NINJA WARS press book

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It was one of the few Japanese ninja movies that actually made it to U.S. shores in the 80s, and what a weird choice. Full of fantasy special effects, bizarre super powered evil monks, sadism and rape and decapitated girls walking around, it was an exploitation feast for teenaged cable addicts, even if there was nary a black hood to be seen. It was Kadokawa’s big budget Iga Ninpocho, known here as Ninja Wars.

And this was the US press press book from 1983:

This painting was the U.S. poster and sometimes VHS clamshell package. Painted in 1982, it's still pretty 70's.
I could never quite make out this detail back when I had the VHS.
Back cover of the book featured Henry Sanada over the more familiar in the U.S. Sonny Chiba.

Sanada and pop-star Noriko Watanabe in her first film were BANK in Japan.
Chiba had a small but important role, and his Japan Action Club was responsible for fights and stunts galore.
Mikio Narita as the evil wizard Kashin Koji was our fave character. The dubbed English voice was over-the-top sinister and we used to imitate it all the time.
The "Devil Monks" had surreal super powers and/or signature weapons. They were downright monstrous, and this film bordered on the horror genre at all times.
Pro wrestler Strong Kobayashi as Kongo dwarfed the rest of the cast.

Ninja Wars didn’t get a whole ton of traction during the craze, mostly because of the lack of black hoods in both the film and its marketing. HBO even pushed it as a surreal Japanese art film rather than a martial arts exploitation movie, which wasn’t that huge a stretch…

If Ninja Wars was ‘art’ then it was a demented piece of fantasy art painted on the side of some oversexed pervert’s conversion van. Mutant super monks, bat shit-crazy wizards, undead hotties with transplanted heads, fat chicks on aphrodisiacs gettin’ nekkid, flying gags and crazy stunts, acid barf of doom. Wow…

Ninja Wars may be to 80s shinobi cinema what Lucio Fulci’s Conquest was to Conan knock-offs – the weird bastard stepchild that does and doesn’t belong to the genre, and who can tell if it’s brilliant art or a total piece of shit lost in its own pretension and trying way to hard to shock?

The 2005 Adness DVD of Ninja Wars was the first time it was released uncut, widescreen and in Japanese, and it’s well worth seeking out on the secondary market. But I’ve also kept a public domain DVD and an old clamshell VHS just to have that godawful dub I so loved as a craze-era teen.


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Ninjas and Dragons is a weird little movie. You watch it and wonder if you’ve seen it before, what decade in came out in, how it had slipped through the cracks back in the day. Largely “inspired by” more familiar fare like Ninja in the Dragon’s Den, the Junya (“Man do I wanna be Henry Sanada”) Takagi vehicle was supposedly made in 1984, although “lost” somehow, never seeing the light of day here until recently.

There’s a definitive review, en espanol, over at Asian Fury. A shorter English-language review of the 2006 Rarescope DVD is over at 10K Bullets as well.

Worth a look, this film gets pretty nutty at the end…

Perhaps the strangest ninja movie ever made…

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While the Sonny Chiba / Japan Action Club TV series is more widely known, it was the really strange 1979/80 film Kage no Gundan: Hattori Hanzo by Eiichi Kudo that started the Shadow Warriors ball rolling.

Yeah… strange… a real head scratcher. Damn weird even. Sometimes stunning, sometimes baffling, sometimes laughable in an uncomfortable way that makes you nervous you’re missing something profound, and not chucking at the prolonged fucking FOOTBALL game the rival ninjas clans have in the middle of this thing. Or the inexplicable tar-covered monster ninja. There’s all sorts of stuff that just makes no sense, but then again, maybe it’s genius. I dunno…

kage movie

The marketing was equally strange. Check out the poster above. Yeah, that crumpled tin foil as a the background. Those costumes, with the football shoulder pads, are right out of the movie, but the hockey or drama masks are never worn. These phantom-y figures, though, are the primary icons of the campaign.

Football. NOT making that up. Find it and see for yourself…

kage movie 2