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In LION MARU news…

Medicom has released two new sofubi of Kaiketsu Lion Maru and Tiger Joe, designed by Bear Model.


Not in love with these myself, as they are a bit too detailed and modern in their sculpts. Sofubi are supposed to look like kids toys from the 60s, with soft details and primitive paint jobs. These are actually a bit too skillfully executed for the genre…


Also found some nifty publicity images from KLM and Fuun Lion Maru on tumblr:



A reminder that Vintage Ninja is indeed on tumblr, too — Lucha vs. Ninja: Who Will Win? This is a shared stream from this site and From Parts Unknown, as loaded with cool vintage masked wrestler stuff as it is shinobi. I reblog/repost a lot of related material from others, and revisit some older stuff from the VN archives there too, so it’s worth added us to your feed.


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Posted 2 months, 1 week ago.

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NINJA II now widely available


Was it really four years ago that I wrote this gushing review of Scott Adkins and Isaac Florentine‘s throwback NINJA?

Ninja was to the more widely known Ninja Assassin what Deep Impact was to Armageddon or Tombstone to Wyatt Earp – a cheaper, more exploitive and ultimately more enjoyable alternative to a bigger property. Ninja Assassin aimed for a mainstream audience, and largely missed. But worse, with its overly-digital post-Matrix aesthetic it also missed the expectations of the frontline genre enthusiasts. In short, it kinda pissed off old guard martial arts movie maniacs, and us ninja geeks.


The one thing I felt super guilty about in my dislike of the more-style-than-substance Ninja Assassin was not showing the proper love for Sho Kosugi‘s return to the screen. I supported the flick when it was in theaters, but have never returned to it, and in reading this site you’d hardly knew it existed. However, that guilt is now blunted somewhat, as Adkins, Florentine and, well… A Kosugi… return in Ninja II: Shadow of a Tear!


Kane Kosugi, that is. All grown up, pretty damned ripped, and looking A LOT like his pop!

As was with the first film, they don’t try to reinvent the wheel. Writer David White (who also scribed the superb Undisputed 2 and 3) spins a soundly-structured revenge plot that takes advantage of Thailand filming locales, weaves in some genuine ninja lore, but mostly gets the hell out of the way so the fights can take over.


We’re reunited with Casey and Namiko, now living happily and rebuilding after the dojo-pocalypse of the first film. Things are looking good. Then he goes and gives her a medallion as a symbol of his commitment.

A medallion.

Seriously, he gives her jewelry.

Giving jewelry to a loved one in a martial arts movie…


By the chiseled-in-stone laws of  the genre, Namiko is immediately killed, launching Casey on the vengeance trail so he can of course eventually slaughter the men responsible, then look down at the pendant, circle of blood now closed and whatnot, and cue the end titles…

And dammit I LOVE these movies and this team for doing this! They don’t hide from the old conventions, they embrace them. This crew is determined to not let the world forget how damn SIMPLE it really is to make a fun martial arts movie.


Casey’s quest for justice begins with some high-kicking rehab at the dojo of old family friend Nakabara (Kosugi), and even though he seems to know a whole lot about the drug cartel responsible for Namiko’s death, shifty couriers are discretely delivering un-marked packages to him, and he has a goatee, Kane’s obviously not the actual villain of this movie, so yeah, bonding time!

Now here’s where Ninja II drops the awesomeness like carpet bombs!

Nakabara knows three things: 1.) Namiko’s wounds are the result of the signature chain weapon of a ninja-gone-bad named Goro. 2.) this same Goro is running drugs out of Burma, a land heavily populated by stuntmen waiting to have their asses kicked, and 3.) some 75-odd-years-ago, Japan’s fabled “Last Ninja” Fujita Seiko trained a squadron of WWII shinobi and unleashed them in the jungle, where they wreaked bladed havoc on the Allies and hid a bunch of arsenals, just like THIS MAP shows!


HOT DAMN! Cue the travel montage…

Casey heads out into the jungle, finds an old cache of leather-and-canvas-era ninja gear and the storming of the requisite enemy compound is on.

NinjaII_6 NinjaII_7 NinjaII_8

Goro is played by Shun Suguta, a veteran character actor of over 100 films, including Ichi the Killer. He knows how to pose and gesture like a deadly lunatic, and is pretty damned great as the master of the barbed manriki chain.


Casey kills a pile of guards, has a brutal fight with Goro’s right hand heavy, then disposes of the villain amidst the light of a burning drug empire. Case closed…



It’s hardly a spoiler to reveal that Adkins and Kosugi were cast together for a reason, and after a big surprise reveal the final chapter of Shadow of a Tear sees them tear each other apart, trashing room after room, alternating arsenals and exotic flying spin kicks in equal amounts. Absolutely great! One almost nostalgically roots for Kane here, and I swear if he had his rocket-assisted weapon-laden Huffy from Pray for Death, Adkins would have been toast!

Once again, Florentine and friends deliver a hybrid of two distinct eras of martial arts cinemas — weapon-centric ninja combat of the 1980s and the high-kicking spinning and jumping combo-based movie kick-boxing that ruled the 1990s. Both are retro by now, and the heart and soul of each period is retained, and embellished with some modern touches. One modern crutch they NEVER lean on though is the ubiquitous and utterly contemptible shakey-cam. No jittering camera trickery to hide the casting of non-martial artists or overwhelming digital fixes that for many of us have ruined fight scenes in modern action cinema.


The purists (aka haters) out there will complain that either the ninja stuff ruins a perfectly good kick-boxing movie, OR that the kick-boxing ruins a perfectly good ninja film. Obviously I come from the ninja side of things, and if there’s one complaint with Ninja II it’s that it leans a lot more to the 90s side of things than the more 80s-centric first film.

In fact, one could almost edit out the ninja elements entirely and still wind up with a conventional martial revenge film. Perhaps an Undisputed-related script was retro-shinobi-fied here? A bit of a shame, as the idea of the Fujita Seiko legacy, powering up with antique WWII gear, etc. is so damn great I wanted it more at the center of the film.


Historical images of the fabled “Last Koga Ninja”

The reality, however, is that combining the shadowy ninja visuals with the more contemporary unarmed combat makes these movies a whole lot easier to market to worldwide audiences, and as these are genuine indie movies they need each and every sale.

So VN is officially giving Ninja II: Shadow of a Tear 5 (Ninja) Stars. It’s an essential purchase for any ninja movie buff.

It’s really important we all support this movie, too. It does well enough, we’re that much closer to a fourth Undisputed getting funded. By purchasing and spreading the word, you’re not only rewarding the filmmakers who worked their asses off here, you’re checking a YES vote towards old school movie martial arts, towards holding the camera still and letting legit screen fighters and skilled choreographers do their thing. And you’re not letting the 80s ninja craze be forgotten.

Misters Florentine, Adkins and Kosugi… THANK YOU!

Buy Ninja II on Amazon in Bluray or DVD formats.

Available to Netflix streaming subscribers here.


I have such insane love for this press still from REVENGE OF THE NINJA…

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Posted 2 months, 4 weeks ago.


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My review of TED AND HIS 46 RONIN, illustrated mostly by pictures from other films…

Listen up Universal execs! I know exactly what’s gone wrong with your version of 47 Ronin. It’s not a lousy script, minority backlash, a star past his drawing prime, source material un-relatable to the mainstream, or even competition from the Hobbitses like all the critics have been telling you.

It’s lack of commitment.

Let me ‘splain here, beginning with this startling un-ronin-y photo from a testosterone-amped 90s exploitation western:


What would alarm, or outright offend, more — a movie about the gunfight at the OK Corral wherein they got the costumes, environs, props, speech patterns, hairstyles, etc. 100% legit but then fudged the historical truth to sculpt more of a story they wanted, OR a sci-fi version of the same wherein the OK Corral is on the moon, laser fire is exchanged, Wyatt Earp flies around on a jetpack, the Clanton gang are lizard men AND they too fudged the historical facts to sculpt the story they wanted?


Were critical historians paying more scrutiny to the details of a supposedly more credible film like Spielberg’s Lincoln than they were in the accuracy of the stovepipe hat worn in Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter and other famous portrayals?


Levels of responsibility, and expectations of such respect for ‘truth,’ are proportional to the heir of legitimacy presented by the filmmaker. This is what allows musicals like Chicago and Robin and the Seven Hoods to be enjoyed in their own context parallel to more serious fare of the same theme like Boardwalk Empire and Mob City.


But no film, from any era, country or status of director presents history as 100% straight. It’d make for a tearfully boring film, and the purpose of said media is to entertain. Historians will tell you that even with the best of intentions, My Darling ClementineHour of the GunTombstone and Costner’s Wyatt Earp are Hollywood, not history.


Chushingura has been adapted even more than the OK Corral incident and the lives of its legendary participants, and with the same swinging pendulum of historical accuracies vs. dramatic liberties.

But while an American version of this complex political and cultural tale that ends with the mass suicide of its heroes was ill-advised from the start, (as was mixing a Westerner into the otherwise Japanese cast under the ‘half-breed’ cop-out) the idea of selling a Lord of the Rings-style fantasy epic with feudal Japanese trappings to worldwide audiences was not only noble but financially sound. When it was released, I adored Kadowkawa’s magic and creature-infused post Star Wars version of Satomi Hakkenden known to us as Legend of the Eight Samurai, and it had crazy legs on VHS in multiple languages and markets. So why not unleash something similar now, in a market primed by everything from Crouching Tiger to Game of Thrones?


I won’t climb a soapbox on the soiling of sacred Japanese tales here, nor spout on the yet-another-white-guy-shows-the-native-culture-how-their-warrior-tradition-really-should-be-done bullshit. There are thousands of gallons of venom already spewed across the internet on those subjects. Instead I’ll take somewhat of a 180-degree turn. I think to avoid such criticisms, 47 Ronin should have been MORE fantastic, more over the top, had more of an international cast and not have been set in a straight up Japan but rather a vague “martial world” ala the Hong Kong liquid sword epics.


If Keanu Reeves is your lead, then you’ve already told history to go fuck itself, soooooo… don’t sweat the history, don’t make it look and feel – in general seem — “right.” Instead, make it more surreal. Have the tatoo’d skeleton guy as one of the 47 too, and introduce his pal the chain-weilding emancipated slave from the Ivory Coast, then a Portugeese gun runner straight off the Black Ship and his steam-powered robot show up, followed by an unfrozen caveman or Viking berserker next to a topless Chirstian nun who slays vampires by lactating holy water.  Yes, there would be vampires. And tons of other yokai and Japanese mythology. Then Hercules shows up and they all fight reanimated skeleton warriors… and man does that time-travelling Wyatt Earp’s Laser-Colt come in handy!


OK… cool… but MORE PLEASE!


Plenty of nice ground work was laid for historical fantasy, here, too. The “Dutch Island” formed of Western pirate ships where outre gladiatorial games are held was pretty sweet. The gathering of magical swords to give the 47 an edge over superior numbers was also a good notion. The gigantic silver samurai guy (actually closer to what you wanted from The Wolverine) was excellent and the dragon at the end looked absolutely great! It’s the best Japanese dragon FX ever put on screen. 


But again, none of it was taken far enough — more pirate-freaks, more magic sword powers, and was the giant samurai just an animated suit of armor? I couldn’t tell, and that’s a flaw in a fantasy epic. And don’t stop at one monster at the end, dammit, go full Magic Serpent and have Keanu transform into a giant toad, big-ass-spider (not to be confused with THE Big Ass Spider) or fiery bat monster for a combined kaiju/martial arts climax.


This scene with 47 RONIN’s FX??? Ho-lee-sh*t!

47 Ronin should have jumped deep deep DEEP into the impossible fantasy. Instead, it sort of just waded in the safe shallow end while keeping enough traditional fixtures intact to make trouble for itself. This lack of commitment allowed the haters, while likely never even seeing it, to accuse the film of fingering both history and chambara cinematic traditions in the bung hole, for the sake of being a big American star vehicle. It was born behind this 8-ball and never recovered.

Being fully submerged in the insane fantasy waters would have gotten 47 Ronin off that hook, and maybe then the audience for this movie wouldn’t be rolling its collective eyes at the idea of friggin’ NEO taking a Tom Cruise-level piss on jidai-geki while looking over their shoulders for the imminent arrival of Bill S. Preston, Esq. in a phone booth.


With added fantasy elements, I have much fewer Keanu issues with the marketing on the right.

BUT, I will say this: Hiroyuki Sanada was great. He’s ALWAYS great, and carried much of the film. Were Sanada the lead, and 47 Ronin a subtitled import ala The Promise (in which he also starred), House of Flying Daggers or Curse of the Golden Flower it might have actually made more money in the States. Certainly would have merited an underground fan base akin to that of Ashura, DororoShinobi: Heart Under BladeGoemon and the like. If it had a more shameless exploitation vibe like Man with the Iron Fists it might be finding a modest audience. Or if it was a big budget video game instead of film in the first place, it would have Onimusha level visibility.


Instead, it’s a $175 million dollar debacle for a Hollywood studio, and people LOVE to watch those tentpoles fail. 47 Ronin seems to be taking its place as the half-breed Japanese contender to John Carter, and like that film, it deserves a fairer shake and better box office. I mean come on, it’s no Lone Ranger


Dude? Dude… DUDE!!!

If you’re thinking of going to see this thing, despite the wrongness, despite the shortcomings, know that it’s worth it for Sanada and the dragon on the big screen alone. But hurry up, the clock is ticking on dog…


Abdullah the Butcher wants YOU to see better Hiroyuki ‘Henry’ Sanada fare like ROARING THUNDER, TWILIGHT SAMURAI, RINGU and SUNSHINE, or he’ll stick a fork in your head!



Keith J. Rainville — 12/29/13


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Posted 3 months, 2 weeks ago.

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Things you can buy ME for Christmas – Part 2 (and beyond)

So yeah, man did the month of December sneak up on me in the dark with a piano wire…

This was planned as three individual posts, but today is the first day I’ve been able to breathe in three weeks, so here it all is in one big session:


Henshin Ninja Arashi vintage kid’s pop-up book


Understood it’s a rare item, especially in this good a shape, but I just couldn’t swim in the ludicrous waters of pricing the Japanese seller wanted for this, and shipping from Japan is always a total bone. However one of you more affluent readers could put a little eBay search time in and make me a happy, happy camper this Christmas.

ninja-ebay13_3 ninja-ebay13_5 ninja-ebay13_7

These Japanese pop-up books are ambitious as hell with the gimmick graphics. Multiple layers, intricate illustrations. Just awesome…

ninja-ebay13_10 ninja-ebay13_11 ninja-ebay13_18

But let’s face it… none of us are rich, are we? Didn’t think so…

So for the more frugal shopper there’s this Cannon Films Ninja III: The Domination press kit, with some awesomely 80′s art on the cover. These are somewhat common in Hollywood memorabilia shops, or at least they were — that whole thing where you see something all over the place until you need to buy one in December, and whatnot…




I’m going to hold out hope for a truly wealthy and generous Japanese reader though. This plastic promotional advertising bank from the 60′s ninja boom over there NEEDS to be on my mantle!


Described in a Yahoo! Japan auction as “Mitsubishi Color TV Takao ‘DENSHI NINJA’ figure (MANDARAKE HENYA)” — this is a 5″ promotional item from 1968 that would have been in retail stores on top of TV displays. Maybe you got one for the kid if you bought a new TV?




A non-retail toy like this is ludicrously rare, even in Japan. After being listed in the Yahoo! Japan site it made it’s way to our eBay for a week or so for big bucks, then disappeared before the auction ended. Maybe Santa-San scooped it up for me???


On a more domestic front, here’s a great item from our own 80′s boom — a Sho Kosugi knock-off t-shirt!


The sketchy art here is swiped from the ‘iron claws’ poster a lot of us had on our walls back in the day. Unfortunately, vintage t-shirts have a competing market of hipster douchebags looking for ironic wardrobes, so the prices on such fare are just too much. If you spot such a piece on eBay, or in a trust-funded boutique in Williamsburg or Silverlake, and it’s less than $50 I know a stocking that needs stuffing over here. Oh, and size 7xxxxl-mega-gargantua, please.


Well, if these suggestions haven’t inspired you to empty your wallets and throw some ninja crap my way… honestly, don’t sweat it. I’ve probably got enough (read: TOO MUCH!) shinobi swag over here as it is.

I’ll leave you with a final image, a nice Christmas memory of where it all started for me — my haul of Asian World of Martial Arts ninja goods circa 1984. That was a good year, and I still have some of that stuff!


Have a safe and happy holiday everyone!!!

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Posted 3 months, 3 weeks ago.


Things you can buy ME for Christmas – Part 1

Most sites give you all sorts of gift giving ideas this time of year, but I’m turning the tables and putting it all on YOU!

Here’s something I’d really enjoy as a gift from one of you folks, original TV Guide advertising art of Lee Van Cleef in The Master!


This 18×22″ original was rendered back in mid 1980′s by artist Larry Salk. Crisp, high-contrast illustrations like these would often reproduce better than half-toned photos on the cheaper-than-cheap pulp upon which TV Guide and newspaper TV listing inserts were printed.


Yep, this would look awesome hanging on my wall, so hit this eBay link and make with the $500 somebody.

For the next month we’ll be looking at plenty more cool stuff I’d love to own and you as loyal and grateful readers can all pitch in and play Santa… right? RIGHT?!?!? Anyone…


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Posted 4 months, 2 weeks ago.

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Two of my favorite kung-fu-based ninja-sploitation flicks are the Taiwan via Hong Kong oddities Deadly Life of a Ninja and Challenge of the Lady Ninja, both featuring the delightful Elsa Yeung.

Challenge-Lady-Ninja_2 Challenge-Lady-Ninja_3

While Deadly Life features a bizarre pro-wrestling element that will always chime with my DNA, Lady is probably the “better” of the two, if such a term is appropriate.


While a bit less fleshy, it’s perhaps more bat-shit crazy with the outre female “martial arts training” (aka mud wrestling and sexy aerobics) and in particular the weird gimmick villains.


Challenge-Lady-Ninja_5 Challenge-Lady-Ninja_7

Typical of her films, Elsa is put through the ringer with torturous training, fights against multiple male opponents, and all sorts of wacky kunoichi seduction business.

Challenge-Lady-Ninja_8 Challenge-Lady-Ninja_9

Here’s the inside of the brochure, with bilingual summaries:



Yeah, I’m thinking that pic is of one of Elsa’s myriad male stunt doubles… from “Igay School.”


I just adore (in all the wrong ways) the fact that Lady is period-set during the Japanese occupation of Shanghai, yet makes ZERO attempt at fealty to that era. Modern cars and interiors abound, nevermind the over-the-top 80′s fashions and big hair. Evidently Shanghai had a mall with a Chess King back in the 1940s!

Challenge of the Lady Ninja was a staple of cheap VHS at the tail end of the 80s craze, and has also been released in various formats and countries as Never Kiss A Ninja and the completely misleading Chinese Super Ninjas II. As much as a dig this flick, it’s NO sequel to Five Element Ninjas.


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Posted 5 months ago.

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(Originally published October 2009)


The 1961 Satomi Kotaro adventure vehichle Kaiju Jaguma no Moshu (aka “Strike of the Jaguma”) is an absolute miracle of bizarre villains and over-the-top costuming. This has become cliche around here, but if the picture above isn’t enough to get you bouncing around the web in a buying frenzy, then you’re on the wrong site.

A gang of thugs is terrorizing local villages, but they aren’t just any hoodlums – their ranks wear ninja gear and masks, their leader is a whip-wielding fiend in an ornate demon get-up, and his number-one heavy is a white gorilla. Possibly a yeti. Or at least a guy in a yeti costume who’s REALLY dedicated to his gimmick and never takes it off. You be the judge…




These Thai press kit stills, contemporary to the film’s release, show the superb range of costuming, even for the un-masked hero. The hour-long film (probably run as a double bill) is a fine example of a frugal “programmer” that while often silly delivers on action and character design in droves. Flicks like this made a lot of kids wide-eyed and happy.




There are a couple of real ‘No f’n way!’ moments in this one – none more jaw-droppingly awesome than Kotaro’s dispatching of the white-gorilla-man-yeti-thing with, naturally, a gorilla-press slam that would make any pro wrestler proud.

For more, read Paghat’s review here, a French review here, and see a few screen caps here.

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Posted 5 months, 2 weeks ago.

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MONSTER VS. NINJA MONTH: Toad magic of the silent era in JIRAIYA

This 1921 silent movie might just be the first time the legend of Jiraiya was put on film. It could also well-be the first time giant toad and snake magic with special effects transformations appeared on screen, four decades before heroic ninja and tokusatsu monster action were all the rage.

If the tale of toad-powered Jiraiya and snake-powered Orochimaru seems familiar its because it’s been adapted and re-imagined over and over, from the technicolor era to Naruto today.

There’s even a sidekick employing SLUG MAGIC! Not sure how menacing a big ass slug actually is, (that’s him in the middle, below) but there you are…

Silent films in any country are beyond rare, with most lost to the ravages of time, but throw in the war and it’s a miracle any of these flicks still exist. The ritualized combat choreography and simple but ground-breaking effects work here have real charm. Glad this not only survived, but is on YouTube!

Want to credit Ninja Attack co-author Matt Alt for turning me onto this video. Read his article on toads in Japanese popular media here. A new edition of his book is due in July.

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Posted 5 months, 3 weeks ago.

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(Originally published October 2010)

A raggedy, reticent ronin meandering through the dusty Japanese wasteland letting his sword do the talking. Sounds all too familiar, but this particular bushido bum has a secret!

Yep, he’s a mother fuckin’ werewolf!!!

2004 saw this promising follow-up to Tomo’o Haraguchi‘s Sakuya Yokaiden (see our post a week or two back), the equally monster-infused Kibakichi: Bakko Yokaiden (aka Werewolf Warrior). The film and a same-year sequel yielded mixed results. On the negative side, they were long, overly talky, dark and brooding films centered on a dark and brooding hero.

The positive: werewolf vs. monster wire-work martial arts!

Ryuji Harada plays the title character, a wandering swordsman from a tribe of Ainu lycanthropes. One of the last survivors of a massacre, when he finds a remote village populated by yokai on the lam, he bonds with the creatures and offers protection from an evil samurai clan (who have a monster or two on their own payroll).

Plenty of classic yokai here, including some reused from SAKUYA.

The villains have anachronistic Matrix fashions, imported machine guns and golden hand-grenades… but alas, no silver bullets, so Kibakichi kicks their ass! Eventually…

The appeal of Haraguchi’s flicks is definitely the creature design, and in this case it’s soooo good, you don’t mind the plodding movie you’ve had to yawn through to get to the climactic transformation and monster battle. Yeah, Kiba’s in full-on wolf mode for only the final fight, and you really need more of him in monster-power-up form paced throughout the film.

The best monster movies have escalating creature scenes, the best martial arts actioners have escalating fight scenes. Kibakichi has neither, saving both the creature and combat stuff for the very end.

But that ending has a samurai wolf-man doing Hong Kong rolls and throwing spastic jump kicks!

The Kibakichi flicks get love and hate from varying audiences. I myself am way too biased, because I love anything with a village of monsters.

If you’re a monster kid, you love it, because this is a crazy Japanese mutation on the ages old werewolf genre. But from a martial arts cinema standpoint, you might resent all the padding from the creature scenes. The critter fights aren’t as clean as your average tokusatsu TV, either. And as far as where this film falls in the yokai scheme, it’s probably the grimmest portrayal of them, nowhere near as charming as Sakuya or the Daiei trilogy.

But hey, werewolf wireworks! I mean shit…


A cheaper and more hastily produced sequel, Kibakichi 2 forgoes the wolf vs. samurai clan and whole village of monsters caliber of storyline in favor of a one-on-one conflict between the fanged hero and a female survivor of his same tribe.

Not nearly as ambitious as the first, K2 is actually more satisfying in a certain way. There’s more of a B-Monster-movie feel, but at the same time it’s set-bound exteriors and garish creature villains give it a certain vintage Shaw Brothers vibe.

Dig it!

We’ve looked at Hanya and Oni masks this month, here’s a rare representation of the actual demons themselves!

This lizardy, serepenteeny boss villain is the first of the Shaw-esque critters. LOVE this design.

And the main baddie is right out of a Shaw sorcerer flick!

The big problem with Kibakichi 2 is the budget, which sadly means less monster suit time on screen. Kiba is only partially wolfed-up for most of the fights. WEAK!

However, there’s a pretty neat sword girl in the form of Anju (Miki Tanaka), another survivor from Kibakichi’s cursed tribe. She wants revenge for his inadvertent role in her family’s slaughter, and doles out punishment with an enormous bladed boomerang (familiar to you Inuyasha fans).

And yeah, she’s also got a little secret…

So not only do you get the weird Japanese feudal lycanthrope, you get an even rarer mutation – the female werewolf. A Japanese female werewolf. With martial arts skills.

And then they fight!

Once again, you’re frustrated because you had to wait out an overly involved flick to get to the creature climax, and there’s never going to be enough wolf suit time on screen. But like the first flick, what is there is pretty f’n cool.

The furry duel was shot in-studio with a fake interior that really harkens back to classic Shaw Bros. While cherry blossoms fall, the two whirl around like hippy dervishes. The combat tries to approach the kaiju-judo awesomeness that is War of the Gargantuas, but it’s just not long enough, dammit!

And yeah, at the end, they go there…

This cheese aside, I almost like the second movie more than the first. They’re both frustrating, but you can pan enough gold from these waters to make the viewings well worth it. It’s not like the samurai werewolf genre is that crowded.

Both films had extensive grey/black market proliferation, and eventually a domestic DVD release with English dub and subs. The label went under I believe, so it’s secondary market time if you’re looking. A chase I’d say is worhty of the effort.

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Posted 5 months, 3 weeks ago.

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Originally published in two parts, October 2009)

Kairyu Daikessen was a 1966 Toei fusion of ninja revenge and giant monster magic. It delivered in spades on both fronts and was a fantastic movie.


Then it was picked up by American International Pictures for English-language distribution, and has since wallowed in international obscurity. Does it have a cult following based on sporadic UHF TV airings and grindhouse circuit screenings? Sure. But it should be A LOT better known.

So why hasn’t this flick been one of the most exploited and re-issued titles of all time? It should have at least B-grade kaiju status, under Godzilla and Gamera for sure, but right up there with the Gargantuas at least. It should have been a staple rental during the ninja craze, but for some reason has never been marketed for it’s shinobi content.

The blame starts at the AIP re-title, which you may have seen in TV Guide listings and in DVD discount bins for years, never knowing what you were missing – MAGIC SERPENT.

Magic fucking Serpent???

No one could have figured out a way to glom onto some other genres and trends with a strategic retitle bearing a little more dramatic flair? How about Samurai Serpent? Shogun’s Serpent? The Dragon Ninja? War of the Ninja Monsters?

The fact that one movie can have THIS:


and THIS:


AND be translated into English and still be widely anonymous to both kaijufiles and shinobimaniacs is just a crime of marketing and exploitation NEGLECT! Dammit all to hell, it ends here!!!

I will now assault you with images of this masterpiece until you find it and buy it and love it like you should have all these years…


Yep, that’s a big ass bladed boomerang! Early in the film, an assassin uses it to cut off the hero’s head.


Fortunately, Jiraiya (Hiroki Matsukata) has mad ninja wizard skills and can fully function decapitated. That’s his wise-cracking disembodied head on the left, taunting the ninja his body just captured.


He also throws around FX-laden trickery like the trusty old magic energy snare.


But his sworn enemy Orochimaru (Ryutaro Otomo) is not without special effects of his own. LOVE this animated energy cloud, despite the bad opticals.


But when the swordplay and shadow sills fail, it’s time to get down with some big time GIANT MONSTER SUMMONING! Orochimaru transforms into the film’s eponymous critter, one of the best kaiju ever put on screen in my opinion…


BUT WAIT! Who’s this uninvited peeing tom?




Oh yeah, our hero sure as hell can summon and embody a glowing eyed giant horny toad! Let the games begin!!!


The main-event of Kairyu Daikessen is an extended kaiju beatdown between dragon and toad, with a castle destroyed in the process.




This longshot actually begins a DIALOG scene between the monsters! They cut old-school rasslin’ promos on each other, then proceed to have fun storming the castle.



In Japan, dragons don’t breathe fire, toads do.


But the dragon is a big hoser himself, so it’s a pretty even fight.


It’s toad warrior vs. reindeer rex is the original MMA (Mixed Monster Attack).




This giant spider (species: Arachnus Deus Ex Machinatus) flies in at the last moment to save the day.



And in the fashion of all good movies, it ends with an explosion.

Kairyu Daikessen is actually more available now than it ever was back in the day. Beautiful widescreen subtitled editions are floating the trader seas under titles like “Dragon Showdown.” The only legit US release is burried on a double feature disc with a Gamera flick, and it’s the pan and scan AIP dub. The American version has it’s charm though, as all the monster “voices” were replaced by ones more familiar to US audiences (Godzilla, Rodan, Ebirah included).


Here’s some additional ephemera:


Japanese publicity departments were superb at crafting these staged press photos that would summarize the movie in a scene that never actually happens. Best use of this practice ever is in the press stuff for WAR OF THE GARGANTUAS. Google it.

mag serp toys

I’d possibly be willing to trade a kidney (not necessarily mine) for this set of 7″ vinyl dolls from, I believe, Marusan or Marmitt.

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Posted 6 months ago.

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