It never really breached the Times Square grindhouse and werewolf circuits here in the States, but the Hong Kong / Japanese co-production Ninja in the Dragon Den was certainly an international hit.
Here’s some totally original painted artwork from the Mexican release. Most international ad campaigns for the film centered on either of the two matinee idols involved – Henry Sanada and Conan Lee, and where their names didn’t mean as much, it was photos of Sanada’s superb ninja costuming that carried the ads.
But in Mexico, they often opted for totally original art.
Images from a 1960 B&W adventure pic from Toei titled (draw a breath here) Hakuba Doji Nanbanji no Kettou Kanketsu Hen. Can’t get a good translation of that bulky title, but it’s along the lines of ‘case of the southern barbarians’ or perhaps European foreigners being investigated.
I’ve sen this flick with no subtitles, so the exact story escapes me, but it’s got plenty of serial swashbuckler-style action, and amazing costumes.
Once upon a time, “Lone Wolf” himself Tomisaburo Wakayama got a little bored with normal swordfare, watched a few too many spaghetti westerns, and spawned a fantastic movie and TV franchise called Shokin Kasegi – The Bounty Hunter.
The character made three* silver screen appearances in 1969, but had longer life when the property jumped to television in the 70’s, tightening up to a formulaic ‘hunt-of-the-week’ series. Shikoro Ichibei runs a grade school / day care for impoverished Edo children by day, funding this noble pursuit by moonlighting as a bounty hunter and covert merc for the local magistrate. He does his job with both sword (there was typically one Wakayama signature slashing per episode) and an arsenal of outré handguns and experimental rifles that would have made Sabata or Sartana jealous.
Formulaic TV heroes need their sidekicks, and Ichibei’s plucky and scrappy Tonto/Kato-equivalent was ‘Kagero’, played by Thai-born pop singer and actress Judy Ongg.
Just as the rather spaghetti-westernized Ichibei wore signature leather chaps and gunbelts, Kagero’s outfit was based on period shinobi-wear, but executed in suede right off the American frontier. Similar costuming was seen in Kaiketsu Lion Maru.
Kagero was Ichibei’s scout, shadow-killed information gatherer, outright spy, saboteur etc. and so forth. She specialized in reverse-grip short sword, blow-gun, explosive powders and whatnot, but would not hesitate to borrow a sawed-off shotgun from her boss’ amble arsenal and blow a guy’s lunch through his spine if things came down to it. Ongg’s expressive eyes and bee-stung lips give her both a voluptuous beauty and a youthful cuteness at once. She’d run into battle smiling like a tomboy but could also be deadly serious and stoic.
For a singer/actress, Judy Ongg sure did some nifty acrobatics and fights, too. Yeah, sure, as a sidekick you have a certain amount of contractual damsel-in-distress / best buddy held hostage time, but you really had a notion of her skill – Kagero was an ace.
Kagero’s greatest asset was, however, an absolutely astounding posterior. It’s positively Mexican. I mean, wow! That is how a woman was meant to be, kunoichi killer or otherwise. Damn, I’m in love…
Thing of it is, the sidekick contract seems to always include a decided lack of screen time. Yeah yeah, Wakayama’s the star and the best swordsman on the Japanese screen ever ever ever, we know. But damn, I’d be happy with just the Kagero show! Most weeks had some sort of guest hunter, too, with an exotic signature weapon of his own like a bullwhip or bolos or a bamboo bazooka – so her screen time would be cut even more.
A whole pile of episodes of The Bounty Hunter are available from various grey sources. The movies are somewhat harder to come by, but those don’t have Judy, so feh… However, see the footnote below for a movie you can find easily with just as strong a swordgirl presence.
*Fans of the superb Quick-Draw Okatsu film will recognize virtually the same character strolling nonchalantly into that franchise. This unofficial crossover, where he shared screentime with a ludicrously cute swordgirl played by pinky star Reiko Oshida, may have been the template for the TV Ichibei / Kagero formula.
Can a respectable, accomplished beautiful woman from noble samurai family possibly say no to a hooded bedroom invader so clearly superior in his warrior fashion sense? I think not!
I may have started this site just to find a good home for this picture. Seriously.
Said hood is Hashizo Okawa, the shinobi son trying to exact revenge on behalf of his tattooed ninja mom-done-wrong in the 1961 Toei film Akai Kageboshi. It’s part tournament movie, part mulit-generational mystery, part ninja romance – all with a supporting cast of staggering chambara manliness.
It all starts with our old pal Hattori Hanzo, played by Jushiro Konoe of Ninja Hunt and the Yagu Secret Scrolls series, who intercepts a ninja on a castle incursion. During their struggle, he realizes his prey is actually a woman, and the two are so turned-on by each other’s shinobi sex appeal, they have at it on the spot.
Couple decades later, that same lady of the shadows is a bitter and obsessed ninja MILF who has trained her son, the offspring of that fateful encounter, in the family trade. Decked out in all sorts of gorgeous ornate get-ups, he is ‘The Red Shadow’ – the instrument of her revenge.
The plot, from that set-up, is full of twists and turns and amazing characters. Sonny-boy’s mission is to collect 10 swords, one of which has part of a map etched onto it’s handle that when matched up with mom’s killer tats will lead them to a Shogunate treasure and vindicate her failure as a shadow agent. The ten swords, however, are the prizes in a martial arts tournament, so Red has to snatch the blades from the victors every night.
This goes along fine, as long as the winners are old semi-retired swordsmen or young hotties practicing Naginata, but when one of the victors is Jubei F’N Yagu, played by Ryutaro Otomo, it’s a whole different deal!
Red throws everything in his ninja repertoire at Jubei, just to see it all bounce harmlessly off his square jaw. Jubei, meanwhile, butts his way into the intrigue afoot, then Hanzo comes out of retirement, Red falls in love, snakes fall from the ceiling and shuriken sing through the night air…
So yeah, Akai Kegeboshi is a pretty damn essential film, for those of you who haven’t seen it. Grey marketeers and fan-subbers have made it readily available, too, so there’s no excuses. Despite literal translations, would be a good idea to refer to this maybe as “The Crimson Shadow” or “The Scarlet Shadow” or something else, as the name “Red Shadow” has a rather significant pedigree elsewhere…
Here’s a ton of images, like the above, from Thai press kits released contemporary with the film’s original theatrical run.
I’ll wrap this up with some close-up scans of the mission gear. LOVE that mesh soft-armor hood!
Don’t let these sepia-tone and B&W press photos fool you, Akai Kageboshi is a beautiful color film. The print that’s floating about the ‘trading communities’ is probably from TV and is pretty inky, though – but by no means a deal breaker.