From readers and around the web…

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We’re hard at work on a major feature on Eric Van Lustbader‘s novel The Ninja, and it’s ill-fated film development, slated for later this month, but in the meantime, here’s all sorts of shinobi-centric goodness:

VN reader Brian had a chance encounter on Google Earth — this random sign in Colombo, Sri Lanka.


Great graphic, the blue skin reminds me of characters in Watari, but is possibly sourced from a video game. I.D. anyone?


What this mini-market is advertising is Ninja brand mosquito coils, a pungent incense that keeps bugs away. Stupid mosquitos! Look at that ninja, you pissed him off and now you’re gonna DIE!!!

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At first we thought that sign was a fireworks ad, which in another random Google encounter led us to this gem. Awesome rip-off from the old 80s Ninja magazine, logo and all. SHOOTS FLAMING BALLS!


VN fan Jason Blakely fashions 80s-inspired ninja fare like swords as a hobby, but he recently channeled his skills into 3D prototyping and resin casting to come up with these full-scale gems:


That’s right, Lee Van Cleef’s signature pendant from The Master. He’s also working on prop-grade shuriken as seen in the credit sequence. These might become available for sale in the future, stay tuned…

Meanwhile, from the immortal inspiration that is Godfrey Ho and IFD/Filmark:


If you liked the Ninja: the Mission Force videos, check out a French crew with equal love for the best/worst ninja sub-genre ever.

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Really fun stuff, and made with infinitely more care than the material that inspired it.

If you want more discussion on all things Ho, check out Neon Harbor for Ed Glaser’s Golden Ninja Podcast.


And if you were a fan of (or are nostalgic for your heartbroken hatred of) the original Nordic ninja-sploitation epic The Ninja Mission, the good folks over at Ninjas All The Way Down have created about the best write-up on it you’ll ever need.


Have something vintage, or new but vintage-inspired to sell, or a project that needs a plug? Email us at our BRAND NEW EMAIL CONTACT!

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


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


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


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


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


For the privilege of meeting Sonny Chiba earlier this year.


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


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

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


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

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


For the Hana Rangers.


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


That Elsa Chung had no problem gettin’ nekkid…


For having so many awesome artist friends.

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


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


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


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!


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




Man, there sure is a lot of ninja crap out there…

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Is it just me, or is there more and more generic-design ninja merch out there than ever before?

This stuff is clogging the shelves of every Little Tokyo and/or Chinatown tourist trap, airport gift shop, cart and blanket vendor around subways, dollar stores and ebay all over like cheap plastic ninja kudzu. It’s almost the 80s all over again… except back then, we didn’t have iconically cartooned shinobi versions of kitchenware and common household goods.


There are sippy-cup shinobi and and some rather clever coffee kusa.


Ninja can guard the fizz in your soda-pop…


…and scale your fridge like it was a feudal-era castle.


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The can make hard-boiled eggs and cook rice, too.


And keep you warm on a cool night. Hoodies have come a long way. The one on the right is probably better made than any of the costuming on the latter American Ninja sequels.


These smartphone stands from Japan are pretty damned amazing!

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And all without a single property license or discernible knock-off of a known hit character. Generic ninja designs are worth their weight in non-licensed gold.

I managed to resist all these retail temptations this year, but here’s a couple of independent media projects with roots in old-school ninja fandom I did support:

Neon Harbor, the folks who brought us the astute parodies Ninja: The Mission Force have released an original animated feature in the tradition of Cyber Ninja, Zipang, Moon Over Tao, etc. Have not screened this yet, but its heart is clearly in the right place and I love the designs and genre literacy here!


Check out the trailer and buy the disc direct from the source at Neon Harbor.

Shadowland Magazine is one of a handful of modern ‘zines keeping the 90s traditions alive — indie hustle, niche content, illustrated covers, and real gems of genre goodness. They sent me a preview of their now available issue #10, which features 18 pages of ninja movie overviews and shuriken-starred reviews, with the crown jewel being a short interview with Cannon films director Sam Firstenberg.


The magazine is available in print form now with a digital version pending. Support an indie publisher and check it out!

It’s not too late for some last-minute Christmas shopping, or some retail therapy with some of that holiday money you got in place of actual affection from your family. Spend it where it counts, and keep it ninja!

Happy Holidays everyone!!!



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Wow… the fifth anniversary of this site.

You’ll notice some minor cosmetic and navigation updates for the first time in forever. I suppose some sort of profound editorial is in order, but I’d rather just thank everyone who’s plugged this site and contributed, with much appreciation to the folks on tumblr who actually credit where they found their images. More than anything though, I’d like to welcome you new readers.

I’m not a web guy by any stretch, so this site is built on a simple WordPress blog engine, which makes finding past material a bit tedious (although who doesn’t love endlessly scrolling through years and years of great ninja stuff?), so I’ll center this anniversary article on some of the best pieces we’ve published in the past that you definitely shouldn’t miss. Yes, there’s plenty of great pieces from the last five years — some more wordy than the below, some with more pics, some more profound… but these encapsulate the spirit of the site perfectly I think.




VN started during an explosion of DVDr trading in fan-subbed Japanese films, granting us access for the first time to decades of old ninja movies that never made it to our shores during the 80s craze. Much of the early tone of this site was Holy crap, we can finally see Mission: Iron Castle! As disc trading has largely become insiders sharing files within invite-only groups, or just YouTube link sharing on social media, a lot of that magic of discovery seems to be waning. That being said, I’ll probably never stop reviewing films via stills, old-school.

The absolute best job VN did of covering a movie this way was a multi-part series on Samurai Spy — a film that’s probably the pinnacle of artistic craft in the genre. Start at the prelude to the four-part series.



It’s my favorite ninja movie ever, it has a digital-era remake to compare the classic original to, and over the years we’ve scored multiple lots of antique press photos from this Ryutaro Otomo vehicle. There might not be a better visually and editorially represented film on this site. Start at the 2009 series CASTLE OF OWLS WEEK, and continue with a great photo follow-up here.

ninja-to ads collage


Three years back, Tim and I were looking at some newly offered high end “ninja swords” coming out of the superior boutique-style brands, which were consistent with trends we had seen in the wall-hanger crap sold in Chinatown smoke shops — the blades were now as long as any traditional samurai sword, the handles just as short, and the guards were still square but had shrunk down from the oversized ones made famous by Kosugi and ilk. Basically, there was now a definite version or style of the ninja-to for the 2000s.

These musings turned to actual digging — looking for the origin of the 80’s style ninja-to in mail order ads, and pouring through 60s Japanese films looking for the precursors. It all raised as many questions as answers, but we put together a pretty good look at the fabled weapon as historical artifact, movie prop and merchandise staple.

Here’s a quick-link to the entire series, and the user feedback is a good read, too.



As much as we love discovering older Japanese fare, this site is run by acolytes of the 80s American ninja craze. I’ve often credited the opening titles to Enter the Ninja as the actual birth moment of the 80s boom — five minutes of pure exotic weapons porn courtesy of Sho Kosugi. I spent a couple hours screen capping and collaging a stills-representation of that greatness, and it went pretty viral. Follow this up with more EtN love: a review of the movie, some foreign lobby cards,  and other publicity stills.



Most of the toys and statues you see on here are actually in the collection of myself or a select few other contributors. Being a decades-long ninja collector, there are treasures I have and others I never realistically hoped to possess. The Franklin Mint “Shadow Warrior” statue was one of these grails, a rare high-end collectible that completely embraced the look and feel of the exploitive Canon films of the era. These were too expensive for most of us when released, have increased in value since, and are fragile as hell to boot, so they aren’t getting any more plentiful to say the least. I had pretty much given up on ever having one, until scoring one in 2010 that was passed over by other buyers due to some damage (what I dubbed a ‘Yakuza wound’). I love how 80s this thing is (even if it was produced in 1990). Check out some other craze-era porcelain here and here, too.



Jay Gluck may just have been the first Westerner to write about ninjutsu, with a chapter on the emergence of modern shinobi schools in Japan in his 1962 book Zen Combat. It predates the first articles by Arthur Adams in Black Belt, and the publication of You Only Live Twice. It isn’t a cover feature during the boom, isn’t a lead piece designed to sell copies of anything, so it has a raw honesty. Maybe too raw — Gluck didn’t debunk ninja history, but he surely had no use for the 60s Japanese ninja boom nor any of the modern practitioners of what he called “dirty weapon” martial arts. This is an essential read and a little-known chapter of ninjutsu’s exposure in the West.



As much as we love Shirato Sanpei’s work and other legendary ninja manga, there are plenty of sites out there covering them already. VN is probably the only spot anywhere featuring indepth looks at long-forgotten pioneering works like GI Combat‘s KANA back-up stories. These nearly pre-craze stories got the drop on GI Joe‘s ninja characters by years, but have fallen into relative obscurity.

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It’s no secret, I love cheap ninja crap from the 80s! Battery operated toys, plastic swords, vending machine prizes, lousy generic figures, and yes… these once ubiquitous, now super rare holographic stickers. With art crudely sketched from martial arts magazine mail order ads or stolen from video covers, few things are more of the time than these capsule machine decals. As soon as I posted these, they became kinda hot on eBay and are now nigh-impossible to score cheap. Sorry guys…



One truly baffling and infuriating thing we were denied in the 80s up here was The Samurai (orig. Onmitsu Kenshin), a fully English-dubbed 10-season ninja-infused Japanese TV show that was literally bigger than The Beatles in Australia in the 1960s. Why was this broadcast or VHS-ready product not imported? WHY?!?!? Luckily, Siren Video in Oz made it available on DVD in the mid 2000s, and I had friends in the right places, so we ended up being THE portal for this major yet obscure chapter of ninja media history for those outside the land down under.


 So what’s in store for the future?

Well, sadly, my time is going to be less free than ever but I’m committed to at least two posts per month. I’d love to write and design some sort of book that reflects this site, and may just do something on my own in the next year or so unless another publisher wants to step up. I’d also really like to get some interviews while the men and women who made the 80s craze are still around and available. And I’m certainly not about to stop buying cheap 80s merch and snapping up rare movies from overseas.

Thanks for being here with us everyone, we’ll try to continue delivering for another five years…

Keith J. Rainville — June, 2014



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There was a time I swore I’d never go longer than a week without a post, then it became 10 days, then two weeks, and suddenly without me noticing there’s been nothing new here for more than a month. That damn calendar crept up on me like a… like a what… like a ninja!

So where have I been? It’s way off-topic, but I’ll share anyway. The Outer Limits, that’s where!


For the past year, it’s been my pleasure (and a HUGE labor of love) to design, photo-edit and mechanically execute this retro-TV entertainment book for Creature Features publishing in Burbank, CA.

March saw not only The Outer Limits at 50‘s triumphant release, but also a big marketing push, gallery event and three big signings. It’s devoured my free time, which ‘real life’ wasn’t leaving much of to start with.

What little time I had for Vintage Ninja was actually filled up with solving a technical problem that exposed potential for a catastrophic security risk. All’s well now, but man for a minute I thought we were going to lose all sorts of content here.

So triumphs and tribulations behind me now, I look forward to a lot more stuff going up here, but not before I take some self-prescribed time off from everything. I’m writing-off April, and will return with new posts in May. Lots of cool stuff on deck, too, from ninja tricycles to plastic forts, newly discovered vintage Japanese films to obscure 80s comics from Europe.

In the meantime, I’ll be recycling some gems from the past you may have missed, so those’ll be new to a lot of you.

Oh, and a couple of recommendations, too! Kurotokagi has new titles for the first time in ages. Seventeen Ninja II and the Japanese original of what most of us knew as Renegade Ninjas are both absolute MUSTS.


I also highly recommend catching Captain America: The Winter Soldier. It’s laced with themes of the reluctant warrior wanting to shed the covert life, fighting against shadow regimes and conspiracies within conspiracies. Familiar ground for us shinobi-cinemafiles.


I hope you are all in good health, are getting out and enjoying some Spring weather and are keeping it ninja!

I’m heading off to Pismo Beach. See y’all in May!


Torment of the “Top 10”


I was asked by the film review site SoReelFlix last month to contribute a Top 10 ninja films list.

After a month of notes I had about 30 bare essential films and realized an outright Top 10 wasn’t going to happen — I felt like a parent pushing kids out of a lifeboat or something…

But, what I was able to do was break the massive world- and decade-spanning genre down to 10 general categories of film experience, based on how they are enjoyed by the public, and pick an ideal ambassador of each. I feel in most cases they’re the best, or at least ideal entry points, into facets of ninja movies of which a lot of potential fans might not be totally aware.

I skipped outright kids’ movies (especially of the turtle variety) and soft porn (tastes and ‘needs’ of the audience vary too widely there!), but otherwise I think this is a pretty decent Top 10.


10 Essential Ninja Movies from 10 Different Categories

Thanks to James from SoReelFlix.

What I’ve been up to outside of shinobi-dom…

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Not to drag the scene down with off-topic plugs, but I’ve finally gone public with the big project that kept me largely away from here all summer.

ZOMBI MEXICANO is a new book published through my From Parts Unknown imprint, renowned for the zine of the same name in the 90’s. The book is centered on obscure 1970s Mexican zombie films that few realize are even part of the zombie genre because Mexican filmmakers were more partial to the term “momia” (mummy) in their marketing.

It’s making its public debut next weekend at the big Monsterpalooza show in Burbank, CA, but for those outside the U.S. it’s available for pre-order over at the FPU site.

I’ve used a cutting edge new press on this project, experimented with small boutique runs of ultra-limited books. Might be something I’d look at for VN content in the future if it sells right.

And now, some plugs…

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• If you’re a stinky old fart with bad eyes like me then you hate watching stuff on portable devices and tiny screens. Fortunately for us luddites, Ninja: The Mission Force is now available on DVD.

• I’m not sure what the hell is going on in this James Madison: Ninja Warrior t-shirt, but the art is awesome, and the Badass Digest crew are good folk.

• Found a great collection of color tinted Kurozukin Menko cards here.

• Spanish-language site Retumbarama has started a series of ninja movie articles. I always like seeing international takes on the craze era.


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