These sepia-toned (and aging poorly) 8×10′s are from either a theatrical lobby promo kit or a studio press kit contemporary to the 1963 theatrical release of ninja blockbuster Zoku Shinobi no Mono (Return of the Band of Assassins, ). Raizo Ichikawa returned as a thoroughly retroshinobified folk hero Ichikawa Goemon in a direct sequel to the ground-breaking first “Band of Assassins” film. The success of this sequel cemented the serious ninja movie trend (this series alone would go nine chapters), and like the others in the line, it delivers on all fronts.
Star presence is when you can manage a recognizable (and dramatic) face even when fully hooded. But facts are facts – Hollywood or Tokyo – when the Japanese James Dean is your franchise star, costuming takes a backseat to face-time on screen. What I love most about Raizo is the absolute conviction he portrayed, especially in the black pajamas. He could really SELL it. He sold danger, desperation, fear, tension, love, joy, and crushing heartbreak like few others.
The first Shinobi no Mono had two major strengths – the fascination of the arcane ninjutsu being shown as a credible martial art for the first time on screen, and a sympathetic plight of appealing protagonists. In the second film, much of the ninja stuff was old hat, so they upped the intrigue and espionage. This film isn’t ninja vs. ninja, it’s ninja vs. world.
(to be concluded…)