-craze-days actioner Rage of Honor.

Rage was the movie where you could just feel Kosugi not wanting to do costumed ninja stuff anymore, and the industry was indeed on the verge of the kickboxer takeover, but there are plenty of shinobi-fodder on hand for him to slice up with various self-designed ninja-esque gimmick weapons. The marketing boasted the film a “high-tech adventure” but qualified that with “full of new wave ninja tactics” so yeah, no one was entirely comfortable turning their backs fully on the ninja craze quite yet.

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I was a fan of the film’s villain Lewis Van Bergen from his stint on the long-forgotten Sable TV series (a superhero role he evidently inherited from a never-aired pilot that starred Gene Simmons of KISS), and would of course see anything Kosugi did, but back in the day this film felt like one of the more pronounced nails in the coffin for the ninja boom. The marketing was ninja-less, the video packaging later on was ninja-less, and moreover it almost seemed like everyone involved was embarrassed by or trying to deny the hooded pedigree of work that had gotten them to where they were. Note below the signature Kosugi kick, but in spy-wear. Ironically, the mid-2000s DVD packaging would repurpose Revenge of the Ninja publicity material to swing the pendulum back on ninja-nostalgia.

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I was such a ninja-loyalist in 1987 that this turn away from the genre by some of its crucial creators felt like a major letdown, however removed from that sting by a few decades, I’ve come to enjoy Rage of Honor for the nutty fun action blast it actually is. I love the write up for it over at Cool Ass Cinema, who call it “the most expensive ninja movie Godfrey Ho, Joseph Lai, and Tomas Tang never made.”

From the Arrow Films press release:

Sho Kosugi’s ninja domination continues!

Rage of Honor (Arrow Video) Blu-ray

Following his star turns in ‘80s actioners Enter the Ninja and Revenge of the Ninja, Sho Kosugi continued his domination of the US martial arts movie with 1987’s Rage of Honor – helmed once again by Pray for Death director Gordon Hessler (The Golden Voyage of Sinbad).

Federal agent Shiro Tanaka (Kosugi) used to live for his job – now, he lives only for revenge. When his partner is killed during a bungled drug bust, Shiro throws away his badge and the rule book with it: arming himself with an array of deadly weaponry – including nunchucks, blades and ninja stars – he sets out to Buenos Aires to settle the score with the bad guys.

Packing explosions, flying kicks and somersaults aplenty (as well as some truly logic-bending stunt sequences), Rage of Honor sees Kosugi at the top of his game as he battles his way from the streets of the urban jungle to the very literal jungles of South America.

SPECIAL EDITION CONTENTS
– High Definition Blu-ray (1080p) presentation from a transfer of original elements by MGM
– Optional English SDH subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing
– Sho and Tell Part 2: The Domination – brand new interview with star Sho Kosugi on Rage of Honor and the later stages of his film career
– Sho Kosugi Trailer Gallery: Enter the Ninja (1981), Revenge of the Ninja (1983), Pray for Death (1985) and Rage of Honor (1987)
– Reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Matthew Griffin

The first pressing includes a collector’s booklet featuring new writing on the film and an extract from Kosugi’s upcoming book

Really interested in that new Kosugi material promised!!!

Moving on to other major Blu-news…

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Finally. Fi-nal-ly! FINALLY!!!

Perhaps the most ‘fallen-between-the-cracks’ major chapter of 80s martial cinema to largely miss the DVD era is getting a legit release worthy of its quality! The Challenge (aka The Equals, Sword of the Ninja) was a 1982 American film shot mostly in Japan, directed by John Frankenheimer (The Manchurian Candidate, Grand Prix, Ronin), co-penned by John Sayles (Brother from Another Planet, Matewan, Eight Men Out), scored by the great Jerry Goldsmith (The Twilight Zone, Planet of the Apes), and photographed by Hideo Gosha favorite Kôzô Okazaki (Goyokin, The Wolves, The Yakuza). A-List behind the camera, and A-List in front, too.

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It was the first American audiences saw of Toshiro Mifune since The Bushido Blade and Shogun, and would end up being the last English-language work he’d do. Scott Glenn, after surviving the rigors of Apocalypse Now and hot off making a splash in Urban Cowboy played The Ugly American fish-out-of-water, a no-good palooka that Bushido master Mifune and daughter Donna Kei Benz (Pray for Death) whip into shape for a showdown with the clan’s black sheep brother, a rich industrialist obsessed with reuniting a pair of family swords separated after WWII. Much blood-letting ensues.

This movie sees life imitate art quite a bit, in that Scott Glenn, once on the turf of Japanese stunt crews and martial arts choreographers, takes a real beating as an actor, just like his character does. And in a refreshing departure from the normal ‘white guy gets in over his head in a foreign culture then becomes the best example of that culture ever and turns out to be their savior’ bullshit we get so often, he is instead constantly fighting from behind the 8-ball, a thoroughly expendable pawn manipulated by two sides of a generational feud. When it does inevitably come down to him ‘saving the day’ it is more a matter of self-preservation, as a frantic sword fight against a lifelong kenjutsu master turns into an explosion of pure anarchy that a barely trained but desperate x-factor of a fighter miraculously endures more than outright wins.

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Despite everyone and everything about this movie being first rate, including some superb martial arts, The Challenge fell into a weird hole. It was all over cable after a brief theatrical run, and had a big box VHS release, but never made it to DVD (at least not 100% legit or intact) in this country. It wasn’t until airings on cable in recent years that anyone had seen it widescreen, but now , because maybe the gods have not abandoned us after all, somebody woke up and we’ve got a Blu coming and man are we stoked!!! Scott Glenn fighting ninja on Netflix’s Daredevil and now The Challenge in HD? Somebody pinch me!

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Two other 1980s Japanese martial arts-oriented films that weren’t necessarily martial arts films have also gotten new HD life. Scream Factory continues their budo-horror preoccupation that started with Ninja III: The Domination with a double feature disc of The House Where Evil Dwells and Ghost Warrior!

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From the press release:

A Double Dose Of Samurai Action!

THE HOUSE WHERE EVIL DWELLS
1982 / 1.78:1 / NEW Transfer

A century ago, a samurai brutally murdered his adulterous wife and her lover before taking his own life. Now, the Fletcher family has found what they think is their perfect Japanese home – not knowing it’s the same house where the murders occurred. But as strange events escalate and the ghosts of the dead begin to toy with the living, the Fletchers discover they’ve become unwitting players in a horrible reenactment… one which they may not survive! This chilling ghost story stars Edward Albert (Galaxy Of Terror), Susan George (Straw Dogs) and Doug McClure (Humanoids From The Deep) and is directed by Kevin Connor (Motel Hell).

GHOST WARRIOR (aka SWORDKILL)
1986 / 1:85.1

While exploring a cave, two skiers find the body of a 400-year-old samurai warrior entombed in ice. He is brought to the United States in a hush-hush operation and revived through cryosurgery. Unfortunately, he is then forced to battle for his freedom, dignity and life. This Charles Band production stars Janet Julian (King Of New York, Humongous).

Two more mainstays from my cable TV-feuled youth, and another swoon-worthy Susan George role, fresh off of Enter the Ninja.

TAKE MY MONEY ALREADY!

 

This post BLOWS!

From our friends at Vintage Nunchaku comes a feature on a critical piece of survival equipment that helped us get through the 1980s — The Jivaro Blowgun.

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The Jivaro Blowgun: This was serious “ninja stuff.”

First of all you had to be able to find them, they weren’t listed in Black Belt, Inside Kung Fu or any of the other major martial arts magazines. That meant you had to be familiar with magazines such as Solder of Fortune, Warriors or similar titles.

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Second, at least in the beginning, you had to be able to build your weapon. You literally got a long piece of aluminum tube, some brown rubber hose, a bunch of spring steel rods and some beads on a string. You boiled the rubber hose until it expanded and you then put those handguards on your blowgun before they shrunk. That done you installed the mouthpiece. As for darts, you stripped a bead off the cord, cut the spring steel to the desired length, heated it in a candle and then inserted it into the bead (if you were smart you followed the cord channel) and it literally melted into the plastic bead which hardened.

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It was a lot of work but it was a good system. You cut long darts for hunting and small darts for target practice or applications where a smaller less noticeable dart would be preferred. You could be a ninja without a sword, but there was no way you could be a ninja without a blowgun. This was the epitome of silent and deadly, it was the true signature weapon.

Jivaro blowguns go back at least as far as 1978 (that’s when I ordered my first one from an issue of SOF and were available until the mid 80s. I literally had about a dozen of these in that time. I had six foot ones for long range target use and I made them in lengths from two feet to four and a half feet to have a portable weapon for “missions.” I had some wrapped in black electrical tape for night use and even had a couple done in white athletic tape for winter use when I moved up north.

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Around 1984 they started shipping them completely assembled and they switched to a cheap plastic cone dart. Thankfully I had hundreds of beads on a string and lots of spring steel rods because those cone darts were junk. They were too light for any real accuracy. The bead darts on the other hand were amazingly accurate and from a 4.5″ blowgun I could nail lizards on trees from 30 feet away. I could put 12 darts in the same tree from twice that distance in a 6 inch group.

The two piece blowgun seemed like a good idea but the reality is it came apart at the wrong time, rattled no matter how you packed or slung it and the connection seemed to lessen accuracy. I found I could get almost the same results from one half of the two piece blowgun compared to the fully assembled weapon. Nothing beat a full size 6-foot blowgun, but it wasn’t exactly portable.

Sadly the majority of my Jivaro blowguns went to ninja heaven as they were destroyed in training. The only one that remains is a 1983 vintage six foot model that thankfully is in perfect condition…because you never see these come up for sale and the new ones don’t even come close.

As with most things from my younger days, I wish I had bought a couple extras.

— Vintage Nunchaku —

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We at Vintage Ninja never had Jivaro blowguns, opting for self-made (and vastly inferior) fare instead. I did have a plastic toy blowgun for suction darts that was actually branded from the American Ninja film, though, if that counts.

While an actual effective blowgun took some work, skill and practice, and some serious lung capacity, making non-functional but convincing movie-prop grade blowguns is much easier. Ours is a decorative bamboo rod from a florists with some twine embellishments. If we did it, anyone can!

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VN REVISITED: A look at ZANPEI KUMOTORI manga

posted in: 2 - Books and Manga | 0

Lots of new readers lately, and I always love delving into the archives, exposing folks to some of the great stuff we posted back in the early years, so here’s an EXPANDED revisit of an article originally from November of 2009:

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“It’s all for the taking. From the undergarments of countless beauties to the great buddha himself, an individual with the ability to snatch the clouds from the very sky!” (JManga)

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Takao Saito, best known as creator of Golgo 13, was also responsible for two ninja manga: Kage Gari in the 70’s (the Shadow Hunters, which also spawned two films), and Zanpei Kumotori in the 80’s. The latter featured a Sean Connery-esque shinobi getting into all sorts of mischief.

Here’s a few choice pages:

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Plenty of historically credible espionage techniques on display in this series, right alongside silly stuff like giant piloted kites.

For me, that mixture of fact and fantasy is one of the ninja idiom’s biggest appeals.

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Some good martial arts action, too. There’s a lot of weapons foreshortening in the artwork series-wide.

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Here, the savvy spy uses a marionette doppelgänger, while getting a little grabby with a defeated female bodyguard.

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Things could get wacky once in a while, too, with an occasional mutant supervillain or (in this case above) a GIANT Komodo dragon thrown into the mix.

Here’s some 2-color pages:

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How great is this composition!!!

I dig these title pages/ads and trade paperback collection covers, too:

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Zanpei Kumotori wasn’t exactly revolutionary or even a genre milestone, but it had a lot of that Golgo tone and swagger (you can just hear the jazz and funk soundtrack that a film adaptation would have had while flipping the pages), with enough meat-and-potatoes ninja action to be a hit for years.

Well worth the effort too track down…

THANKFUL…

Assessing life as one does at Thanksgiving, here’s a pile of random ninja-related stuff I’m thankful for:

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That I’ve been able to turn so many people on to CASTLE OF OWLS via this site.

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Mexican lobby cards of Hong Kong movies starring Japanese actors I bought from a guy in Ohio.

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That FIVE ELEMENT NINJA is streaming now and all sorts of new audiences are discovering it.

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That so many grails of B&W 60s shinobi-cinema are available with subtitles in one form or another.

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For the privilege of meeting Sonny Chiba earlier this year.

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That AMERICAN NINJA is coming out on Bluray next year with newly shot extras.

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That after 15 years in California, my vintage porcelain collection hasn’t had any earthquake casualties.

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That my pal Eddie Mort exposed me to THE SAMURAI years ago.

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That these relics of my 80s early teen years somehow survived.

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That this weird-ass ninja statue I scored in Chinatown is wearing SNEAKERS! Untied sneakers…

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For the Hana Rangers.

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That some photo-painter in Thailand back in the day laid down these hand-tinted colors so thick they lasted 50+ years.

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That Elsa Chung had no problem gettin’ nekkid…

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For having so many awesome artist friends.

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That I just barely beat out three other eBay bidders on this MAGIC SERPENT poster a few years back.

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For the 60s/70s Japanese movie and TV trope of female shinobi sidekicks.

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That Tim March and I are still friends 30+ years later.

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That companies are still kicking out cheap 80s-style ninja crap like this even in a post-Naruto modern day.

That finding a collection of photos from AKAI KAGEBOSHI sparked the original impetus to start this website in 2009!

AND…

Most of all I’m super thankful 6000-10,000 of you find us every month and dig through these categories and pages. We get great fan mail, and love hearing how we’ve connected with like-minded souls.

Thank you all.

 

Keith J. Rainville

11-24-2015

 

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PRAY FOR DEATH coming to Blu!

posted in: 1 - Film and TV | 0

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Restoration label Arrow Films continues to put out Criterion-level releases of films that are decidedly not in the Criterion oeuvre — Spaghetti Westerns, Japanese delinquent gang flicks, gory Giallo and slasher fare, and yes — now they’re going FULL 80s NINJA!

 

From the official Arrow press release:

“NEW US ONLY TITLE: Pray for Death (Arrow Video) Blu-ray

Vigilante justice – ninja style!

THEY SHATTERED HIS AMERICAN DREAM.

In Pray for Death, martial arts legend Sho Kosugi (Enter the Ninja, Ninja 3: The Domination) stars as a family man driven to exact vigilante justice – ninja style!

Japanese Restauranteur Akira (Kosugi) has taken his wife and two boys to the United States in search of a better life. But their slice of the American Dream is quickly soured when they fall foul of a group of vicious jewellery thieves. Unfortunately for the bad guys, they didn’t count on Akira being a secret black ninja.

The samurai sword of vengeance falls swift and hard in this classic slice of ‘80s ninja action from director Gordon Hessler (Scream and Scream Again, The Golden Voyage of Sinbad), culminating in an action-packed showdown with a bodycount worthy of Commando.

SPECIAL EDITION CONTENTS:
•High Definition Blu-ray (1080p) presentation from a transfer of original elements by MGM of the unrated version
•Optional English SDH subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing
•Brand new interview with star Sho Kosugi
•Archive interview and Ninjutsu demonstration with Kosugi from the film’s New York premiere
•Original Theatrical Trailer
•Reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Matthew Griffin
•Collector’s booklet featuring an extract from Sho Kosugi’s upcoming biography”

 

PfD is probably Kosugi’s best film outside the Cannon trilogy, and arguably even better than one or two of those. One’s fandom-level for this film depends on how you feel about the armored helmet, the logic-defying / nigh-meta character background, and the juxtaposition of gory violence and brutality to women with happy-fun-ninja-kid-on-self-made-ninja-bike stuff. The “Back to the Shadows” theme song and Bond-like opening credits are the bomb.

There’s a nice full review over at Ninjas All the Way Down, and Movie-Censorship.com details the decades-old controversy of “uncut” versions and missing scenes. I for one have never needed to see a woman raped and killed in grisly fashion in order to enjoy a film, but I’ve also seen how piss-poor the hatchet job of gore-shaving censorship was in the UK releases of this film, so a complete version will be great to finally have out in the world.

I have several Arrow discs, and recent releases like the Lee Van Cleef Spaghetti Western Day of Anger go way above and way beyond what you normally find in exploitation genre titles. Packaging features a reversible insert with the original marketing on one side, and new illustrated images on the reverse.

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Not crazy about this art, seeing as the helmeted Kosugi is soooooo iconic for this film, plus depicting him with a 2000s style extreme shruiken and a samurai sword vs. the “ninja-to” that literally bore his name is just bad research.

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In this era of the Alamo Drafthouse and Mondo defining abstract and minimalist retro movie art, labels like Arrow and Criterion are sometime too quick to place artistic accomplishment over effective marketing. It’s not so big a deal in a world where brick-and-mortar retail is disappearing, but if I as a fan of this movie was looking for it on a shelf this art would make the product unrecognizable to me. Other Euro-discs of this and Kosugi fare like Rage of Honor actually embrace both the iconic nature of the costuming and the boldness of 80s exploitation marketing.

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Apart from busting balls as an armchair art director, the extras Arrow has lined up sound pretty damned great! I’m a sucker for vintage featurettes, and the inclusion of any ninja demo Kosugi did back in the day (see also the “Ninja Theater” VHS series and his Master Class tape) is reason enough to buy this disc.

Arrow’s Pray for Death has a street date of February 16.

REMCO “Secret of the Ninja” box art

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One of my favorite long-gone toy manufacturers was Remco, who in 1984 gave us one of the craze’s most well-rounded figure lines — Secret of the Ninja.

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Remco of the 60’s was an aggressive licensor with all sorts of A-list properties adapted for toy shelves — Star Trek, Beatles, Lost in Space, Batman and more. The Remco of the 80s, post bankruptcy and sale to competitor AHI/Azrak, was one of those companies producing the weird B-and-C-grade lines you’d find in weird indie toy stores and back corners of hardware shops and pharmacies. When G.I. Joe hit, they made Sgt. Rock, it was Hercules and Conan against Masters of the Universe, AWA and WCCW wrestling instead of WWF, Mighty Crusaders in the midst of Marvel Secret Wars and DC’s Super Powers.

These licenses cost less, but also sold less, so once in a while they’d try to create an original line that, lacking licensing fees, didn’t start them in the hole. Secret of the Ninja was the best of these, and done at just the perfect time.

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(This nice collection is currently on eBay)

While called “Secret of the Ninja” the line was hardly confined to the shadow soldiers. Myriad martial arts disciplines and historical warrior classifications were represented — kung-fu monks, samurai, modern karate and tae-kwon-do masters and more. This made the line almost fad-proof — if ninja toys started falling flat, there were enough vaguely barbarian-like and mystical fantasy-looking figures to appeal to multiple tastes.

The multi-martial-disciplines allowed more creative kids to have gladiatorial contests for supremacy of style — very much suggested by the back of this playset box:

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We’ve previously posted on the VHS tapes Remco included with multi-figure boxed sets (READ HERE). Between the half-hour adventures of Lion Maru, Kamui and Watari and the notion of Ninja vs. Thai Kick Boxer duels, a kid was in plastic combat heaven.

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Note, the pose for the ninja figure is drawn right off the press photo of Sho Kosugi in Revenge of the Ninja:

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The Remco ninja are easily found on eBay and many are dirt cheap. However, there is a dedicated fan base for these, and rare color variants, the even rarer second series and international editions command high prices and auction frenzies. I have a few of these figures, but with space around the ninja cave at a premium I tend to bow out of such contests. So happy hunting…

The best VN Halloween/monster features in one easy list!

posted in: 1 - Film and TV | 0

One wouldn’t normally think of a site like this for creepy and monster-y Halloween content, but man over the years we have BROUGHT IT!

Here’s a one-stop-shopping list of Vintage Ninja‘s finest “Monsters and Masks” features:

The Demon of Mt. OeREAD HERE — A nifty, creature-laden obscure samurai-vs-demons flick from the early 60s.

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Kaiju in Masked Ninja AkakagePART 1 — PART 2 — The classic tokusatsu series had some great monster-of-the-week action!

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Ninja vs. Yeti in Strike of the Jaguma!READ HEREAND MORE HERE — You just have to see this stuff to believe it…

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The best ninja/kaiju hybrid movie ever – Magic Serpent! — PART 1 — PART 2 — Generations of monster kids were exposed to ninja well before the 80s craze in this head-slapping genre-bender.

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Demented creatures in versions of Satomi Hakkenden — PART 1PART 2 — From the obscure original epic to the Star Wars-era Kadowkawa classic, the film adaptations of the lore of the eight assembled heroes had some incredible analog monsters.

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Kabakichi, the samurai werewolfPART 1PART 2 — Full-on lycanthropes throwing jumping high-kicks, with plenty of other weirdo creatures to boot!

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Sakuya Yokaiden, monster slaying sword-girlREAD HERE — Some of the best mixtures of digital and practical effects make this sword-flawing yoke-fest a must-see!

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Henshin Ninja Arashi‘s manga monstersREAD HERE — Many are familiar with the tokusatsu show and toys, but the manga is a much darker, more severe fare with some amazing creatures.

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Monsters and Martial Mummies in Majin Hunter MitsurugiREAD HERE — If you’re unfamiliar with this rare stop-motion animation oddity from the Japanese TV industry otherwise dominated by guys in rubber suits, check it out!

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Toad magic of the silent film era in Jiraiya — READ HERE — This 1921 silent was possibly the first time ‘giant toad magic’ made the leap from kabuki stage to the silver screen.

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Demented sorcery and undead fencing legends in Makai TenshoREAD HERE — Unaware that Sonny Chiba once dueled a zombie version of Miyamoto Musashi and a gang of ghost villains? There’s a cure for that…

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Happy Halloween everyone, see you in November with some MAJOR new stories…

 

The oldest days of the Shuriken trade

We’re delighted to present the first of hopefully many editorial exchanges with the superb VINTAGE NUNCHAKU communityfound on Facebook here. This ‘other VN’ is the best fountain of info anywhere on old mail order advertising from the kung-fu craze to the ninja boom, and the collections of now antique weaponry amassed there will drop your jaw. We’re happy to expand their reach beyond Facebook (where page traffic is often limited based on how much admins pay for the right to communicate with their members) and give their research efforts another archive in case the mighty blue F one day goes the way of Friendster and MySpace.

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While the main focus of Vintage Nunchaku is the famed “karate sticks” — particularly the legendary stuff offered by Dolan’s Sports — there’s plenty of ninja fare as well. Scroll on through and note how many of the old scans of catalog pages and magazine ads have identical layouts and offerings from one martial arts fad to another, with cosmetic alterations like black paint and “NINJA!” typography being the only difference from one decade to the next.

Let’s start off here with a look at some of the earliest print adverts for Shuriken:

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FROM VINTAGE NUNCHAKU — The oldest advertisement for shuriken found to date. Scanned from the December 1967 issue of Black Belt magazine. Factoring for inflation, that set of two would cost about $35.00 today. Wonder if any of these “Albuquerque” shuriken darts even still exist. This advertisement, nor any other from the same company, is not found in any other Black Belt issues from 1967 or 1968 — which would make them that much more rare today.

I’m blown away that not only were shrink being imported into the U.S. in ’67, but that they were referred to as “Ninja Darts” — hell, “Ninja”-anything for that matter. Pre-80s ninja boom we always called them “Chinese Throwing Stars” with only David Carradine tossing around those thick, heavy wheels for reference. But this ad seems to be an aberration.

The below ad from Asian World of Martial Arts ran 10 years later, and despite the super early ninja-like star-chucker illustrated up top, is more indicative of the kung-fu-craze mail order scene:

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Again, much of the above would have some sort of black-colored, “NINJA”-stenciled version by 1984 or so.

Now, on to some of the gems of Vintage Nunchaku‘s beyond-enviable collections…

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One black, one gold, one silver — a ‘senban’ for any occasion! I can’t believe cases for these once ubiquitous mail-order sets survived the decades. Note the countries of origin, Japan and Korea, an era long before everything was cheap shit made in China.

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And then this grail original!!!

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Companies are still producing knock-offs of this 80’s boom staple, they’re all over eBay, dirt malls, swap meets and Chinatown smoke shops. And yes, I still think a shrunken belt buckle puts a sharp-pointee way too close to your junk…

OK, if you’ve never scrolled through Vintage Nunchaku, go now! Join the community, posts some pictures of your own old stuff, drool over the loot of others. The experts over there can identify anything you find in the attic, and are always looking to buy, sell and trade!

 

The utter dilemma of GYMKATA

posted in: 1 - Film and TV | 0

If you’re like me, and let’s face it, most of you reading this site are, then you own WAY too many martial arts movies — from old clamshell VHS you rescued from liquidating video stores, to increasingly collectible DVDs from the 90s and 2000s, to recently remastered niche-marketed Blurays.

My own shelving unit that was once a catch-all of combat arts cinema hit a point of critical mass so severe, I’ve had to separate the library into ninja movie-centric shelves in one room with classic kung-fu, American karate and kick-boxer fare etc. segregated into a distant closet.

It’s the genre-benders that are the real pisser!

I mean, what is one to do with the DVD of Gymkata???

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No, the ill-advised and equally ill-received (but subsequently legendary) vehicle for Olympic gymnast Kurt Thomas wasn’t really a ninja movie, no matter how much the marketing team wanted to glom on to the 80s ninja boom via the poster art.

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But the on-screen reality of those “ninja”… just a bunch of incompetent guards and race-course flag-bearers who were hooded more to hide the re-occuring stuntmen playing them than any ostensible notion of ninjutsu.

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What’s a worse fate? Being an anonymous flag-waving Euro-slavic nitwit in an itchy hood making no impact on the world, or… fighting in concealing night gear but during broad daylight cuz the movie is too cheap to shoot night scenes, and then getting your ass kicked by Kurt f’n Thomas?

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They didn’t even merit the back of the VHS packaging, lest the label raise the ire of the Ninja Union Local Chapter 101.

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BUT… on the other hand, you’ve got a tried and true ace movie ninja in Tadashi Yamashita playing the stupid gymnast’s sage instructor.

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And he’s awesome as usual, doing the whole kama swinging demo that made him such a feared villain in The Octagon and American Ninja. In fact, he was so convincing as a deadly agent of martial mayhem, it begged the question ‘Why is the government sending in an untested gymnast who just learned to kick on a suicide mission and not just SENDING THE INSTRUCTOR INSTEAD, HE’D KILL EVERYONE INCLUDING RICHARD NORTON IN LIKE 10 SECONDS WHY THE FUCK IS KURT THOMAS EVEN IN THIS MOVIE WHY WHY WHY?!?!?!?!?’

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So what do I do here? Does Yamashita’s presence, the quasi-ninja-ish-if-you-squint thugs and the generously shinobi-fied poster art enough to merit inclusion on the already too crowded ninja shelf?

Ninja-nerd problems… but problems nonetheless.

At least it’s just one movie, as the proposed sequel to Gymkata, starring 70s comedian Gabe Kaplan, never happened…

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Full credit for the above pun goes to Charles DeVos.

 

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