Most sites give you all sorts of gift giving ideas this time of year, but I’m turning the tables and putting it all on YOU!
Here’s something I’d really enjoy as a gift from one of you folks, original TV Guide advertising art of Lee Van Cleef in The Master!
This 18×22″ original was rendered back in mid 1980′s by artist Larry Salk. Crisp, high-contrast illustrations like these would often reproduce better than half-toned photos on the cheaper-than-cheap pulp upon which TV Guide and newspaper TV listing inserts were printed.
Yep, this would look awesome hanging on my wall, so hit this eBay link and make with the $500 somebody.
For the next month we’ll be looking at plenty more cool stuff I’d love to own and you as loyal and grateful readers can all pitch in and play Santa… right? RIGHT?!?!? Anyone…
Two of my favorite kung-fu-based ninja-sploitation flicks are the Taiwan via Hong Kong oddities Deadly Life of a Ninja and Challenge of the Lady Ninja, both featuring the delightful Elsa Yeung.
While Deadly Life features a bizarre pro-wrestling element that will always chime with my DNA, Lady is probably the “better” of the two, if such a term is appropriate.
While a bit less fleshy, it’s perhaps more bat-shit crazy with the outre female “martial arts training” (aka mud wrestling and sexy aerobics) and in particular the weird gimmick villains.
Typical of her films, Elsa is put through the ringer with torturous training, fights against multiple male opponents, and all sorts of wacky kunoichi seduction business.
Here’s the inside of the brochure, with bilingual summaries:
Yeah, I’m thinking that pic is of one of Elsa’s myriad male stunt doubles… from “Igay School.”
I just adore (in all the wrong ways) the fact that Lady is period-set during the Japanese occupation of Shanghai, yet makes ZERO attempt at fealty to that era. Modern cars and interiors abound, nevermind theover-the-top80′s fashions and big hair. Evidently Shanghai had a mall with a Chess King back in the 1940s!
Challenge of the Lady Ninja was a staple of cheap VHS at the tail end of the 80s craze, and has also been released in various formats and countries as Never Kiss A Ninja and the completely misleading Chinese Super Ninjas II. As much as a dig this flick, it’s NO sequel to Five Element Ninjas.
The 1961 Satomi Kotaro adventure vehichle Kaiju Jaguma no Moshu (aka “Strike of the Jaguma”) is an absolute miracle of bizarre villains and over-the-top costuming. This has become cliche around here, but if the picture above isn’t enough to get you bouncing around the web in a buying frenzy, then you’re on the wrong site.
A gang of thugs is terrorizing local villages, but they aren’t just any hoodlums – their ranks wear ninja gear and masks, their leader is a whip-wielding fiend in an ornate demon get-up, and his number-one heavy is a white gorilla. Possibly a yeti. Or at least a guy in a yeti costume who’s REALLY dedicated to his gimmick and never takes it off. You be the judge…
These Thai press kit stills, contemporary to the film’s release, show the superb range of costuming, even for the un-masked hero. The hour-long film (probably run as a double bill) is a fine example of a frugal “programmer” that while often silly delivers on action and character design in droves. Flicks like this made a lot of kids wide-eyed and happy.
There are a couple of real ‘No f’n way!’ moments in this one – none more jaw-droppingly awesome than Kotaro’s dispatching of the white-gorilla-man-yeti-thing with, naturally, a gorilla-press slam that would make any pro wrestler proud.
This 1921 silent movie might just be the first time the legend of Jiraiya was put on film. It could also well-be the first time giant toad and snake magic with special effects transformations appeared on screen, four decades before heroic ninja and tokusatsu monster action were all the rage.
If the tale of toad-powered Jiraiya and snake-powered Orochimaru seems familiar its because it’s been adapted and re-imagined over and over, from the technicolor era to Naruto today.
There’s even a sidekick employing SLUG MAGIC! Not sure how menacing a big ass slug actually is, (that’s him in the middle, below) but there you are…
Silent films in any country are beyond rare, with most lost to the ravages of time, but throw in the war and it’s a miracle any of these flicks still exist. The ritualized combat choreography and simple but ground-breaking effects work here have real charm. Glad this not only survived, but is on YouTube!
Want to credit Ninja Attack co-author Matt Alt for turning me onto this video. Read his article on toads in Japanese popular media here. A new edition of his book is due in July.
A raggedy, reticent ronin meandering through the dusty Japanese wasteland letting his sword do the talking. Sounds all too familiar, but this particular bushido bum has a secret!
Yep, he’s a mother fuckin’ werewolf!!!
2004 saw this promising follow-up to Tomo’o Haraguchi‘s Sakuya Yokaiden (see our post a week or two back), the equally monster-infused Kibakichi: Bakko Yokaiden (aka Werewolf Warrior). The film and a same-year sequel yielded mixed results. On the negative side, they were long, overly talky, dark and brooding films centered on a dark and brooding hero.
The positive:werewolf vs. monster wire-work martial arts!
Ryuji Harada plays the title character, a wandering swordsman from a tribe of Ainu lycanthropes. One of the last survivors of a massacre, when he finds a remote village populated by yokai on the lam, he bonds with the creatures and offers protection from an evil samurai clan (who have a monster or two on their own payroll).
Plenty of classic yokai here, including some reused from SAKUYA.
The villains have anachronistic Matrix fashions, imported machine guns and golden hand-grenades… but alas, no silver bullets, so Kibakichi kicks their ass! Eventually…
The appeal of Haraguchi’s flicks is definitely the creature design, and in this case it’s soooo good, you don’t mind the plodding movie you’ve had to yawn through to get to the climactic transformation and monster battle. Yeah, Kiba’s in full-on wolf mode for only the final fight, and you really need more of him in monster-power-up form paced throughout the film.
The best monster movies have escalatingcreature scenes, the best martial arts actioners have escalatingfight scenes. Kibakichi has neither, saving both the creature and combat stuff for the very end.
But that ending has a samurai wolf-man doing Hong Kong rolls and throwing spastic jump kicks!
The Kibakichi flicks get love and hate from varying audiences. I myself am way too biased, because I love anything with a village of monsters.
If you’re a monster kid, you love it, because this is a crazy Japanese mutation on the ages old werewolf genre. But from a martial arts cinema standpoint, you might resent all the padding from the creature scenes. The critter fights aren’t as clean as your average tokusatsu TV, either. And as far as where this film falls in the yokai scheme, it’s probably the grimmest portrayal of them, nowhere near as charming as Sakuya or the Daiei trilogy.
But hey, werewolf wireworks! I mean shit…
A cheaper and more hastily produced sequel, Kibakichi 2 forgoes the wolf vs. samurai clan and whole village of monsters caliber of storyline in favor of a one-on-one conflict between the fanged hero and a female survivor of his same tribe.
Not nearly as ambitious as the first, K2 is actually more satisfying in a certain way. There’s more of a B-Monster-movie feel, but at the same time it’s set-bound exteriors and garish creature villains give it a certain vintage Shaw Brothers vibe.
We’ve looked at Hanya and Oni masks this month, here’s a rare representation of the actual demons themselves!
This lizardy, serepenteeny boss villain is the first of the Shaw-esque critters. LOVE this design.
And the main baddie is right out of a Shaw sorcerer flick!
The big problem with Kibakichi 2 is the budget, which sadly means less monster suit time on screen. Kiba is only partially wolfed-up for most of the fights. WEAK!
However, there’s a pretty neat sword girl in the form of Anju (Miki Tanaka), another survivor from Kibakichi’s cursed tribe. She wants revenge for his inadvertent role in her family’s slaughter, and doles out punishment with an enormous bladed boomerang (familiar to you Inuyasha fans).
And yeah, she’s also got a little secret…
So not only do you get the weird Japanese feudal lycanthrope, you get an even rarer mutation – the female werewolf. A Japanese female werewolf. With martial arts skills.
And then they fight!
Once again, you’re frustrated because you had to wait out an overly involved flick to get to the creature climax, and there’s never going to be enough wolf suit time on screen. But like the first flick, what is there is pretty f’n cool.
The furry duel was shot in-studio with a fake interior that really harkens back to classic Shaw Bros. While cherry blossoms fall, the two whirl around like hippy dervishes. The combat tries to approach the kaiju-judo awesomeness that is War of the Gargantuas, but it’s just not long enough, dammit!
And yeah, at the end, they go there…
This cheese aside, I almost like the second movie more than the first. They’re both frustrating, but you can pan enough gold from these waters to make the viewings well worth it. It’s not like the samurai werewolf genre is that crowded.
Both films had extensive grey/black market proliferation, and eventually a domestic DVD release with English dub and subs. The label went under I believe, so it’s secondary market time if you’re looking. A chase I’d say is worhty of the effort.
Kairyu Daikessen was a 1966 Toei fusion of ninja revenge and giant monster magic. It delivered in spades on both fronts and was a fantastic movie.
Then it was picked up by American International Pictures for English-language distribution, and has since wallowed in international obscurity. Does it have a cult following based on sporadic UHF TV airings and grindhouse circuit screenings? Sure. But it should be A LOT better known.
So why hasn’t this flick been one of the most exploited and re-issued titles of all time? It should have at least B-grade kaiju status, under Godzilla and Gamera for sure, but right up there with the Gargantuas at least. It should have been a staple rental during the ninja craze, but for some reason has never been marketed for it’s shinobi content.
The blame starts at the AIP re-title, which you may have seen in TV Guide listings and in DVD discount bins for years, never knowing what you were missing – MAGIC SERPENT.
Magic fucking Serpent???
No one could have figured out a way to glom onto some other genres and trends with a strategic retitle bearing a little more dramatic flair? How about Samurai Serpent? Shogun’s Serpent? The Dragon Ninja? War of the Ninja Monsters?
The fact that one movie can have THIS:
AND be translated into English and still be widely anonymous to both kaijufiles and shinobimaniacs is just a crime of marketing and exploitation NEGLECT! Dammit all to hell, it ends here!!!
I will now assault you with images of this masterpiece until you find it and buy it and love it like you should have all these years…
Yep, that’s a big ass bladed boomerang! Early in the film, an assassin uses it to cut off the hero’s head.
Fortunately, Jiraiya (Hiroki Matsukata) has mad ninja wizard skills and can fully function decapitated. That’s his wise-cracking disembodied head on the left, taunting the ninja his body just captured.
He also throws around FX-laden trickery like the trusty old magic energy snare.
But his sworn enemy Orochimaru (Ryutaro Otomo) is not without special effects of his own. LOVE this animated energy cloud, despite the bad opticals.
But when the swordplay and shadow sills fail, it’s time to get down with some big time GIANT MONSTER SUMMONING! Orochimaru transforms into the film’s eponymous critter, one of the best kaiju ever put on screen in my opinion…
BUT WAIT! Who’s this uninvited peeing tom?
Oh yeah, our hero sure as hell can summon and embody a glowing eyed giant horny toad! Let the games begin!!!
The main-event of Kairyu Daikessen is an extended kaiju beatdown between dragon and toad, with a castle destroyed in the process.
This longshot actually begins a DIALOG scene between the monsters! They cut old-school rasslin’ promos on each other, then proceed to have fun storming the castle.
In Japan, dragons don’t breathe fire, toads do.
But the dragon is a big hoser himself, so it’s a pretty even fight.
It’s toad warrior vs. reindeer rex is the original MMA (Mixed Monster Attack).
This giant spider (species: Arachnus Deus Ex Machinatus) flies in at the last moment to save the day.
And in the fashion of all good movies, it ends with an explosion.
Kairyu Daikessen is actually more available now than it ever was back in the day. Beautiful widescreen subtitled editions are floating the trader seas under titles like “Dragon Showdown.” The only legit US release is burried on a double feature disc with a Gamera flick, and it’s the pan and scan AIP dub. The American version has it’s charm though, as all the monster “voices” were replaced by ones more familiar to US audiences (Godzilla, Rodan, Ebirah included).
Here’s some additional ephemera:
Japanese publicity departments were superb at crafting these staged press photos that would summarize the movie in a scene that never actually happens. Best use of this practice ever is in the press stuff for WAR OF THE GARGANTUAS. Google it.
I’d possibly be willing to trade a kidney (not necessarily mine) for this set of 7″ vinyl dolls from, I believe, Marusan or Marmitt.
An oddity among the tokusatsu status quo is the 1973 12-episode series Majin Hunter Mitsurugi, mainly for its use of stop-motion animation instead of stuntmen in rubber suits. It has its other quirks too, though, such as the heroes:
Sure, they look like the standard Science Patrol-type trio, but MHM is period-set in the Tokugawa era, so the bike helmets and hand grenades are rather outre choices. Not sure if there’s some sort of time travel gimmick here, but they’ve certainly taken the out-of-time Akakage costuming notions to a whole different level. Their skills are classic TV shinobi though, with shuriken and short swords at the ready.
The Shogunate is under attack from this arch demon…
…his mummy-bandaged horde…
…and the giant monster-of-the-week.
Luckily the heroes have magic swords and a gigantic armor suit of their own.
The creature design on MHM ranged from Ray Harryhausen influenced stuff to some downright Rankin-Bass holiday special looking silly critters. The show’s ambition sometimes outraced their ability to deliver, alas…
While the pimpled dodo-saurus above is a bit of a fail, the Jason and the Argonauts-inspired skeletal colossus is a major win!
And while this bastard love child of Reptilicus and The Giant Claw is a bit laughable…
…these insectiod hybrid creature remind me a lot of Micronauts. Too cool!
Seriously, how can you not love the day-glow green half-tarantula, half-skeleton unicorn hook-handed web spewer?
I love all these monsters, but it does seem multiple designers were involved, and someone didn’t get the memo that the rest of the show look was dark and moody, with bandaged swordsmen getting hacked up by grenade-throwing ninja. There are some very kid-y designs mixed in with the more legit monsters.
I’m also not sure they were up to the challenge of stop motion. Rubber suit shoots have a fraction of the shooting and production time, and the animation looks rushed and tragically under-budgeted.
Majin Hunter Mitsurugi is well worth seeking out. I dig the heroes, and the concepts are great. Any shortcomings in creature execution and animation are made-up for by the awesome villains, too.
It’s more than ten years old, watches as good as the day it was made, and is arguably still the best yokai stuff ever filmed. Sakuya: Slayer of Demons (Sakuya Yokaiden) has its detractors, but I am FIRMLY in the lovers camp and if you’ve never seen this sword-girl vs. monsters mash-up, I highly recommend it.
The story is deliberately simple (RARE for modern Japanese cinema) to make room for more monster action; young Sakuya (Nozomi Ando) is the female heir to a family of demon slayers, armed with a mystical sword that while able to kill any monster it touches also sucks the life energy out of the user every time it is used. After Mt. Fuji explodes, unleashing ten million billion angry demons, she wanders the land looking for trouble with her adopted younger brother, a kappa demon she’s charged herself with ‘rehabilitating.’ The episodic, manga-derived film features several encounters with various creatures of Japanese folklore until the final showdown with a kaiju-sized spider queen.
Sakuya is aided by two ninja with an esoteric arsenal of “bamboo punk” gadgets.
Veteran creature filmmakers Tomo’o Haraguchi and Shinji Higuchi made Sakuya after a successful run of Gamera flicks in the 90′s, and boring as those were, the kaiju stuff looked amazing. Here, they mixed the limited digital of the time with some really nice practical creature suits and miniature models to produce a pretty damn flawless composite. This is a great example of SMART craftsmanship that rests on decades old techniques to hide the limitations of the requisite new technologies, technologies other Japanese filmmakers wear shamelessly on their sleeves with often embarrassing results.
The best thing they did though is create a fast-moving, short-running (under 90 min.) action flick for all ages PACKED with monster fights.
Mature kappa are pretty damn scary here. This is what Sakuya’s adopted bro will become if she lets him succumb to his monster side…
Undead samurai are always cool.
These spider-faced she-devils spew webs. You know its a family film because they spew out of their MOUTHS and not a blurred-out nether orifice.
The first big monster fight is against an evil puppeteer who makes tiny human dolls from kidnapped girls, BUT WAIT-A-MINUTE! Swerve! He’s not the real threat, his grandma is actually a HUGE GHOST CAT!!!
I absolutely LOVE the fact that they built these big-ass suits! The cat is bigger than one of those old iron Mayor McCheese jungle-gyms we used to play on before McDonald’s had been sued by every family in the U.S. and converted their playlands to disease-ridden ball pits.
But perhaps the most endearing scene in Sakuya is the mid-film cameo by the cast of Daiei’s 60′s Yokai Monsterstrilogy in updated new suits. They shot this is an absolutely amazing dreamy quality, with advanced digital enhancing creature designs based entirely in nostalgia. It’s just great…
The climax sees a wounded Sakuya, a traitorous brother desperate for redemption and the rattan bazooka-weilding ninja battling a tarantula queen who grows to Godzilla size. The combination of models, exploding full-sized sets, kabuki-influenced costuming and digital finishes is absolutely off the hook. In a lot of ways it looks better than anything Takeshi Miike did in the excellent-in-its-own right Great Yokai War five years later with more money and more hard drives.
So yeah, seek this one out. It has all sorts of grey market releases, maybe a legit one somewhere…
In the meantime, for your sins, endure another shot of the creepy yokai blue-head baby thing! AAAAAAAHHHHHH!!!
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:
Aobiku (Rieko Matsukaze) is a second-generation evil sorceress out for revenge on the noble Satomi clan.
She can turn dead leaves into these mytical ninja foot soldiers, but…
…would rather send the family’s signature creature, the giant serpent, on her evil errands.
A few shots of the serpents are gorgeously animated.
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…
Aobiku also likes to do her own dirty work, transforming into this flying bat creature for nocturnal kidnapping raids on the Satomi.
This is my favorite of her other forms, a reptile man!
LOVE this head design, and it looks as good as Abe Sapien in the Hellboy flicks, sans the digital assists.
This version of “Satomi” has a definitive giant toad magic sequence that would be copied for years after.
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.
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!
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.
It’s the exploitation 80′s people, let’s get some blood and bodies on the screen!
The “Legend” version’s marquee creature FX bit is this downright horrifying transformation of an old grandma into a massive killer centipede.
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.
Snakey-poo is back in this version, nicely updated.
Ambitious and skillful wire-work provides for some dynamic kidnappings. The serpents have a taste for hotties…
…like Estuko Shihomi, who is superb in what is a rather non-tomboy role for her.
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.
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.
And ends up another well-made corpse, the victim of a very 80′s magic laser arrow.
Working an intensified day job schedule with two big side gigs concurrent right now, so sadly I can’t spend the time I want to in the ninja mines, however I did steal a few minutes away to create a couple of “Have Many Have You Seen?” lists over at List Challenges.
…because you cats were right, there wasn’t enough anime or any IFD stuff on the first list, plus I forgot all the smut.
Now, the requisite pre-emptive strike (that will do no good because haters gotta you-know-what) — these are not BEST OF lists per se, not ranked in any order, not meant to make comment via exclusion the lack of merit of anything and are by no means complete. Another 100 titles could be added easily, especially for Japanese source stuff and Godfrey Ho fare. (Hey, I gotta sleep sometime) These lists are just titles off the top of my head mainly, random order, a wide net cast, and no more editorial need be read into these lists. It’s a time-waster aimed at regular folks that shows the depth of the genre and the global and generation reach of our hooded heroes.
So keep those ‘well what abouts’ and ‘I can’t believe this made it and this didn’t's and whatnot in your pants for once. OK? OKAY!?!?!?
Enjoy all, or at least try to. The internet can be fun, you know…