One wouldn’t normally think of a site like this for creepy and monster-y Halloween content, but man over the years we have BROUGHT IT!
Here’s a one-stop-shopping list of Vintage Ninja‘s finest “Monsters and Masks” features:
The Demon of Mt. Oe — READ HERE — A nifty, creature-laden obscure samurai-vs-demons flick from the early 60s.
Kaiju in Masked Ninja Akakage — PART 1 — PART 2 — The classic tokusatsu series had some great monster-of-the-week action!
Ninja vs. Yeti in Strike of the Jaguma! — READ HERE — AND MORE HERE — You just have to see this stuff to believe it…
The best ninja/kaiju hybrid movie ever – Magic Serpent! — PART 1 — PART 2 — Generations of monster kids were exposed to ninja well before the 80s craze in this head-slapping genre-bender.
Demented creatures in versions of Satomi Hakkenden — PART 1 — PART 2 — From the obscure original epic to the Star Wars-era Kadowkawa classic, the film adaptations of the lore of the eight assembled heroes had some incredible analog monsters.
Kabakichi, the samurai werewolf — PART 1 — PART 2 — Full-on lycanthropes throwing jumping high-kicks, with plenty of other weirdo creatures to boot!
Sakuya Yokaiden, monster slaying sword-girl — READ HERE — Some of the best mixtures of digital and practical effects make this sword-flawing yoke-fest a must-see!
Henshin Ninja Arashi‘s manga monsters — READ HERE — Many are familiar with the tokusatsu show and toys, but the manga is a much darker, more severe fare with some amazing creatures.
Monsters and Martial Mummies in Majin Hunter Mitsurugi — READ HERE — If you’re unfamiliar with this rare stop-motion animation oddity from the Japanese TV industry otherwise dominated by guys in rubber suits, check it out!
Toad magic of the silent film era in Jiraiya — READ HERE — This 1921 silent was possibly the first time ‘giant toad magic’ made the leap from kabuki stage to the silver screen.
Demented sorcery and undead fencing legends in Makai Tensho — READ HERE — Unaware that Sonny Chiba once dueled a zombie version of Miyamoto Musashi and a gang of ghost villains? There’s a cure for that…
Happy Halloween everyone, see you in November with some MAJOR new stories…
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).
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.
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…
The main-event of Kairyu Daikessen is an extended kaiju beatdown between dragon and toad, with a castle destroyed in the process.
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).
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.
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.
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:
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…
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!