“THE NINJA” vs. “THE NINJA: The Movie”

Ninja-Lustbader-covers

20+ weeks on The New York Times‘ Best Seller list, millions of copies in print, five sequels and enduring publication on all modern electronic platforms… Eric Van Lustbader‘s vanguard novel The Ninja turns 36 years old this month. It was easily the biggest mass media property of the 1980s ninja boom, yet somehow never saw adaptation outside of print. Much of it was lifted for low-budget movies like Revenge of the Ninja, while at the same time a host of A-list talent and Hollywood legends-in-the-making couldn’t manage to sustain its film development with a much bigger studio deal. The Ninja is the biggest ‘what-if?’ or ‘never-was’ or ‘if-only’ of the era.

So why wasn’t The Ninja the first, and biggest, ninja movie?

From Lustbader’s own website:

After a long process too tortuous to go into here, which included two high-profile directors and three screenwriters, the project was shelved when a new head of production was hired at 20th [Century Fox] and put into turnaround [trans. abandoned] all the projects the former head of production had green-lighted.

Read on, we’re going to look that ‘long, torturous process’ while comparing the book to an actual script draft from one of the high-profile directors in question. And we’ll hear from the author himself on what could have been via a Vintage Ninja exclusive interview.

Ed. Note: If you’ve never read the book, spoilers abound.

 

It came from the pre-craze void…

If The Ninja was published in 1980, it needed at least a year of work behind-the-scenes at the publisher to get there, and let’s speculate the manuscript was started maybe at least a half-year before that. So the notion of a ninja novel was born 1978-79ish? That puts Lustbader two-to-three years ahead of The Octagon in theaters, the Shogun mini-series putting ninja on every TV in America, The Hand appearing in Marvel Comics and Stephen Hayes making the cover of Black Belt. He was ahead of the curve and ahead of the craze, embracing the term ‘ninja’ at a time when only Andrew Adam’s martial arts articles, the Bond adventure You Only Live Twice, Peckinpaw’s The Killer Elite, and sporadic TV episodes of series like Kung-Fu, Baretta and Quincy had breached the term in the U.S.

We asked the author about his first exposure in that pre-boom period:

EVL: I had gotten interested in ukiyo-e Japanese prints. To that end, I was directed to the Ronin Gallery in NYC, which has the largest selection of prints in the Western world. In short order, I became friends with the couple who owned the gallery. In those days, it was housed in the Explorer’s Club mansion on the East Side of Manhattan. It was a nexus for many Japanese visiting or emigrating to the US. The word “ninja” came up in a discussion they were having one day. I started asking questions and immediately became fascinated by these modern-day masters of chaos.

Keep in mind how amorphous the notion of ‘ninja’ would have been at that point. The old kabuki magician image of shinobi characters like Sarutobi Sasuke had no legs in the West. Although mystical lore was suggested in various martial arts theses, notions of cultish assassins were out there in more abundance, and the hooded commando image had been introduced in the Bond movie. The stereotypes, conventions, tropes, etc. and so forth weren’t even close to being cemented in the mainstream public’s eye.

So Lustbader had a perfect opportunity to seize onto an exotic foreign term and iconic character type that would have had an inkling of recognition but wasn’t yet weighed down by b-movie and kids cartoon baggage. It was wide open territory.

 

The Book

The protagonist of The Ninja and its sequels is an effective literary archetype — the outsider of two different cultures caught in their inevitable intersection. Nicholas Linnear is of mixed race – a white father, part of the post WWII occupation force in Japan, and a mother of deliberately mysterious pan-Asian descent. As a young man he endures a troubled upbringing in post-war Japan, where he learned deadly martial arts alongside rival cousin Saigo, to whom he loses his first love Yukio. Politics and subterfuge lead to the deaths of his parents, a grudge gets passed to the next generation, and he flees Japan.

Decades later, Linnear is a graphic designer living a playboy life in New York City. He gets tangled with a gorgeous basket case named Justine, the daughter of billionaire industrialist Raphael Tomkin — who just happens to tank a deal with a Japanese conglomerate that puts a price on his head. Saigo, who has spent the interim learning the most demented aspects of ninjutsu’s mind control and black arts, answers their call, unable to pass up the opportunity for a major bounty, and a chance to settle an old score.

What follows is cat-and-mouse, as Saigo stalks both of his prey, killing off their colleagues and friends one by one in signature shinobi fashion. Grizzled burn-out loose-cannon cop Lew Croaker recruits Linnear into the chase, despite the warnings of Nicholas’ country sawbones pal Doc Deerforth, who himself encountered evil ninja in the Philippines during WWII. The more our hero heals old emotional wounds via his relationship with Justine, the more he is maneuvered into protecting his potential father-in-law. Saigo, meanwhile, devolves into an urban monster, frequenting a brothel where he victimizes young boys and sinking further into an opiate drug habit that somehow aids his almost sorcerer-like powers.

Ninja-novel-text

The final showdown between Linnear and Saigo happens in that oh-so-80s of locations – the under-construction luxury skyscraper. Tomkins, being the eeeeevil industrialist cliché that he is, screws over everyone to protect himself, not caring as dead employees, bodyguards, disposable police and even family members are piling up like cordwood. Linnear uses him as bait, and it comes down to ninja-vs-ninja – ancient weapons used in a duel amidst modern architecture and office computers.

Copious sex, cultural stereotypes used for flavor, red-light seedy locals interspersed with glass and chrome digs of the rich (and you can just see the Nagel prints on the walls), violence in lurid detail and eventually explosions abound, along with plenty of set-up for sequels. So yeah, 80s blockbuster novel.

With time and perspective (and some nostalgia), I actually enjoy The Ninja now more than I did back in the day. When I plucked my copy off the spinner rack at the local pharmacy in 1980-whatever, it was a mass market paperback already in print for years, and Shogun, The Octagon and Enter the Ninja, along with countless issues of exploitive martial arts magazines, had cemented a notion of what ninja were in my early-teen head.

Decades later, knowing what the black-hooded idiom devolved into, I appreciate the novel’s almost non-genre-ness immensely. The book wasn’t tainted by contemporary exploitation movie posters and mail-order merchandise mania. There was nary a ‘ninja-to’ to be found in its pages, and even the black suits and hoods (later requisite, regardless of what century or continent the ninja tale was based) are only vaguely referred to and could certainly just be modified contemporary garb. It’s free of a lot of the baggage that, let’s face it, killed the ninja boom before a legitimizing big-budget movie ever saw the light of day.

I approach the book now like one should most Best Sellers and read it for entertainment. Sure, critics will task its Western views of Eastern culture, damaged and victimized women characters, tangents to Calvell’s Shogun, etc. and whatnot, but to me (and I’m thinking the rest of you reading this site) The Ninja is fine beach reading… with shuriken!

 

The Ninja: The Movie

So why wasn’t The Ninja the first big craze-launching movie?

Search around the web, from the author’s own site to various film databases, and a murky picture of what was going on with the film development emerges. 20th Century Fox is widely credited with the option, but just as many sources list Richard Zanuck and David Brown as attached producers, who were more associated with Universal Studios. Regardless of what studio ended up distributing, the production entity that was the Zanuck/Brown Company had this weird cadence of success — every second movie they did was huge. 1973 saw them crank out snakes-sploitation shlock classic Sssssss to meager success, but then later that year produce the mega smash hit and Oscar-rich The Sting. The oft forgotten Spielberg movie Sugarland Express followed, but then in 1975 they were responsible for inventing the summer tentpole movie phenomenon with Jaws. I’m a big fan of their next flick The Island with Michael Caine, but it was a flop, but their next outing was the monster hit Cocoon. So where would The Ninja have fallen in this up/down cycle?

Talent behind the camera certainly would have indicated a big hit, as the author attests:

EVL: The first [director] to be attached was Irvin Kirshner. He was just coming off directing “The Empire Strikes Back,” so he was considered “hot,” with no thought whatsoever as to whether he would be right for the project. He was so not. I sat in on a lot of the pre-production meetings, all of which were a disaster. Then the script came in. It was virtually unrecognizable. The screenwriter (I don’t recall his name) had Nicholas shoot Saigo with a gun in the climactic battle. It was a hot mess.

When Dick and David fired Kirshner and hired John Carpenter, everything was reset to zero from that moment on. Carpenter, as it turned out, was also wrong for the film, and he left after a frustrating year of not being able to come up with a filmable draft.

So many what-if’s here… You couldn’t have a bigger hit than Empire, but Kirshner’s career sort of went sideways after, with marginal genre work like the James Bond red-headed stepchild Never Say Never Again and Robocop 2. Carpenter was coming off the heartbreak of The Thing tanking (despite its now classic status) and would have been writing his version of The Ninja between projects like Christine and Starman. Years later, he would end up channeling his desire to do a martial arts epic into Big Trouble in Little China.

So why not ask the author for an adaptation?

EVL: I did not write a draft, and I didn’t ask to do one. I have family who have been in the film business all their lives. I didn’t want to get enmeshed in that craziness. Dick Zanuck and David Brown had bought “The Ninja” through their production company…they were wonderful to me, real gentleman, and took my suggestions to heart. They threw out that first script, for instance. 20th’s head of production at the time was the great Sherry Lansing, one of the last true production execs in Hollywood. She was also wonderful to me. Very warm and open, but all the film decisions were made by Dick and David.

Another interesting question is what the overall look and general feel of the movie have been. Being right on the cusp of two decades, The Ninja: The Movie might have had a vestigial 1970s-ness to it — think The Yakuza with Robert Mitchum and Takakura Ken, or The Challenge with Toshiro Mifune and Scott Glenn. Conversely, the 1980s was a decade that very aggressively wanted an identity of its own, and actively distanced itself from music, cinematic and pop culture trends of the disco 70s. Would The Ninja: The Movie have been amidst stylistic landmarks of that time, movies like Smithereens and Alphabet City, ramping up to the uber-80s-ness of To Live and Die in L.A. or the Miami Vice TV show?

Location would have dictated a lot as well. With a bigger budget, The Ninja would have been a New York City picture, carrying the Scorsese-like gravitas that city’s gritty streets effortlessly provide. Had it been even partially co-produced or made with Japanese studio cooperation, some scenes could have been shot in Japan on the familiar Toho or Daiei jidaigeki sets, as had Shogun. Had the budget not been as high, Burbank backlots would have subbed for NYC, or more likely the story’s location changed to Los Angeles to accommodate local shooting. The result wouldn’t have suffered much.

 

Wait… HE could have been Nicholas?

As craze-crazed dweebs, we used to speculate the casting of a movie adaptation of The Ninja back in the day, but we weren’t the only ones! We asked the author who he ‘saw’ as his hero:

EVL: I was very high on Richard Gere to play Nicholas; he had the right look, and I liked his acting. What none of us knew was whether he’d be up to the physical trials the film would put him through.

Damn, I love love love the idea of Richard Gere, circa 1981-ish, playing Linnear, and according to the author he was the closest to getting the gig. As for the question of physical trials, one need look no further than the superb An Officer and a Gentlemen for proof that the actor would have been up to the task. His fight scene with Louis Gosset Jr. is one of the best ever put on screen in the eyes of a lot of industry folk. Gere had the looks to sell tickets off a movie poster alone, and had just come off a big hit with American Giggolo.

Lustbader-Ninja_cast

If not Gere, then who? Well, let’s be geeky kids again a speculate!

Jan-Michael Vincent around that same time period comes to mind, between action films like Defiance and Hooper but pre-Air Wolf. Vincent was athletic as hell, had that gunfighter squint and could sell the brooding intellectual with a skeleton-filled-closet character type. Or… The Ninja could have been the film to break Mickey Rourke, before Diner and Rumble Fish, adding a more haunted if not sinister edge to Nicholas. Guys like Patrick Swayze or Michael Paré would have been on the young side to carry a major feature, while a Michael Beck of The Warriors fame would have been too blonde for the role, although he’d go on to play a ninja years later in the criminally unavailable TV movie The Last Ninja.

What about Japanese or other Asian actors? In Hollywood, at a big studio, in 1980, that wasn’t going to happen. Hell, it doesn’t happen in 2016. This was the era of Joel Grey in heavy yellow-face make-up playing an ancient kung-fu master in Remo Williams while Mako and Keye Luke sat home unemployed. Plus, Lustbader took time in the book to describe Linnear as greatly favoring his father’s side of the family, possibly thinking of film development down the road.

Where you DO get a meaty role for an Asian actor is in alternate-reality dream casting of Saigo! Sonny Chiba was a name in the States from the Streetfighter films, came with his own stunt team, and also provided the opportunity for Japanese box office for an international co-production. Tadashi Yamashita was a natural as well. But man, think of this mind-blower… and we’re in full geek mode at this point… Sho Kosugi, in full villain mode, makes The Ninja instead of Enter the Ninja, and our world is never the same!

Ninja-Saigocast

And while we’re playing movie-god, Nick Nolte would have been perfect as NYPD police investigator Lew Croaker, Theresa Russell as Justine, Donna Kae Benz or Shogun’s Yoko Shimada as Yukio, and I would absolutely insist on finding roles somewhere for James Shigeta, Toru Tanaka, and Mako.

Ninja-cast

Another interesting speculation — fight choreographer. Mike Stone would have already been formulating his own Enter the Ninja script, and was as ahead of the curve on the impending ninja boom as Lustbader was. Tak Kubota was responsible for the ninja elements of The Killer Elite in 1975, while career consultant/cameo types like Gerald Okamura and Fumio Demura would certainly have been available too. And whereas Masaaki Hatsumi had been a technical consultant on the first Shinobi-no-Mono films, would a burgeoning Stephen K. Hayes been given a similar opportunity in Hollywood?

ninja-choreographers

Man, what a blast that gig would have been, too — weapons and techniques most of the audience would never have seen on screen before, and getting to create that gear from scratch years before mail order made it all so homogenous. So cool…

But such was never to be.

The optioned book went into what the industry calls “development hell” and the ninja genre took the exploitation course it did. As lore would have it, exploitation maestros Golan-Globus under Cannon Films cranked out their first ninja movies so fast, and so immediately defined the  ninja genre as cheap grindhouse, that mainstream producers saw little potential in raising things out of the gutter and bailed on The Ninja early.

I always believed that, until…

Last year, copies started showing up for sale of a script draft for The Ninja dated January 24, 1983. 1983!!! Not so early.

Credited as a “2nd Draft” and co-authored by the aforementioned John Carpenter with Tommy Lee Wallace (of Halloween III: Season of the Witch fame), this 120 page script is the first piece of hard physical evidence I’ve ever encountered on the project.

And it raises more questions than answers.

 

The Ninja vs the ninja craze

If… IF… this 1983 script had passed muster and Carpenter’s version of The Ninja had gone into production right away, a movie still wouldn’t have hit screens until early 1985 at best. Now, try to remember the state of the ninja boom at that point. This big budget, mainstream audience-seeking project would have hit theaters amidst Pray for Death and American Ninja, while Enter, Revenge and Ninja III: The Domination were fixtures on cable and VHS rental. While one could argue this was the boom’s peak, the downhill was coming quick. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles was about to redefine the word ‘ninja’ to a generation of kids and toy-buying parents, Godfrey Ho and ilk were on the warpath in Hong Kong making the worst (or for some, best) ninja schlock ever seen, and The Master was already facing cancellation on TV.

John Carpenter’s The Ninja (he always billed his name before his titles) would have been weighed down by the baggage of already established public perceptions of the genre (news stories about kids hurting themselves with mail order weapons were all the rage on TV, too) and it would have had to overcome all kinds of cheap exploitation tropes to stand above the ranks.

Plus, much of what The Ninja‘s pages had to offer had already been done. Revenge of the Ninja cribbed all sorts of elements from the book – the expatriate master of Japanese martial arts trying to live a decidedly non-martial life in the U.S., a rash of gruesome crimes with ancient weapon calling cards left behind, arcane arts actually disguising the modern business agenda of the assassin, the best friend from the dojo, blades overcoming guns, one-weapon-one-kill arsenals, the grizzled skeptic cop barking “What the hell is a NEEEN-JUH doing in my city!?!?” and yes, the “only a ninja can stop a ninja” commandment governing the final conflict. All done by Lustbader in print first, but by Sam Firstenberg and Sho Kosugi on screen first.

In hindsight, Revenge might have been solely greenlit and rushed into production based on the Lustbader book being in development across town. They raced to beat it to the screen, like Deep Impact did to Armageddon or Tombstone did to Wyatt Earp, and may have done it so well that the second bigger movie never came out as a result.

We asked the author about Revenge of the Ninja in particular and if he saw it at the time, or since:

EVL: I didn’t. I don’t want to. The constant delays on the film, and then it being put into turnaround when Sherry left 20th, opened the way for a whole slew of truly awful ninja knockoff films, which, to this day, have poisoned the well for “The Ninja” as a film project. None of those films did well, and with each release 20th grew more and more reluctant to go ahead with the project. Now, of course, the studio is looking for a “new take” on the story. It seems as if it will never be made in the image of my novel.

Sooooo… here’s the big question — in hiring Carpenter/Wallace in 1983 for a possible 1985 movie, were the producers even trying to faithfully adapt the 1980 book? Or was this hiring of the men who spawned the slasher genre-defining Halloween actually an attempt at what they saw as a course correction?

A look at the script suggests that.

Ninja-script-text

 

John Carpenter’s The Ninja

You know those movies that carry a book’s title, but have little else to do with the source? Ever feel betrayed when a book adaptation’s trailer seems to have enough of the surface details to look like it remains true, but when you see the actual movie you realize that was just façade? Do you hate that?

Well, if John Carpenter’s The Ninja had hit screens in 1985 or so, man oh man would you have HATED IT!

Let’s start with a few of Carpenter/Wallace’s minor variations in central tone – The Ninja is no longer a martial arts tale, it’s essentially a slasher movie with a semi-researched shinobi in place of a Michael Myers, and all the other characters are now victims on the run trying to find a way to escape him.

What about Nicholas Linnear and his own ninja skills? Well, for starters there is no Nicholas Linnear, he’s now Nicholas Tomkins – son of the industrialist heel, an urban playboy and trust fund baby with the otherwise bohemian lifestyle of a classical musician and composer. Oh, and he’s not a martial artist.

Gone is Linnear as the son of an occupation general/doomed politician trying to do right, gone is his upbringing as a half-breed outsider in Japan, gone is the deep-seeded rivalry with Saigo, gone… all of it. Saigo’s multi-generational grudge is instead driven by the fact that as a child he witnessed one-time corrupt Occupation-era Military Police officer Rafael Tomkins execute his father after a shady business deal went south.

Justine is there, although not his daughter, but instead is an executive of Tomkins’ ruthless industrial board, and shares his bed in their spare time. A beyond awkward love triangle (for those who’ve read the book) forms mid-script. Justine’s sister Glenda (and her sexually bloated side-story) and Doc Deerforth are lost in the shuffle.

Loose-cannon cop Lew Croaker transforms (in very typical Carpenter fashion) into ex-military kick-ass karate-cop “Lewis Spanzo” – big, black, bald and taking-no-shit. You can just see the Keith David (They Live!) casting! Spanzo is almost the hero of the script, and I say ‘almost’ because John Carpenter had an interesting way of not having obvious central leads in more than a few of his big ensemble cast films (see Prince of Darkness).

But within this divergent Carpenter/Wallace dimension, a bunch of action scenes and character beats from the novel actually made it into the script, and could have helped a trailer seem rather faithful. Saigo-Meyer’s hunt still takes him through Nicholas’ friends, although the dojo killings are now Spanzo’s pals. Brothels, blowguns, hypnosis tricks and poison shuriken abound. Saigo is still a whore-mongering pervert, although the book’s use of homosexual acts for both pleasure and torture of victims were cut. He’s also the same drug addict – which would have made for some great demented hop-head sequences under the skillful Carpenter hand. The under-construction skyscraper infiltration is still the climactic set-piece, followed by the doppleganger dead body swerve and the limo scene — those being firmly established crutches of the horror genre anyway.

Carpenter’s Saigo is a legit monster, and in the context of horror movies, would have been a unique menace worthy of bearing the film’s name. He’s genuinely evil, loves the chase, kills each victim in a different spectacular fashion, has both the mental and physical prowess to overcome all authorities in his way, and is possibly gifted with spiritual super powers. He’s part Jason/Freddy/Myers ilk, part Terminator.

But the cast of victims is hard to care about. Nicholas Linnear, who by 1985 was now the star of the book’s hit sequel The Miko (with more on the way) just cannot be downgraded from Eastern martial master in a Western world to just another pretty boy cowering in fear and coming up with a miracle to somehow kill the monster and save the girl. Spanzo is a walking symbol of Western arrogance at first, but becomes the voice of reason who knows just enough ninja lore to realize how screwed everyone is. He’s more of a literary device than he is a human being.

Despite the jarring differences, I can actually see the studio’s (albeit flawed) logic here — you’ve invested in a major hit book’s film rights, but since writing that check other lesser studios have knocked-off your once exotic property. With that pandora’s box open, you hire some proven talent from another genre to repurpose the work into something less canon (and less Cannon, see what I did there!), thus more compatible to a wider audience.

john-carpenter-axe

Thing of it is, when you genre-bend like this, trying to pick up devotees of each genre, you often isolate both groups instead, and neither buy tickets. The Ninja as slasher film disguised in black pajamas would have pissed off ninja movie hopefuls, especially with its lack of ninja-vs-ninja action. At the same time, slasher freaks weren’t looking to a ninja movie for their gore-hound content, either. Also, by then, Ninja III: The Domination had tried to bridge horror genres in ninja gear, and while we love that film here, it wasn’t exactly a franchise-launching juggernaut like Halloween.

 

Sigh…

As much as we love Kosugi and Dudikoff fare — both back in the day and looking back now in nostalgia — the frustration of there never being a big studio, big-budget validation of the genre we loved lingers to this day. I remember being in the theater for 1994’s The Hunted — the best 80s ninja movie ever made a decade too late — and thinking to myself THIS is what The Ninja would have been like.

I was one of about 12 people there on opening night.

The Ninja‘s Nicolas Linnear might have been an unstoppable shinobi superman, but all it took to stop The Ninja: The Movie was bad timing. Super bad timing. Cheesy competition beat them to the punch, the craze sputtered out early, and the very word ‘ninja’ wound up irrevocably associated with pizza-obsessed cartoon turtles.

When the 1983 script came to light, and thus the fact that development continued into the mid-80s, it was a shocker, but the fact that this leg of the development didn’t produce a film is not.

The book remains a much better read.

 

Keith J. Rainville — April 2016

 

____________________________________________________________________

A special thanks to Eric Van Lustbader for the interview and his time. Check out his official web site.

We’ll repeat our recommendation to re-read The Ninja, which is now available in eBook form.

Despite the film going nowhere, it’s surprising The Ninja was never adapted to any other medium. Why during the graphic novel explosion of the 80s didn’t a company like Eclipse adapt the book to at least black & white panels? Although if you lived in Ecuador at the time, you did get this weird homage/unauthorized adaptation!

The Carpenter/Wallace script is also readily available via eBay.

 

Up close on some old SHINTARO cards

How many times, in a jealous fit of childish resentment, have I openly cursed all Australians on this site? Seriously, that continent probably hates me, but dammit, their head start on the ninja craze outside of Japan beat us by two decades and I just can’t get past that so BITE ME!

The Samurai, originally Onmitsu Kenshin in Japan, also referred to by Australian fans as ‘Shintaro‘, was not only the first ninja property exported from Japan to an English speaking market, it fostered the first licensed ninja merchandise produced by any company outside of Asia.  Samurai “swap cards” were sold with Scanlens bubble-gum at the height of the show’s massive boom in Australia starting in 1964. They remained an institution among the show’s multi-generational fan-base for the original 10-season run, then subsequent sequels and repeats in syndication forever. The card designed even inspired the DVD sleeve art forty-odd years later.

Shintaro-cards_7

The 72 card Scanlens set was always a highly collectible item down there, but in the early 2000s when DVDs of the old show finally became available worldwide (and my jealousy complex started as well) the potential collector base widened considerably and prices shot up. A complete set now commands anywhere between $200-600, which is a shame because, to be completely honest, at least half the set kinda… sucks.

Don’t believe me? Check out a complete set scanned and uploaded here. Seriously, I’m not being a hater here, but as a designer, art director and third generation photographer the choice of images and cropping here offends my brain and artistic sensibilities to a baffling degree. Scantness must have had jack squat to work with if these are the best shots that made the cut.

So yeah, as much as I love the show, I’m not about to shell out half a grand for this card set.

Once in a while I will buy some single gems, though, and here a few recent scores, with some up close and personal views.

Shintaro-cards_2

“Certain Death for Tombei” [sic] could have been the title of every other episode of the show. The awesomely cool ninja ‘Tonto’ to the ‘Lone Ranger’ that was Shintaro often existed solely to pad episodes with expositional lessons on ninja gadgets and commando tactics (many comic book level sensationalistic) and then to inevitably get captured by more bloodthirsty and aggressive ninja. None of the hundreds of shinobi who ever captured Tonbei were a tenth the swordsman Shintaro was, though. You’d think at some point these shadow clans would have recruited a proper long-swordsman to specifically wait around to duel the big guy when needed…

Shintaro-cards_1

As much ‘legit’ ninjutsu as was presented in the show, some episodes leaned on entirely silly fare like Dragon Submarines made of bamboo, and magical wizardry notions left over from previous decades’ image of ninja. This snow-storm attack, filmed using soap flakes and paper confetti way too big to be ice crystals, is a pretty goofy moment actually captured quite nicely in this pic.

Shintaro-cards_4 Shintaro-cards_3

Onmitsu Kenshin is, arguably, the single media property most responsible for the shuriken fetish ninja would be saddled with from the 60s boom onward. They perfected the technique of actors posing against wooden walls, then holding still as throwing stars were lodged into the surface between quick takes of 3-6 frames of film. The result, with the right sound effects, looked like a handful of blades were thrown at a target at once. As the show went on, they got more astute in filming this and did so in reverse, starting with several stars in the wall, plucking them out one by one then reversing the resulting film for a smoother action.

Shintaro-cards_6

Shintaro-cards_5

If you haven’t checked out any of The Samurai, do so for both the legit good ninja stuff and for its place in ninja pop culture history. The English-dubbed episodes are widely available, including legit release DVDs easily found on eBay.

More good Blu news for 2016!

posted in: 1 - Film and TV | 0

81BecCq3d8L._SL1500_

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.

RageofHonors2

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.

RageofHonors3

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…

91hAw-iF6iL._SL1500_

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.

Challenge-Mifune

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.

Challenges

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!

Daredevil-ninja-stick

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!

House-Ghost

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!

 

THANKFUL…

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

036

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

dragons-den

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

FEN3

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

021

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

kage1

For the privilege of meeting Sonny Chiba earlier this year.

AmericanNinja10

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

glossynin1

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

samurai s5 fuma ninja

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

VN-swordrack

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

shuriken statue1

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

hanarangers800

For the Hana Rangers.

shinobi-no-mono_C6

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

Challenge-Lady-Ninja_3

That Elsa Chung had no problem gettin’ nekkid…

KEITHBDAY-web

For having so many awesome artist friends.

Magic Serpent lobby1

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

Ongg-Oshida

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

TBD6

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

MasterofNinja_1

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

 

unknown-nin

PRAY FOR DEATH coming to Blu!

posted in: 1 - Film and TV | 0

PrayforDeath-4

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.

PrayforDeath-2 PrayforDeath-1

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.

PrayforDeath-3

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.

PrayforDeath-discs

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.

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.

020

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

031

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

Jaguma1

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.

036

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.

023

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

kibakichi14

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!

SakuyaYokaiden12

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.

henshinarashi8

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!

majinhunter9

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.

Jiraiya-silent_4

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…

samuraireincarnation-9

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

 

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???

gymkata1

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.

gymkata10

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.

gymkata3

gymkata7

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?

gymkata2

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

gymkata6

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.

gymkata4

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?!?!?!?!?’

gymkata5

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…

gymkata8

Full credit for the above pun goes to Charles DeVos.

 

More home video subterfuge

posted in: 1 - Film and TV | 0

Ninja commandos inflicted some pretty serious damage during Japan’s feudal age, but the damage they’ve done to home video shopers’ wallets in the modern age is probably worse.

Video packaging subterfuge — throwing the word NINJA on any non-shinobi-oriented film for a sales spike — was typical in the 80s. Often, the B.S. was within the confines of the genre, like Sho Kosugi imagery is used in movies that didn’t star him:

tumblr_n78ntb1g0C1snghrzo1_500

But just as common was deception from outside the genre, particularly 70s kung-fu films bumped to priced-to-sell VHS from 16mm retired grindhouse prints under a shinobi-fied re-title:

not-ninjaVHS

Once in a while, you come across some genuine head-scratchers, like this 90s VHS for the Cameron Mitchell exploitation flick The Last Reunion:

$_58

This 1980 dumpster fire of a film sees a war orphan now full gown into a vengeful martial arts master hunting down the members of a former army unit. During the 80s craze, and considering the assassin wore some semblance of night camouflaging black, it definitely qualified for “retro-shinobi-fication” — getting retitled as Ninja Nightmare, Ninja Assassins and/or Revenge of the Bushido Blade in endless cheap VHS bargain bin ambushes. I’m baffled it would see the light of day on VHS of that period under it’s non-ninja title, but even more confused that the image they used here is of Hiroyuki ‘Henry’ Sanada from the demented Kadowkawa FX masterpiece we know and love as Ninja Wars!

ninjanightmares

Add to all this confusion the fact that “Ninja Assassin” and “Ninja Assassins” as well as “Ninja Nightmare” were used for other films from the likes of Godfrey Ho, and the unsuspecting shopper could be out all sorts of scratch.

The bulk of the post has been set in the past tense, but I recently stumbled upon this newly released cheapie DVD compilation:

$_12 copy

A 2015 release! Brazen as hell!

Quick census: a drunken master, a has-been action star in meta-comeback bank heist mode and a retired pro-wrestler in a boxing ring… and yeah, NO NINJA WHAT THE HELL DECADE IS IT WHO ACTUALLY BUYS THIS CRAP!?!?!?!

And… to come full circle:

not-ninjaVHS2

Some of the above flicks might actually have ninja in them, though… at least that’s what the knocked-off Kosugi art would indicate.

Caveat Emptor…

 

Enter the Revenge of the Blurays

posted in: 1 - Film and TV | 0

We finally have the original Cannon Films Sho Kosugi ‘ninja trilogy’ on good home video formats! Sure, its a couple decades later than it should have happened, and at a time when the public is giving up physical media in droves, but hey, we the children of the 80s craze who love these movies enough to own them are still stocking our shelves of discs, aren’t we?

Kino Lorber have just released Enter the Ninja and Revenge of the Ninja on Bluray, joining the superb Ninja III: The Domination Blu put out by Scream Factory last year.

Ninja-Blurays

The Enter disc is, honestly, nothing special. The only extra is an already familiar trailer. There’s a marginal improvement via format, but its not a profound leap from the DVD-on-Demand disc MGM has had available, or the print streaming on Netflix and the like. It may even be cropped a little too much on top and bottom, but I’m not claiming to be an expert on aspect ratios and transfers.

Revenge has had a few different DVD releases where aspect was a serious issue though — some prints are a square “Open Matte” transfer that actually gives more image on top and bottom than the filmmakers intended. It’s neat for seeing some extra choreography here and there, but the image is small on widescreen TVs. Other widescreen prints have also been released on triple feature DVD packs that suffer somewhat from compression, so all in all the new Blu is worth buying just for the proper image alone.

But with his disc Kino Lorber also gives us full-length commentary from director Sam Firstenberg and stunt coordinator Steve Lambert. They talk some nice shop about stunt work in the analog age, having freedom from studio pressure while shooting out in Salt Lake City, Utah, and how legit dangerous some of the gags were, especially in the hi-rise building sequences. They pay nice homage to the fact that this film is often overlooked for making history with a sole Japanese lead actor, hint at what a direct sequel-that-never-happened would have meant for intended bigger player Keith Vitali, and Firstenberg’s memory for how many days it took to film a scene is like a steel trap.

Alas, the disc is otherwise barebones. A behind-the-scenes gallery promised in press releases and package copy is either missing or hidden in menus I can’t find, so that’s a red herring. I or myriad other sites would have given them considerable stills and marketing materials for a gallery had they asked, and Lambert is a veritable font of still materials, so no excuses.

In fact, I’m miffed enough at this to compensate by presenting some rare alternate take and missing scene stills myself, courtesy of MGM’s electronic press kit from years back (see more over at IMDB):

Revenge-lost_2 Revenge-lost_4 Revenge-lost_6

Here’s a couple from the cut scene (you see it briefly in the trailer) of National Guard snipers dispatched by Braden before the final duel:

Revenge-lost_3 Revenge-lost_1

This is the same “da-fuq???” look I had when the stills gallery turned out to be absent from the disc:

Revenge-lost_5

There’s also a missed opportunity, and I can’t fault them too much as it’s probably a significant rights issue, to present the superb Rob Walsh synth score as an audio bonus. Again, were these films put out at the height of DVD when labels heavily invested in extras, this would have been a given. We take what we can get in 2015.

BUT… despite any geek-gripes, we’re wholeheartedly recommending this new disc. The Octagon and Enter may have come first, but Revenge is the movie that cemented the ninja craze. It’s running time is almost completely combat, chases or stunts plus it put weapons-play on screen no one had ever seen before, and that’s a real trick in the martial-exploitation realm. This is the best version of the movie available and it is mandatory viewing for any ninja nerd, so get to it!

Kino Lorber have also released the Michael Dudikoff/Steve James ‘Deadliest Game’-inspired Avenging Force on an extras-peppered Bluray, and are giving the same treatment to the duo’s first American Ninja flick, as hinted by Judie Aronson on her Facebook fan page. Dudikoff, Firstenberg, Lambert, Aronson and even Tadashi Yamashita reunited in the Philippines last year for a documentary shoot, joined by Steve James‘ daughter Debbi, who’s pursuing a doco of her own (read more at My Dad Steve James).

AmNin-bluray

Bitter as many of us are that these films were largely ignored or under-serviced during the DVD boom, when profound extras and deluxe box sets were aplenty, it is great to finally have them all in peak condition, and legit, too. Kudos to Kino Lorber!

 

1 2 3 4 27