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.

 

 

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

 

The Art of Deception

In the face of the death of physical media, DVD and Bluray packaging continues to be, let’s say… inventive… in its methods of persuasion.

Hey, deception was a legit ninja skill, right?

As ninja movie fans we’ve all been duped by shinobi-fied covers to VHS or DVDs of vanilla kung-fu fare shamelessly retitled “Ninja-something-or-other.” These, however, step the game up a notch — one ninja movie camouflaged as another!

Note this new label for the Scott Adkins vehicle NINJA, deliberately biting on the much wider known NINJA ASSASSIN.

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Who can keep either of these 2009 films straight anyway, just buy them both!

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It’s one thing for an indie movie to “align itself for marketing shorthand” to another bigger film coming out at the same time, but THIS is another story altogether:

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This recent overseas label for the Hiroyuki Sanada / Conan Lee slugfest NINJA IN THE DRAGON’S DEN strives for recognition and relevance from the video gamers of the world by shamelessly crowbarring-in a stolen rendering of Sega’s Kage-Maru from Virtua Fighter.

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But they re-color him black so he looks more like Ryu Hayabusa from Ninja Gaiden.

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Us non-gamers will also recognize Ryu Hayabusa from his hit indie film Alien vs. Ninja!

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Oh, wait… no, that’s right… NONE OF THESE CHARACTERS ARE IN ANY OF THESE MOVIES!

Laughable as this chicanery, these hijinks, might be, I do love the idea of Virtua Fighter (and even Matrix) fanatics possibly getting duped, then being subjected to some old-school ninja fare that was… ewww, shot on FILM… that those of us longer in the tooth would consider superior.

If only a small percentage of those victims stick with it, maybe some new fans of old-school ninja media are born?

HA HA HAHAHAHAH HA! Made myself laugh… Like anyone under 40 is going to buy physical media!!!

In fact, ignore this whole post.

I’m going to go fool around with my abacus and listen to player piano reels.

VN REVISITED – Shinobi-based ‘Sugoroku’ game

Originally published February, 2010

Have owned this “sugoroku” illustrated game board for years but am finally discovering the actual nature of it.

Click the image for a huge-ass scan of this.

Essentially a Japanese version of Chutes and Ladders, these thin paper game boards have been produced for centuries in one form or another (read here about an older version of the game based on backgammon and made illegal twice in Japanese history).

I’ve seen several based on chambara, tokusatsu and boys adventure anime, but this one is a melting pot of various ninja properties – or is at least meant to EVOKE those properties. Yeah, I’m thinking characters owned by multiple studios or TV networks appearing on one product means unlicensed…

Man, some of this art is just precious. Without being able to read the captions, I’m seeing illos that are certainly meant to be Masked Ninja Akakage and Kagemaru of Iga there, and a villain that could be a skull shocker from Lion Maru or a shinobi-fied Golden Bat.

Translations anyone?

VN REVISITED – The Illustrated Sho Kosugi

Originally published January, 2010.

In the 80’s, Sho Kosugi posed for over 73 billion photos in full night gear, laden with weapons, in magazines like Black Belt, Ninja, even Karate Illustrated and Inside Kung Fu. Yet when it comes to movie and video game ad campaigns, you often see painted and illustrated images of him instead – many leaving a lot to be desired. Sometimes it was agencies not wanting to pay royalties to photographers. Other times it was unscrupulous art departments not having any legal right to use a Kosugi image whatsoever, but wanting the box office rub. Either way, some very interesting artistic mutations occurred…

It started in 1981 of course, with Enter the Ninja. Golan-Globus scooped the big studio development of Eric Van Lustbader’s mega hit novel The Ninja with this exploitation gem (the American genre never recovered), for which Kosugi did some publicity photo posing. An air brushed version of what we’ll call THE KOSUGI KICK appeared on some of the posters (and VHS packaging), and soon after a retail poster we all had on our wall. The Kosugi Kick was henceforth knocked-off 15.3 trillion times, and you still see it today once in a while. The pose is one of THE lingering icons of the 80’s craze, perhaps the definitive image of the era.

The follow-up to Enter, and the movie that cemented “the ninja craze” as the big thing in martial arts (and martial arts cinema) for the decade, Revenge of the Ninja, had a pretty dynamite painted poster itself. What’s easy to forget about the superb Revenge is that in it, Kosugi made history – an Asian actor being the single male lead, and in only his second film in the U.S. In reality, Bruce Lee never did that, being co-top-billed with John Saxon in Enter the Dragon (although after his death, amidst the kung-fu boom, the campaigns changed to feature him much more).

Ironically the painted art has little-to-no resemblance to Kosugi, but damn what composition! Back in the day, though, we were tortured by the the ‘inauthentic’ details like the Western military knife tucked into his tunic, and the Chinese ‘kung-fu shoes’ in place of tabi. The fact that this supposed invisible assassin in concealing night gear has a red belt, chrome-finish weapons strapped all over him, and a huge family crest akin to a superhero’s chest emblem telling the world who he is didn’t bother us at all though… Such was the logic of 80’s ninja fans.

The fact that the American key art wasn’t Kosugi outright may have led to some of the mysterious variants overseas, like the below Franch-language market poster. Perhaps they really wanted to feature the star?

The above painting is based on the companion retail poster to the famous Kosugi Kick piece, seen below left. Why they didn’t use the original photo is anyone’s guess – couldn’t find the source, couldn’t meet on a price, didn;t even try…  Next to that is detail from the illustrated sleeve for the priced-to-sell VHS re-issue of Revenge, late 80’s-early 90’s. Even though there was a photo-based poster in the 80’s, used often in Europe, that same art didn’t make it to Spanish markets, evidenced by the painted version far right. All in all, there are remarkably few images used to promote this movie, but the versions of those few images are myriad.

Pray For Death was, for many, the last ‘good’ Kosugi entry in the craze era – a genuine piece of ninja-sploitation, surrounded by legends of ‘uncut’ gorier versions screened in dark corners of Europe and everything. While many thought Kosugi’s weapons and armor were downright silly, but it seems many (especially foreign ad men) thought it was pretty righteous:

No, Kosugi was NOT in Shaolin Fighters vs. Ninja (or Ninja Against Shaolin, or Ninja vs. Shaolin Guards, or Shaolin Fights Ninja, or any of the dozens of other versions and re-titles of the concept that were out there), but you sure wouldn’t know it from the poster above. More painted art was done for the taxing 9 Deaths of the Ninja, and again the foreign markets were on their own page with the key art. I guess when your movie looks like this…

…you’re tempted to hide it behind more craze-palatable images of hooded ninja, even if it means evoking the competition – Michael Dudikoff!

Strange to think of foreign ad artists toiling over these painted Sho Kosugi images, when in some neglected drawer at the offices of Inside Kung Fu, hundreds of amazing photos were sitting there, untapped. Exploitation films, however, have promotional resources akin to their low budgets. Campaigns turn around fast. There are language barriers between markets. Logistical and financial hurdles everywhere. So it ends up easier just to wing it and barf out some weird illo.

Chances are, the same box office take would have been made either way.

Read more:

Sho Kosugi: The Ninja fansite, with tons of galleries, including mag covers and movie posters.

S.K. Productions – Kosugi’s official website.

Really fun write up and video of 9 Deaths of the Ninja.

If you think these paintings are a bit off, check out the stuff from Ghana!

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