MONSTER vs. NINJA MONTH: Creatures galore in two versions of SATOMI HAKKENDEN

Welcome to VN’s take on Halloween, a look back at the best monster-related posts from our renowned MONSTERS AND MASKS MONTHS going all the way back to 2009. Let’s call it MONSTER VS. NINJA MONTH, shall we? We’ll be revisiting two posts per week for the rest of October looking at everything from demons to fire-breathing toads with some undead ninja henchmen and a karate werewolf thrown in for good measure. 

It all starts with a look at two versions of a famed “Eight Samurai” epic…

(Originally published in two parts, October, 2009)

It’s one of Japan’s greatest literary works, has been turned into kabuki, manga, films, serials and TV series, and is essentially the origin of Japan’s preoccupation with the ‘assemble the team’ motif in cinema. It is Satomi Hakkenden, and it’s movie versions are often chock full of creatures and critters and creepy crawlies of epic proportions.

Here’s several caps of the monstrous incarnations of the evil sorceress from the 1959 Toei 3-part serial-esque adaptation:

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Aobiku (Rieko Matsukaze) is a second-generation evil sorceress out for revenge on the noble Satomi clan.

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She can turn dead leaves into these mytical ninja foot soldiers, but…

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…would rather send the family’s signature creature, the giant serpent, on her evil errands.

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A few shots of the serpents are gorgeously animated.

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Lord Satomi’s pet Yatsufasa is the greatest dog EVER! He fetches the decapitated heads of fallen warlords from the battle field on command. When Aobiku’s mother Shirobiku sends a serpent after the family, the dog hulks up big time and fights it off. Killed in the scrap, Yatsufasa then explodes into a mystical cloud that sends off eight “beads of virtue” across the land. Years later, eight samurai will find those beads and come together to yadda yadda, you know the rest…

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Aobiku also likes to do her own dirty work, transforming into this flying bat creature for nocturnal kidnapping raids on the Satomi.

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This is my favorite of her other forms, a reptile man!

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LOVE this head design, and it looks as good as Abe Sapien in the Hellboy flicks, sans the digital assists.

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This version of “Satomi” has a definitive giant toad magic sequence that would be copied for years after.

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The same showdown between fire-breathing serpent and mist-belching magic toad happened in the seminal ninja wizard film NINJUTSU GOZEN JIRAI, but in B&W was nowhere near as cool.

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At the epic’s climax, warrior wizard Inuyama Dosetsu (Satomi Kotaro) defeats Aobiku with magic and blade alike, but only after busting out this fine example of a Grecco-Roman ankle lock!

The three one-hour 1959 films are pretty great (subbed versions under titles like Eight Brave Brothers are out in the ‘trading community’), but it is another, higher profile Satomi Hakkenden film from the 80′s that we outside of Japan know most – Kodokawa’s Legend of the Eight Samurai.

Produced by Kadokawa as a neo-chambara for the post-Star Wars age, it featured a cast of action legends and teen idols, amazing sets and costumes, and big budget optical effects.

And some downright frightening creature and corpse effects!

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Released to werewolf circuits and video rental markets all over the world in 1983, the film’s title was often Shinobi-fied to entice craze-era audiences.

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It’s the exploitation 80′s people, let’s get some blood and bodies on the screen!

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The “Legend” version’s marquee creature FX bit is this downright horrifying transformation of an old grandma into a massive killer centipede.

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The creature they built is absolutely great, yanked around by wires in cramped sets with frantic camera movement to create a tense, energetic and ultimately very effective monster fight.

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Snakey-poo is back in this version, nicely updated.

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Ambitious and skillful wire-work provides for some dynamic kidnappings. The serpents have a taste for hotties…

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…like Estuko Shihomi, who is superb in what is a rather non-tomboy role for her.

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She’s got poisonous blood and can never be loved by a man. Her evil counterpart is the snakemaster, and the only man who could love her and live. Thus, they must fight and die, and in the artistic confines of what must be the Klimt room of the villain’s lair.

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Wandering wildly from the source and other adaptations, the villainess here is Queen Tamasuza (Mari Natsuki), who has traded the kabuki make-up for nude blood-bathing.

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And ends up another well-made corpse, the victim of a very 80′s magic laser arrow.

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Posted in Film and TV 11 months, 2 weeks ago at 1:17 am.

3 comments

3 Replies

  1. Love your site; have been a ninja fan since the 80’s. Have you thought of a page listing the episodes of 80’s US TV series that had a ninja theme? I remember Baretta, Quincy, and Simon and Simon, had some of the better ninja-episodes.

  2. Heya JoeC, that very article is in the pipeline and will see the light of day in some form…

  3. Callum Cenobite Mar 1st 2014

    great article! hey isn’t that skeleton stop-motion model the same one they used for mad monster party!??


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