Katsuya Terada illustrations

Picked up a used copy of a 2004 Japanese-language ninjutsu book called Shinobi: All Things About Ninja – Hattori Hanzo, Momochi Tanba, Fujibayashi and More, which was sealed and I couldn’t inspect before committing to. As I don’t read kanji myself, owning Japanese tomes for me is all about the illustrations and pics, and sadly this one did not deliver. The text heavy, photo-bereft and diagram-light book does touch upon commonly seen weaponry, maps and other ‘usual suspect’ material via some simplified digital illustrations, but if I had to guess its largely a rehash the standard Readers Digest/tourist guide material now common to Japanese ninja books of the 2000s to now.

However, the cover illustration and a few brush-work spots by artist Katsuya Terada are quite nice. The entire book should have been littered with these…

And here’s a better look at that cover image reversed from the knock-out silver originally presented above, a nice collage…

This book will eventually be up from grabs, space is forcing me to thin the herd of the VN library this summer. Stay tuned, or drop us a line if interested.

 

Kosugi and Van Cleef in Japan

One of the great head-scratchers of the 80s American ninja boom was the NBC TV series The Master, created by Michael Sloan but driven by the one-man craze-catalyst that was Sho Kosugi. On one hand its very existence spoke to the magnitude of ninja’s popularity in 1984, but its utter failure coming at the same time as Kosugi’s departure from Cannon Films can be interpreted as the premature beginning of the end for the boom period.

The Master failed to convert new audiences, and was, quite-honestly, often cringe-worthy to even the staunchest ninja geek. Much of the country never even saw the full run of 13 episodes. I was growing up in New England at the time, and with the Celtics on their way to a championship that year, Larry Bird was pre-empting Max Keller at every opportunity.

Two years later, Trans-World Entertainment would release the series as two-episode clam-shell and hard-shell VHS to the rental market, mildly disguised as “movies” under the title The Master Ninja. Within the next two years the rest of the globe was devouring dubbed or subtitled editions in German, Spanish and a host of other languages.

I’m the most intrigued by these kanji-subtitled Japanese versions:

What must the audience raised on the likes of Shinobi-no-Mono and contemporarily enjoying Kage No Gundan have of thought of this strange American product, what with its traditionally-garbed ninja using archaic weaponry in modern America? Were the stock-in-trade TV villains like greedy land barons, suburban crime lords and small-town evil industrialists harping on the likes of farmers and single moms something that even resonated with the Japanese? Did the action scenes, tailored to American audiences fetishizing signature weapons straight out of mail order catalogs and expecting high-arcing spin-kicks instead of the low-crouched Bujinkan-inspired choreography of the home product impress the Japanese at all?

The home video versions of The Master hit the market at about the same time as the IFD/Filmark stuff from Hong Kong started flooding video stores with titles like Ninja Terminator and Full Metal Ninja. The craze was burning out prematurely, but for NBC and Trans-World they were finally making back their investment with international video sales.

As for the North American market, the riffed-upon versions served up on Mystery Science Theater 3000 in the early 1990s were actually seen by more of an audience than any other iteration. The funky “Master Ninja Theme Song” bit sung by the robots remains one of the more beloved moments of that increasingly legendary show.

I wonder if the MST3K home video releases were imported into Japan…

Wait… WHO rented Cannon their house?

If you weren’t able to make the Revenge of the Ninja CD signing event in Januar,y the score and exclusive event print are now available via mail order, all signed by ROTN director Sam Firstenberg, stunt coordinator and silver-masked ninja double Steven Lambert, and composer Robert J. Walsh (CDs only).

Order the ROTN CD from Creature Features here.

Order the 11×17 limited edition print from Creature Features here.

The newly remastered ROTN soundtrack is just great — the sound is noticeably improved from the vinyl, there are extensive liner notes and a photo-loaded insert, and newly added are 12 classic tracks re-instrumentalized and enhanced by Walsh himself. Highly recommended!

The prints are 11×17″ on heavy stock, only 100 were printed and of those only a few were signed by Firstenberg and Lambert (in silver ink), so it’s first-come-first-served on those.

As for the event itself, it was a day of amazing stories from two men who genuinely adore this film and love even more its enduring fan following. The absolutely gushed eye-opening accounts of the production and working for Cannon Films back in the day. If you’ve heard their commentary on the ROTN or Ninja III: The Domination Blu-rays imagine the same sort of thing but in a live, intimate gallery setting.

Some gems we heard from Firstenberg:

— He largely fibbed his way into directing what would be his first action movie, and that inexperience led to the unique collaborative nature of the film. Sho Kosugi had huge sway, (Firstenberg called him “the leader” of the picture in a lot of ways) being close to producer-level and involved in more aspects of production than a first-time leading man would typically enjoy. Lambert, also a first timer on ROTN, was afforded freedoms he’d never enjoy again in bigger studio efforts. This collaborative triumvirate captured lightning in a bottle.

— Robert Walsh composed the entire iconic score in a mind-boggling FOUR DAYS. He put in marathon sessions with his own and borrowed equipment. Although most composers would start on the synth level in putting a score together hoping the studio would spring for proper orchestration later, on a Cannon budget Walsh knew from minute one a symphony was NOT going to happen, so ROTN was a synth score from concept to finish.

—  It was often a tri-lingual set. Kosugi would talk Japanese with his inner circle of students and his family, Firstenberg and his team would often meet and converse in Israeli, with most everyone else stuck in between trying to decipher everything to English.

— He’s getting more interest in his old ninja films now than he ever did before. The weekend of the event he had also done a phoner with media in Manitoba, Canada and has fielded invites from all over the globe in recent months.

And even more gems from Lambert:

— Even though studio armorers were credited, Sho Kosugi actually provided the entirety of the exotic ninja arsenal himself, and would continuously replenish items from the local martial arts training equipment manufacturers and suppliers he was already in business with creating his branded mail-order ninja gear. Lambert in particular marveled at how industrious, aware and calculated Kosugi was with the opportunity that was in front of him. He knew it was the right time and right place and was user-ready to pounce on the craze once it congealed.

— Watch the end duel closely and you’ll see Kosugi disarm Lambert (doubling Braden) of this sheath. When he tossed that sheath during the arcing sword-parry, it flew far enough away to go off the side of the sky-scraper they were on and fell all the way down to earth, amazingly not hitting anyone below.

— At some point in the late 1990s, thieves broke in to a storage unit rented by Lambert and cleaned it out. Amongst the treasures from his career lost were the ninja suits he wore in ROTN, Ninja III and American Ninja and two of the three silver Braden masks.

— The house and gardens used for the Osaki family massacre at the film’s beginning was rented from… get this… SHIRLEY TEMPLE!

35 years ago, I watched my SLP-recorded VHS tape of HBO’s airing of Revenge of the Ninja (if memory serves that same tape had The Road Warrior and They Call Me Bruce on it) so much it wore thin and snapped. To say that movie stuck with me would be an understatement. Decades later, to have an art gallery borrow some of my collection for display and ask me to design a print for an event where I’d kibitz with the men who made that movie was… well, the ultimate payoff to a life of fandom (never mind some serious validation of my pro-nerd status).

Jump at any rare chance you get to experience these men in person, their generosity with the material we know and love so well will blow you away the same it did me.

KR

 

We’re still looking for more KOSUGI KICKS

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Vintage Ninja still has an open call out for what we call “Kosugi Kicks” — images of ninja in movie posters, VHS sleeves, toy packaging, advertising, whatever, that are cribbed from the iconic two-sword jump kick publicity shot Sho Kosugi posed for back in the early 80s. This image has gone on to be the most iconic, and most ripped-off, image of a ninja from the Western world’s craze of the 80s.

Read our original article on the subject here.

And a follow up here.

Just discovered this vintage gem from the derivative genre literary world:

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And here’s another from a proposed film that never happened, at least not in this form:

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A better look at the Kosugi-Kick-inspired packaging of the M.U.S.C.L.E-knock-off toy line N.I.N.J.A Mites:

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And outright piracy of the image on some old tabi packaging:

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See any we missed in these three articles? Send them our way!

krainville@vintageninja.net

 

Botan Rice Candy Stickers

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I love me some Botan Rice Candy! I was first exposed to the slightly citrusy chews with their dissolving edible wrappers and souvenir stickers in the 70s by my uncle Hiro, and saved a ninja-themed one from the 80s. They same candy is still being produced with the occasional ninja sticker now.

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Read all about the culinary merits of this superb Japanese confection at The Noodle Freak.

I recently scored a windfall collection of 80s era stickers, evocative of kids manga like Ninja Hattori-Kun but generic enough to avoid any pesky licensing.

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You can find more ninja rockers from different eras by digging through the archives of The BRC Gallery.

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Animated credits – FURAI NINPOCHO (1965)

ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED NOV 2009 — With the new animated adventure Kubo and the Two Strings in theaters this weekend, thought we’d take a look at some other animation.

I absolutely adore 60’s animated movie credits, and these somewhat DePatie-esque panels from the opening of the 1965 ninja comedy Furai Ninpocho are just great.

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The rest of the movie, despite a good cast (including Mie Hama of You Only Live Twice fame), just doesn’t live up, alas…

Double Rip-Off!

A reader recently sent me a fragment of an image found on tumblr, looking for an ID.

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At the time I couldn’t identify which particular variant of which particular Godfrey Ho film under which particular alternate title this would have been, but I sure as hell could ID where the “source inspiration” of the artwork came from!

Check this out — DOUBLE RIP-OFF!!!

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Half Schwarzenegger, half Kosugi, all brilliant.

Knock-off artwork was nothing of rarity in the VHS era, and that practice carried well into the DVD era, with exploitation-minded labels in Europe being particularly adept.

It didn’t take much digging to find that this is indeed a VHS-era German release of Death Code Ninja.

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What the artist lacked in originality he or she made up for two-fold in brazen ambition. Either one of these hero images from Red Sonja (hey, revisit this movie, it holds up better as time goes on!) and Revenge of the Ninja would have done the job, but NO, why choose one when you can have both?

It beats the hell out of the other commonly seen package art from this flick:

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Yeah, not so good…  Although, awesome.

Death Code Ninja resembles neither Sonja nor Revenge. See for yourself — the whole thing is on YouTube.

[kad_youtube url=”https://youtu.be/qeiviZrFdLI” width=700 maxwidth=700 ]

 

 

Sweet 17!

I’d like to wholeheartedly thank you all for NOT running up the auction price of the poster for Seventeen Ninja (Jushichinin no Ninja, 1963) recently listed on eBay from the excellent dealer Movie Poster Japan. It was very kind of you to get the hell out of my way, cuz there was not a chance this wasn’t going to be added to the VN office wall.

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I’d also deserves thanks myself for not bidding up the poster to the sequel, as several of you dueled it out over that. Congrats to whoever scored this beauty…

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We did extensive reviews of both films here, and they are positively essential.

I regrettably passed on this poster for a 1970 film I’m totally unfamiliar with called Tomei Kenshi (The Invisible Swordsman). The art and design is sooooo damn cool, but I’ve only got so much wall space.

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More crappy (aka GREAT) 80s package art!

I just cannot get enough of illustrated and painted ninja art from 80s no-name ninja merch. Sometimes, well, lets be real… OFTEN… more time was spent on the package art than was on designing the crap under the blister card therein.

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Ja-Ru was (and still is) a company specializing in “rack toys” — the junk near the register in supermarkets or that sad little half office supply/half toy aisle in chain drug stores. To this day, they still make “Fun Erasers” of whatever’s hot in popular culture. In the 80s, it was pro wrestlers not-so-vaguely reminiscent of Hulk Hogan and ilk, break dancers, knock-offs of girly stuff like Strawberry Shortcake, any old science fiction molds re-purposed for Star Wars and Transformers love, GI Joe/Rambo-esque soldiers and yes… NINJA!

I got this less-than-pristine backer card from Ja-Ru’s ninja erasers for my birthday last month, and while I can’t put my hands on the actual erasers it would have once contained at the moment, I’m near certain I owned them back in the day. And like most any figural erasers, they were utter crap as action figures and even worse crap as functional erasers.

But man, this package art!

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Over-stylized hard-to-read logo anyone?

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These illos are like many others of this type — derived from martial arts manuals, movie posters or magazine covers that were circulating at the time. While the top most image in this post looks very manga-ish in source, the one directly above looks traced from an Inside Kung-Fu article or supply ad for ninja suits.

I’m not big on mint-condition collectibles or things being in pristine shape to rate my shelves, but man I’m absolutely TORMENTED at where a select area of this card was torn off!

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I would kill to know what sort of crazy smack Ja-Ru was talking here, both in terms of ninja history and lore, and the educational value of their poopie erasers! Dammit…

If anyone out there has these erasers or a more complete card with the above text intact, drop us a line!

 

An open call for KOSUGI KICKS!

It is THE single most recognizable icon of the 80s ninja craze, practically a logo for the ninja boom in and of itself — and one that has endured for decades.

It is THE KOSUGI KICK!

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Shot in a Hollywood studio for the Enter the Ninja press kit, the double wakizashi-waving jump-kicking Sho Kosugi was painted over for the film’s movie poster, ad slicks and subsequent home video packaging. The only other official use of the shot was years later in movie industry trade papers during Canon’s interest-stirring efforts for American Ninja (both the recycled Kosugi Kick and a composited shot of Chuck Norris in the Ninja III: The Domination green ninja suit were used in such ads before the project was rebooted into the Michael Dudikoff vehicle).

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Note the subtle differences between the various ‘takes’ of the famed pose. The retail poster had a more upright quality with the head turned more to the side, while the airbrush movie poster art had compositional corrections in the arms and swords.

But the image had serious legs outside official usage. If photographers could realistically collect royalties every time their image was duplicated or directly lifted, whoever shot Sho that fateful day would be a billionaire.

Alas…

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From the original press kit. Note the lack of photographer credit or studio copyright.

The Kosugi Kick wasn’t an original idea, rather a carefully calculated effort to evoke the familiar image of Bruce Lee’s famous jump kick, primarily from a press still of The Big Boss, but with their own new stamp. This would be OUR jump kick.

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They took the all-too-familiar pose (an icon and virtual logo of 70s kung-fu grindhouse itself), added the soon-to-be-famous black suit and a couple of swords (and note they’re off-the-shelf samurai swords, not the “ninja-to” that would quickly follow as a merchandise juggernaut) and declared THIS IS THE 80s, LET THE NINJA DECADE BEGIN!

And so it did.

The Kosugi Kick was quickly cannibalized by video game companies for packaging and arcade marquees, cheapie toy manufacturers and myriad knock-off merch pirates, book and magazine cover illustrators, and so many more one can hardly keep track.

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But we want to! Or at least try…

Thus, our open call for help from you, our fan base who love this stuff as much as we do, but hopefully with more free time on your hands.

Below is the tip of the iceberg, images we’ve casually collected over the years in various categories. We want more! Send us whatever you’ve got that has a knock-off Kosugi Kick to krainville-at-vintageninja-dot-net, we’ll follow this post up at some point with a major collection.

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Was the above book from the 1960s Japanese craze a prehistoric ancestor of our beloved Kosugi Kick? And just how many issues of the 80’s Ninja magazine featured a rip-off of the famed photo? Help us find out!

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Kosugi Kicks come in all shapes and sizes, with varying degrees of chicanery. The pose is in Public Domain, so manufacturers re-render the pose in their own art style at will. But, you do also see some outright theft of the original Kosugi classic.

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We love seeing it in posters for other movies. Again it’s typically a knock-off illustration or painting, but sometimes they’ll use the real deal, like the Mexican lobby card for a kung-fu flick seen above. The fact that the home video packaging for one of the Master Ninja tapes (below) had to knock it off is a real head scratcher…

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Kosugi Kicks may date back to 1981, but they are still showing up in 2014.

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They take the form of delicate porcelain…

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…articulated action figures…

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…and not-so-articulated figures.

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Sometimes the pose varies, with a more upright stance and a bent leg here and there, but c’mon, we all know the inspiration for these images.

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Shower us with your findings folks!

Once again, that email address is krainville-at-vintageninja-dot-net

 

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