Now in the hands of… an American?

As a footnote to our American Ninja celebratory gripe-fest, here’s a mystifying trade ad from what has to be the early part of 1985, wherein Cannon heralded an upcoming project:

Right studio, right producers, right creative team, right title, right logo. BUT… what the hell?

Now trade ads are always talking shit. They run in industry-only newsrags promoting movies as if the deals are set in stone, sometimes implying they’re in the can, but the reality is these ads are often window dressing for the money hunt. Would-be producers work these things up to stir interest or tip on-the-fence investors over the edge. More often that not the movie promised never gets made or mutates into something way different.

So was “American Ninja” a Sho Kosugi lvehicle at one point, or were they just coyly suggesting that he might be involved in a pending deal. Or did they just see his image as their’s to use regardless of his involvement or lack thereof? Kosugi had left Cannon at this point for what turned out to be far less greener pastures, so maybe this was an attempt to lure him back?

The “American Ninja” title has a shadowy history of its own, too. I have an image stuck in my head of one of these trade ads I saw years ago wherein a Chuck Norris project carried the same name, and would kill to find it somewhere (if it even exists). Maybe it became The Octagon? Kosugi’s own 9 Deaths of the Ninja was called “American Ninja” in some European markets. And the American Ninja we know and love was actually called “American Warrior” during development and as late as the trailer, changing titles at the 11th hour (the ‘Warrior’ title remained in some foreign releases).

A mystery indeed. Too bad I’m the only guy in Hollywood who actually cares about this stuff…


Man thanks to VN reader Dan for the following clarifications:

“in regards to the whole Sho Kosugi / American Ninja thing, here’s how it went down from what I remember reading and subsequently pieced together. The trade ad you have of Cannon’s “American Ninja” project featuring Sho was likely done before he left Cannon (possibly during post-production on NINJA III), so they undoubtely planned to have their #1 ninja star in the film (possibly in the role that went to Tadashi Yamashita). After Sho left Cannon they planned to getChuck Norris to star as the “American Ninja” (as seen in the attached trade ad), but obviously that didn’t work out and they got Michael Dudikoff. Meanwhile, Sho filmed his first non-Cannon movie, a film with the working title “American Ninja”, which was written and directed by “Enter the Ninja” 2nd Unit Director Emmett Alston. The movie was released as “9 Deaths of the Ninja” and Cannon’s “American Warrior” was therefore able to reclaim the “American Ninja” title and did so (at least in most markets). By the way, you can’t really tell from the attached pic, but the ninja gi Chuck is wearing is the same one worn by David Chung, Lucinda Dickey, and Alan Amiel (their fight double) in NINJA III… The Black Ninja outfit which is really grayish-green. Pretty wild, huh?”

Happy Birthday SHO KOSUGI

posted in: 1 - Film and TV | 1

Man, where would we be without Sho Kosugi? Probably in JAIL… This is the man, after all, who taught us how to catch arrows in our teeth, wear ninja stars on our belt buckles, scale office buildings with climbing claws, and the proper techniques of powering up in front of an under-lit mist-spewing chest of weapons.

Happy birthday Kosugi-dono, you rocked our 80’s beyond measure!

Rehearsing ENTER THE NINJA's superb final duel. He stole this film from Franco Nero (who pretty much stole it from Mike Stone anyway).

Kosugi was the LEAD in only his second American film, something I’m thinking no other Asian actor or martial arts star (including Bruce Lee) had done. The leap of faith from Canon and Golan-Globus paid off in spades – Revenge of the Ninja cemented the craze more than any other film.

Canon wasn't shy about the release of REVENGE OF THE NINJA with these full-page trade ads in VARIETY. They knew they were going to make bank...
Kosugi's family crest-emblazoned ninja elevated shinobi to superhero.

Inset photo from a lobby card heralding NINJA III: THE DOMINATION - Kosugi's first 'unmasked' lead role.

Seriously, is there a single aspect of shinobi fandom not touched by this man? Movies, TV, magazines and merch in the 80’s. Martial arts and movie stunt training, performing arts troupes, motion capture for video games and a whole second career in Japan with his kids in the next two decades. And who was the villain in last year’s big budget return to American ninja movies?

Check out the bio and career coverage at his official S.K. Production site and the excellent fan site Sho Kosugi: The Ninja.

Fan club kit pieces via The Scandy Factory.

These may be decades old, but if they’re willing to take on big 41-year old geeks, then I’m ready to fill this out RIGHT f’n NOW!

Now, where the hell is that Criterion box set of all the Canon films and the Master Ninja eps???

Read some previous Kosugi-related VN posts:

The Illustrated Kosugi

Martial Arts Magazines

Canon Posters

KAGE – best ninja short ever!

Awesome resource for MA mags!

Check out this impressively thorough archive of martial arts magazine covers and topics going back 50 years:

Vintage Martial Arts Magazines

When the titles and decades are laid out like this, you can really see the trends and transitions of coverage. Ninjutsu features were a rare exotic thing in the 60’s and 70s, but man do they EXPLODE in the 80’s!

December 1966 - the first ninja cover on an American martial arts mag, heralding the feature by Andrew Adams that later morphed into the famed NINJA: THE INVISIBLE ASSASSINS book.
July 1977 - the first photo cover of a ninja on an American mag, a makeshift shinobi outfit that's pretty rough around the edges, literally. Note the shuriken, of the kung-fu variety and not the off-the-rack mail order stuff so common in the craze 80's.
11/79 - Sho kosugi's first US cover, as a Karate champion. 4/79 - OFFICIAL KARATE is ahead of the curve, as is INSIDE KUNG-FU in 4/80.
6/80 - Stephen Hayes' first cover, albeit without the celeb treatment he'd routinely get a few years later. 8/81 movie mag decries "Ninja: American's New Sinister Hero" and the movie boom is on. By 1983, "Warriors" NINJA hits the shelves, and every other major martial arts title throws black pajama'd assassins on their covers to increase sales. The craze is here.

The folks over at have done a tremendous job with this digital archive. Scans are organized by title, then by year, with some category cross-referencing (including “Ninja”). I’ve dug through there for hours, admiring old graphic design and layouts, wondering how I missed certain mags back in the day… its a real trip.

AND a lot of the pictured pulps are for sale! I’m a bit afraid of that right now, as I have tax refunds coming and am getting veeeeery tempted…