Chinese flyer for “Black Ninja”

Sepia-tone 2-sided flyer for the Ryutaro Otomo ninja vehicle Maboroshi Kurozukin Yamine Toku-Kage (can’t confirm that title or translate, although the words for black hood, phantom, and shadow are in there…) from Singapore – possibly late 60’s?

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Enjoy some whacked-out ‘Chingrish’ below:

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That image above looks a lot like the live-action Iga no Kagemaru film, or perhaps just an identical costume?

I haven’t seen this film, but I’m dying to know who the “Bat Swordsman” is, if he uses bats in combat, and what the scorpion relation is…

Here’s a Japanese poster for the same. Check out that tsuba-less sword on the left! You gotta have sack to weild a weapon like that, as you pretty much eliminate a lot of kendo’s defenses from an opposing sword.

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SENGOKU YARO – Warring Clans

posted in: 1 - Film and TV | 5

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Okamoto Kihachi‘s (Sword of Doom, Kiru!) 1963 ninja classic Sengoku Yaro is a real blast – a  superb mix of comedy and combat, peppered with some rather outré fight scenes, a jazzy score by Masaru Sato that keeps you on your toes, and a super cute sword girl to boot.

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The gorgeous YURIKO HOSHI, familiar to us from several Godzilla films, is sassy, defiant and deadly. The simple detail of the prop master giving her a shorter sword (a 'chisa' I think, or possibly a longer handled wakizashi?) actually does a lot to lend her sword acting some credibility.

These aging Thai press kit photos were contemporary with the film’s 1963 release. It’s a superbly shot B&W film, the colors here are actually hand tinted for display in theater lobbies. That moray pattern is from the acid fixer breaking down after half a century. These are in rough shape – never deigned for posterity, and nowhere near as collectible as their poster counterparts, thus rarely archived as well.

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Who’s cooler than the film’s lead Yuzo Kayama? No-one, because not only was he in some kick-ass chambara and ninja flicks, he was also a great guitarist. That’s him below, on stage in Japan with the Ventures!

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If you like films like Kiru! and 3 Outlaw Samurai, where the violence is tempered with sardonic humor, then Warring Clans is your ninja huckelberry. It’s got a great ‘who’s working who?’ dynamic familiar to the spaghetti westerns, and the fights are shot superbly.

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LOVE that arrow stuck in the rain hood... That's MAKOTO SATO on the right, whose facial expressions alone lend an instant comedic edge to this film, putting it on a level above many of it's contemporary peers.

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The battles in Clans are largely either on barren cliffsides or tall grassy plains infested with black-suited snakes ready to strike. The plot revolves around a caravan transporting rifles under siege from without and possibly within. At times, it’s a sort of buddy pic, with three bickering protagonists, all who claim to be the next leader of Japan, but who are actually bums… or are they?

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From the, literally, explosive ending!

I’m tortured the press materials I scored didn’t include a shot of the astounding Kumi Mizuno, who has a small role. I mention her solely because I want an excuse to run this off-topic shot from my favorite mutation of the kaiju genre Matango:

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There isn’t an angle I can’t recommend this movie on: The cinematography is top notch, and the fight scene editing is an absolute clinic in how to make non-martial artists look good in duels. It’s got some great ninja beats, too, although pretty much anyone in a black suit comes to a foul end. The flow of grave subject matter and at times gory violence with comedic performances in both small and main roles is masterfully executed. And if nothing else,you just cannot take your eyes off Yuriko Hoshi. She almost steals the movie…

Visionary character design

posted in: 2 - Books and Manga | 4

Mining through various Japanese fan blogs brings about two things in me:

1.) I soooo wish I could read kanji…

and

2.) I find amazing scans of vintage manga covers, like the below!

I believe these are all by the godfather of ninja manga Shirato Sanpei. Absolutely awesome.

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Check out the line-up of ninja thugs in back - I love that bent angled hood design.

Any Japanese readers wanting to send translations of these covers, especially if an artist is listed, we’ll reward you handsomely.

KAGE now online

posted in: 1 - Film and TV | 0

I was lucky enough to see the combat-intensive short film KAGE on the big screen at a film festival last year, but screenings in the U.S. were few and far between. You can however, watch it online at their bi-lingual website: kage-japan.com.

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KAGE‘s fat-free 23-minute running time delivers nothing but the goods – cool costumes, hot ninja chicks and stiff-as-hell fight scenes. It wears influences from a few different eras of shinobi-cinema proudly on it’s sleeve, too.

Producer, director and star Takeshi Maya is 80’s-era Henry Sanada reborn, right down to the twin short swords, trampoline spots and high spin kicks. He’s damn proud that there was no wire-work in the film, no digital fight-fakery either. This film is his fight reel and stunt reumé bared for the world to see. 

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Check out the genre pedigree within the rest of the cast: Villain “Retsu” is played by none other than Shane Kosugi, and Sho Kosugi’s production company is thanked in the credits. Kenji Ooba and Junichi Haruta of Sony Chiba’s Japan Action Club have small roles as shinobi elders, too. 

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That’s smoking hot Airi Yoshihama in the middle of the pack of ninja villains. Man is that some sauce! She’ll be familiar to fans of Japanese obstacle course game show “Sasuke” (aka Ninja Warrior on G4), as she’s the “G-Rockets” dancer/acrobat who’s a regular on the women’s competitions. She does a great spinning cartwheel bit in a respectable fight scene with the rather adorable female lead Chisa Yokoyama, who is otherwise a major anime voice over actress. They’re both cute-as-hell, in great costumes with short-swords-a-slashin’… 

[Check out a few more images under Sword Girls]

Alas, the web-hosted viewing experience doesn’t do the film justice. It was great on the big screen, you could really see how hard everyone was working. But shorts never seem to have a good home when it comes to home video release, so let’s hope this sees some sort of broadcast-quality download in some form in the future. I’d gladly pay a ten-spot to own this thing as an HD file.

Enter the Menko

posted in: 4 - Collectibles | 0

I absolutely adore the Japanese equivalent of our “cigarette cards” – menko. These collectible cards featured all sorts of popular media, celebrity actors and athletes, historical and nature subjects, etc. I scored a pile of these in 2006 and 2007, many of which feature photos and illustrations of hooded swordsman and ninja.

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Menko have been big since the 1910’s, when photographic reproduction wasn’t exactly great, especially on a cheap mass-produced premium.

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One really strange thing you run across with vintage Menko is off-model illustrations. Hard to tell if it was a pirating issue or not, but companies often used their own in-house artists to portray hit animated and manga properties, rather than license the actual artwork from the source. You get some really goofy variants…

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Path of the Assassin, we’ll miss you…

posted in: 2 - Books and Manga | 0

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Koike and Kojima’s astounding Path of the Assassin has ended with volume 15, released last month from Dark Horse Comics. To say the abrupt ending is unsatisfying would be an understatement, have to wonder if this was cancelled in Japan prematurely back in the day. Doesn’t seem like a deliberate, or strategic, ending from either an editorial or emotional point-of-view.

I’m really going to miss this series, but one advantage to a series of graphic novels with a terminus is people tend to put their used collections up on eBay and Craigslist, so it’s a great opportunity to score it as a complete set if you don’t already own it all.

Adios Hanzo…

Read some nice volume-by-volume reviews here.

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Mexican lobby card – Ninja in the Dragon’s Den

It never really breached the Times Square grindhouse and werewolf circuits here in the States, but the Hong Kong / Japanese co-production Ninja in the Dragon Den was certainly an international hit.

Here’s some totally original painted artwork from the Mexican release. Most international ad campaigns for the film centered on either of the two matinee idols involved – Henry Sanada and Conan Lee, and where their names didn’t mean as much, it was photos of Sanada’s superb ninja costuming that carried the ads.

But in Mexico, they often opted for totally original art.

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KAGEMARU vinyl figure

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Going back ot the early 60’s, Mitsuteru Yokoyama‘s Iga no Kagemaru property spanned manga, a great live action movie, toys, trading cards and board games, and anything else that could  bear a licensed image. You’ll see this shinobi superhero in just about every category on this site.

Here’s a 2004 retro-collectible from Japan’s Furuta capsule and blind-box toy manufacturer. There’s not nearly enough nostalgic toy licensing in Japan – there should be a whole line of figures of this character, his allies and the amazing rogues gallery of villains. Movie likenesses too. This piece is a representation of the manga version, complete with diorama base depicting his signature whirlwind leaf defense. He also came with a variant un-hooded head, of which I promptly lost track.

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And check out this illo from an early 60’s 2-color pulp manga – clearly the sculptor’s guide for the above figure.

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Lots of Yokoyama’s manga cover art just added to Books and Manga, too!

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