None of the below are really ninja, but we’ve always made room for the shadowy masked vigilante swordsmen here, so following is just a crap load of hooded hero awesomeness.
And some related merchandise:
…and a few hoodies nasties, too.
These two are from the superb Franch-language photo blog The Retro Files of Mr. Gutsy.
• If you’re a stinky old fart with bad eyes like me then you hate watching stuff on portable devices and tiny screens. Fortunately for us luddites, Ninja: The Mission Force is now available on DVD.
• I’m not sure what the hell is going on in this James Madison: Ninja Warrior t-shirt, but the art is awesome, and the Badass Digest crew are good folk.
• Found a great collection of color tinted Kurozukin Menko cards here.
• Spanish-language site Retumbarama has started a series of ninja movie articles. I always like seeing international takes on the craze era.
Tags: kurozukin, Ninja: The Mission Force
This 1926 promotional flyer from the Nishiki-za movie theater in Kobe, Japan features some sweet hooded misadventure!
From the text, this Nikkatsu production was called Teru Hi Kumoru Hi: Zenpen, (roughly Sunny Day, Cloudy Day: Chapter 1) based on a novel by Kurama Tengu originator Jiro Osaragi. Don’t know a thing about this film, other than an obvious visual kinship to Tengu, Kurozukin and ilk.
A photograph from the same film. I love how defined and expressive the silent-era heavy eye make-up looks with the hood.
The magenta/rose ink and 85-plus years aging of what was already cheap thin stock makes this piece a bit frustrating to make out. Converting the images to B&W helped a bit though.
From the flyer text, here’s the rundown on this film:
Director: Hisayasu Takahashi, Camera: Ihaya Eiichi
Goro Kawabe as Haku’unsai (Fortune teller)
Denjiro Okochi as Kano Hachiro
Haruko Sawamura as Shiramine Ogin (Woman thief)
Umeko Sakuragi as Iwamura Otae
Yayoi Kawakami as Tsuruya Orin (Geisha girl)
Yuzuru Kume as Hosoki Toshio
Rizaemon Arashi as Iwami Kido
Sennosuke Nakamura as Mshira no Genji
Kakumatsuro Arashi as Hosoki Shinnojo
Setsuo Satsuki as Musashiya Rokubei
Many thanks to Aizu Shingo.
Tags: Kurama Tengu, kurozukin, Silent Film
Some Kurozukin and other hooded hero goodness from the VHS days:
I miss video stores in general, but I especially miss Little Tokyo stores from the height of the VHS clamshell era. Such great design at work with these case inserts, which packed in a ton of imagery and mood but somehow never felt too cluttered.
Tags: kurozukin, VHS art
No, this isn’t a contest or anything, I’m just stumped on who this is playing the oft-filmed Black Hood and what year it’s from:
Of course, it could also be one of the myriad Kurama Tengu, as well…
Thanks to VN readers Daitora and Alex2525 for the translations – that is indeed a very young Ryutaro Otomo, who I barely recognize. Much more familiar with his mid-to-latter career and more square-jawed mature appearance.
Tags: Kurama Tengu, kurozukin, Ryutaro Otomo
Love this Menko card portrait of either Kurozukin (The Black Hood) or Kurama Tengu.
Artist and date unknown, cardstock and discoloration from age is consistent with other stuff I have from the 50s and 60s.
Tags: Kurama Tengu, kurozukin, menko cards
Kaiketsu Kurozukin (The Black Hood) is one of Japan’s most enduring hooded hero properties, with cinematic origins in the silent era and a retooling about once a decade since. We did a brief overview of the property a while back here, with some amazing press stills from a 1960 color entry starring Ryutaro Otomo.
Here’s Otomo five years earlier in Gozonji Kaiketsu Kurozukin Maguna no Hitomi:
Much like the very similar and equally prolific Kurama Tengu, Black Hood’s adventures are set in the 1860s, when the Shogunate was crumbling to the notions of a restored emperor and an end to isolation. Fusing traditional Japanese swordsmanship with proficiency in imported revolvers, he was a fighting symbol of that time of change.
Kurozukin is a master of disguise, observing urban intrigue as a fortune teller, then donning a variety of international identities to insert himself into the political struggle at hand. With a penchant for smoke bomb-covered getaways, and a costume that is essentially off-the-rack shinobi night mission gear, Black Hood is the most ninja-like of Japan’s hooded vigilante set.
And he’ll pop a cap in your ass!
The same year saw Otomo return in Gozonji Kaiketsu Kurozukin Dai-Niwa Shinsengumi Tsuigeki. I LOVE this movie, both actor and character are in superb form here.
The chest is full of gold that can help topple the Shogunate. Is Kurozukin’s two-pistoled escort enough to get the chest through a gauntlet of sinister Shinsengumi?
The absolute highlight of this film is an incognito Kurozukin donning a parade dog (lion? dragon?) to fend off a gang of thugs. They are spooked and stymied by this outré offense, as he bites their blades and head-butts them into submission.
The film ends with a memorable showdown on a narrow road, as a stalwart Black Hood – modern pistols drawn – marches toward a Shinsegumi force armed with obsolete Japanese muskets.
1960′s Ayaushi! Kaiketsu Kuro-Zukin had an even more Western-y climax, as the Hood leads a wagon train of Chinese expatriates through a mob of political conspirators swarming like Indians. He even wore an ornate pistol rig worthy of Hopalong Cassidy.
The combination of western firearms and traditional swords must have registered on Tomisaburo Wakayama, as not only his Bounty Hunter series attests, but also his own stab at the character in 1981.
This made for TV Kaiketsu Kurozukin is somewhat of a phone-in, trying litle new with the character, repeating familiar swordplay, and using recycled music from other Katsu productions. But hey, it’s Wakayama fighting guys in tengu masks…
No, this wasn’t goodbye for the oft-renewed character. There’s at least one more version (1990) and I can’t imagine the 2000s went by without at least some sort of TV revisiting. I want to see this character reimagined as female, similar to what’s been done with The Purple Hood and Tange Saizen.
The more frequently rebooted character is Kurama Tengu — same weapons, same hood, but silk kimono and sandals replacing the ninja gear. We’ll do a similar feature on the anti-Shogunate masked mountain demon in the future.
Meanwhile you can find all the hooded heroes at Kurotokagi !
Tags: kurozukin, Ryutaro Otomo, Tomisaburo Wakayama
The cambara Lone Ranger looks pretty damn cool in B&W, too, like something off a Saturday matinee serial reel. Although the color originals of these images, first seen here in August of 2009, are absolutely stunning.
Kurotokagi has a great selection of Black Hood films from several decades – I recommend them all…
Tags: kurozukin, Thai press kits, vintage photos
I must admit I’ve had a difficult time in researching this post, and the pedigree of the property involved. Reading below, it’ll become pretty evident that while yes, I have a network of nerds who can identify any antique handgun known to man, what I actually lack is a good Japanese translator and a reader of kanji. So while the language barrier sometimes betrays an embarrassing lack of authority in this sight, I really do try to make up for it in passion and enthusiasm for collecting. Bear with me, one day we’ll have the overseas research covered just as well as the peripherals like revolvers and printing techniques and all the other garbage I bring to the table… ONWARD!
There are three prolific not-necessarily-ninja hooded heroes in Japanese cinema: the masked Anti-Shogunist (just made that word up!) Kurama Tengu, the purple-hooded detective swordsman Murasaki Zukin, and this pistol-packin’ force of justice KAIKETSU KUROZUKIN.
Think of him as a chambara Lone Ranger, or a Zorro in ninja-wear… And any problem he couldn’t solve with 12 bullets would be just as easily diffused by a quick-drawn katana off the back.
“Kaiketsu” is a great Japanese word used to describe a man of greatness or extraordinary deeds, pretty much used to modify a corresponding name or term into a hero. “Kurozukin” (or split as ‘kuro-zukin’) is literally Black Hood. So in American pulp-hero terms, it’d end up something like “The Amazing Black Hood” or “Black Hood: Man of Adventure” or something equally grand.
KK was an adventurer who would insert himself into all sorts of political intrigue and conspiracies as the Shogunate crumbled in the late 1860s. He was a catalyst for justice, making trouble for those that deserved it and protecting those caught up in conflicts bigger than themselves.
The above staged publicity stills were shot B&W, then hand tinted. I got these in a batch of similar pieces rescued from a newspaper or ad agency in Thailand.
Kurozukin adventures date back to the silent film era, and the property has seen some sort of revival in just about every decade since. Although not a ninja character, more often than not the studios used off-the-rack shinobi costuming for the hero, accented with some amazing Western pistol rigs and saddles that would make Gene Autry proud.
Kurozukin’s “Oater”-esque saddle rig and gunbelt are unlikely, but plausible. The double-action revolvers however are Smith & Wesson “Military and Police” Model 1905s, about 40 years too early. Most every Kurozukin film, poster or still I’ve seen suffers the same sort of snafu. They either just weren’t sweating the historical detail, or the prop guys had a wealth of military surplus on-hand in post-war Japan, but less access to frontier replicas.
"Honestly sir, we were just watching TV..."
This still was shot on set of the 1960 film Ayaushi! Kaiketsu Kuro-Zukin (Danger! Magnificent Black-Hooded Man or The Black Hooded Man in Peril). That’s the always amazing Ryutaro Otomo in the get-up. He played the character in a series of eight films starting in 1955.
I’ve only seen an un-subbed inky and fuzzy VHS boot of this flick so forgive the vagueries. The conflict revolves around a Chinese delegation – perhaps a troupe of traveling entertainers – trying to escape a conspiracy in Japan. The last act sees their wagon-train chased by an army of villains, with all sorts of gunfire and horseplay. VERY much Republic serial Western fare.
Here are some screen caps – apologies for the quality…
Check out that amazing hairdo!!!
The first two films of Otomo’s series are out there in the ‘trading community’ and well worth hunting down. The second film has a great fight where an incognito Kurozukin fights off, and humiliates, multiple attackers using the wooden ‘bite’ of a parade dragon head. Also out there is an 80′s incarnation starring none other than Tomisaburo Wakayama.
MANY THANKS TO: Gaijin84 and Gringo Solitario of the Ninja Dojo, and pistoleros David J. Schow and Ken Valentine)
Tags: kurozukin, Ryutaro Otomo
Many thanks to longtime friend and co-conspirator Rafael Navarro for giving us the back inside cover to the new Sonambulo Lives! comic, which makes it’s debut at this year’s ComiCon International in San Diego.