October is MONSTERS AND MASKS MONTH!

In celebration of Halloween, all posts this month feature SCARY SHINOBI, DEMON-MASKED ASSASSINS and  NINJA VS. MONSTERS!!!

Three to five times a week we’ll be assaulting you with images of swordsmen riding giant toads, shinobi superheroes battling sponge-suit creatures and goblin-masked sword-girls in scantily clad misadventures.

AND you will witness the life-changing, perception-altering amazingness that is… NINJA VS. YETI! Consider yourselves warned.

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For those of you visiting VN for the first time, thanks for checking things out. Check the latest posts list on the left of your screen, or mouse of any of the sliding doors above for categories chock full of super rare press kit photos, screen caps of obscure movies, amazing old books, antique merch and shadow-inspired art.

HAPPY HALLOWEEN KIDS!

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Posted in Ninja Miscelany November 1, 2009 at 10:14 am.

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DOKURO NINJA in vinyl

Kaiketsu Lion Maru‘s simple skull-masked ‘shockers’ were absolutely awesome, and I believe for the first time there’s a licensed action figure representing them!

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This 5″ vinyl boutique figure is from RealxHead / Fewture Models. Jointed arms, rotating hands and head, with sword accessory. Check out the matching Lion Maru below – I like the stylized head design.

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Blog coverage at Toybot Studios and Kaiju Chronicle.

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Posted in Toys and Statues October 31, 2009 at 9:21 am.

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Skull shinobi and Saori’s shorts in LION MARU (part 2)

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Yesterday we looked at the early 70′s TV sword-girl standout Saori – whose taut legs and exposed athletic thighs were obviously secondary concerns to her self-accomplished heroism, kick-ass attitude in a man’s world, and defiance to the salacious agendas of cameraman and pre-pubescent pervs in the audience. Seriously, none of us here ever popped a kid-chubbie to Wonder Woman or Isis or Electra Woman and Dyna Girl did we? No, we were watching for the empowered heroism that served as an example to all genders, just like the Japanese.

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It was about a tough, self-made woman fighting for her life, right…

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…not trying to catch a fleeting glimpse of the bikini area.

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No matter how often the directors and camermen provided one.

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Saori, scantily clad as she was in a world of armored men with super-poweres, was there to jump to the rescue of her male companions.

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Building relationships, bridging the gender gaps.

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It wasn’t about repeatedly putting her in fetishized peril awaiting rescues.

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And she wasn’t girly and afraid of creepy crawlies, either.

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The outre boss-monsters of the week would never get a little grabby while tying her up, either. No way.

OK – in all seriousness…

Here’s the lowdown on Saori, Akiko Kujo and Lion Maru. It was a kid’s show, but someone sure was crow-barring in some cheeky content for older brother and dad. Season two, her get-up changed a bit and she ended up with more modest unmentionables and way less camera up the skirt, so that same someone may have gotten bus-ted!

Through it all, Kujo was a real trooper! Athletic build (possibly dancers legs?) lent her terrific leaping ability. She was a game acrobat, did a lot of her own fight scenes and trampoline work, and made the most out of a role that could have been completely laughable if not for her effort. Her frequent fights against multiple skull-ninja are always great.

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Being a girl sidekick on a Japanese boy’s TV show was innevitably going to be exploitive in some degree, but within that realm, Akiko Kujo really did hold her own, kicked some real ass, and should have been a more influential model for a progressive breed of girl-hero that Japan sadly never developed.

She’s so good, you end up looking at this show in a modern context and you want MORE of her and less of the big fuzzy dude in red.

READ MORE:

Official DVD site, Henshin Hall of Fame, Italian fan site.

BONUS TOY COVERAGE HERE!

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Posted in Film and TV October 31, 2009 at 9:20 am.

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Skull shinobi and Saori’s shorts in LION MARU (part 1)

As a post Halloween bonus, we’re going to honor the Latin world’s Dia de los Muertos with a look at some skull-masked shinobi. MONSTERS AND MASKS month has been sadly bereft of our beloved Sword Girls, too, so we’ll wrap things up with Saori – the ferocious flipping female sidekick from KaiketsuLion Maru.

Akiko Kujo starred as the muscular-legged kunoichi companion of the super-powered proto-furry superhero, and while he had a magic sword, a pegasus, nigh-invulnerability, the ability to make monsters explode, etc, Saori was content with a simple short sword and an even shorter skirt…

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Here’s the happy and heroic cast…

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…and these are the evil henchmen. Amazing how the addition of a simple skull mask over an off-the-rack ninja suit equals INSTANT AWESOME!

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Yeah, it’s a Japanese show, and some assume they’re all pervs and even a heroine in a kid’s show would be there for one reason and one reason only, but that’s just not true here. Take a look at action shots like this. They’re obviously NOT about the gratuitous panty flashes…

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No, they’re about one woman standing up to a man’s world. One rather under-clad woman… often standing slightly above the camera’s sightline…

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See, she’s a wildcat. She’s… what are all those cliches the comic book industry clings to… oh yeah – she’s EMPOWERED by her sexuality, a combatant unencumbered by flesh-concealing protective gear…

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She wears her gender on her sleeve, she’s a GRRRL man, yeah, that’s it. That’s a warrior right there, not an underwear model exposed at every possible opportunity by lascivious camera operators and hand-gnashing directors…

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In the end, she’s not a damsel in distress or a ditzy assistant, she’s the scourge of these skull-masked houligans!

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These lucky, lucky, lucky skull-masked houligans.

TOMORROW – more skull masks and more skivvies…

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Posted in Film and TV October 31, 2009 at 9:15 am.

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Find yourself a copy of DEMON OF MOUNT OE!

You think you have enough ‘heroic band of samurai with signature weapons vs. shape-shifting evil magicians’ movies in your collection, and then BOOM, a gem like Demon of Mount Oe surfaces!

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Bandits vs. samurai, magicians vs. Mikado, demon bulls kidnapping women… then the giant spider shows up. Start with an ages-old Japanese fairy tale as the basis for a script and myriad folk-art images like the one below for storyboard inspiration and you just can’t go wrong! Check it out:

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This giant floating demon head sequence has a real EVIL DEAD vibe!

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The demon bull is really indicative of the first rate - for 1960 - effects of this film, it's very well designed but has limited articulation.

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This web-slinging wizard transforms into...

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...this awesome giant spider!

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If this was remade today, all these cool practical fights would be cheesy digital.

All this, and an all-star cast including Raizo Ichikawa and Shintaro Katsu!

MORE:  Story translation here. Review on Some Words Some Places.

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Posted in Film and TV October 30, 2009 at 9:30 am.

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Alas, I have no idea…

…what movie (or movies) these are from, but they certainly are on-topic for the month!

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Awesome hair, awesomer nose!

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That's Ryutaro Otomo on the left, I believe. Guessing this is from late 50's or very early 60's, the pre-SHINOBI-NO-MONO years when ninja were still colorful swashbucklers, mischievous wizards, or both.

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The crimson goblin get-up looks out of NINJUTSU SUIKODEN INAZUMA KOTENGU, but not the rest of the scene...

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Again, these are from a cache of press kit still rescued from a Thai ad agency. The pencilled grid lines would have been reference for someone doing a wall-mural or large painted poster of the image triangle-by-triangle.

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Everything seems to have worked out A-OK. Whole lotta oni masks in the one...

If anyone can shed some light on the images above, drop yer beloved e-publisher a line at unknownpubs-at-yahoo-dot-com.

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Posted in Film and TV October 29, 2009 at 9:15 am.

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Kaiju in AKAKAGE (part 2)

The Red Shadow kid’s TV series ran 52 episodes over two years. Six of those episodes were later cut together into movies released under titles like Ninjascope (The Magical World of the Ninjas) in Australia and Latin America.

They were also mis-labeled to cash in on the success of another ninja kid’s film Dai Ninjutsu Eiga Watari, so if you get a chance to see something like Watari the Conqueror, Watari and the Fantasticks, Watari and the Seven Monsters or The Magic Sword of Watari, the ninja boy in question is NOT the axe-weilding hero of the 1966 masterpiece, it’s just that twerp Aokage in rather grainy TV footage blown-up for the big screen.

Again, these were all over TV and theaters everywhere else in the world but here… So check out the monsters we missed:

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This were-cat-looking thing is my absolute fave!

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Red Shadow's jeweled mask, combined with his powered-up katana, produced these never-fail monster-exterminating lightning bolts.

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If you’ve never seen an episode of the original show or one of the dubbed composite movies, but the above seem strangely familiar, it’s because the character made a guest appearance in a time-spanning episode of Yokoyama’s landmark Giant Robo / Johnny Socko and his Flying Robot series.

READ MORE:

The Henshin Hall of Fame

Watari-Akakage fan page

Creepy human head mask from Japan

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Posted in Film and TV October 28, 2009 at 9:15 am.

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Kaiju in AKAKAGE (part 1)

Seems Japan has been beset by giant monsters forever, and luckily for us today heroes like Ultraman are around to fend them off. But in the fuedal era, centuries before any space-faring monster fighters, laser-weilding science patrols or little kids with watches that summoned giant robots were around, it was up to a select few NINJA to do these monsters in.

Enter multi-media shinobi superhero Red Shadow, the coifed creature killer of Kamen no Ninja Akakage.

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This government-charged agent of justice (played by Sakaguchi Yûzaburô) could fly, shoot eye beams, summon a magic twister, and all sorts of other jazz. He and partners Aokakge (Blue Shadow, the requisite snot-nosed-brat, played by Yoshinobu Kaneko) and the veteran Shirokage (White Shadow, another one of Maki Fuyukichi‘s several ninja franchise roles) also loved throwing really potent hand grenades at monsters until everything in sight exploded.

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With this flashy ninja vs. giant monster format, prolific shinobi creator Mitsuteru Yokoyama‘s “Masked Ninja Akakage” jumped from hit manga in ’66 to Toei’s first color tokustatsu series in ’67, and has since seen revivals in anime and live action cinema. It is the often goofy but eminently lovable kid’s show that is highest regarded in that chain… Looking at these images, it’s not hard to see why:

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Know what I love most about this shot of the main baddie of the series? It allows me to use a term like "Harryhausen-esque!"

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These optical printer composites were still pretty new territory, especially in color and on a television budget. Sometimes they're rather good, other times not so much, but they are never a deal breaker.

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The tried-and-true model stomping session is always good, though...

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Good use of rear projection. The color exposure differences sometimes hinder these shots, but again, the color format was new.

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Miniature figures and modestly-budgeted modelscapes were often complemented by fire or smoke spitting critters that lent increased dynamics to otherwise cheesy-looking scenes.

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This familiar giant toad is probably the very suit from MAGIC SERPENT, or at least poured from the same foam rubber molds - note the indent on the nose where in the previous movie the glowing horn would have been.

TOMORROW – a whole pile of sponge-suit monsters!


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Posted in Film and TV October 27, 2009 at 9:20 am.

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Coming soon: Watari and Watari…

Somehow, it’s the last week of October… Time flies when you’re running around in an Oni mask like a maniac. Actually, some mid-month travel put a dent in what I wanted to be a more prolific output for MONSTERS AND MASKS MONTH, but such is life.

Coming in the next few days, kaiju mayhem in MASKED NINJA AKAKAGE, freaky villains in WATARI THE NINJA BOY, maybe a flaming demon head floating around in a smoke cloud or two, and for Dia de los Muertos a look at the skull-masked ninja ‘shockers’ of KAIKETSU LION MARU.

Here’s a preview – a Mexican lobby card for the theatrical release of one of the composite Akakage films, which internationally were often mis-titled as “Watari” flicks. Note that it’s presented in “violent color” – god I love Mexico…

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Posted in Film and TV October 25, 2009 at 11:52 am.

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Wizards in theatre masks (part 2)

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Let’s see what becomes of this ‘ornery Oni, this clandestine kabuki killer, this… maniacal maladjusted masked magician…

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For starters, this shinobi master-of-disguise shows up to prompt along our heroes, showing up at odd times both on the street and in dream sequences.

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AND our good old pal the fire-spittin' snakey-poo makes a gratuitous dream realm cameo!

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In this shadow-realm encounter, the villain summons an army of yokai-masked ninja shockers. You never good a good look at them though, but the masks could be reused from flicks like GOLDEN PEACOCK CASTLE.

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Amazing how simple but effective fire-bursts are on screen. Here, the hero and heroine take the heat in the dream world.

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This get-up is almost cooler sans the crazy hair.

Gotta admit, at film’s end I’m kinda lost. They seem to switch villains, going after a daimyo instead of the evil wizard. Or maybe he hasn’t actually been evil this whole time, and is one of the good guys all along? Or he’s defeated and the hero poses as him for the insider super surprise mega tricker?

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As much as I hate to go live with an examination of a movie without really knowing it’s details and editorial, the imagery here is to cool to wait for an eventual research breakthrough or a fan sub surfacing. I spent the 90′s writing about mostly unsubbed or dubbed Mexican masked wrestler movies while having precious little command of the Spanish language, and sometimes VN is no different. There’s a certain joy to floundering in the waters dammed by the language barrier – movies like this become somewhat dada-ist and delightfully baffling when you’re not hung up on plot holes or mis-translations and whatnot.

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Posted in Film and TV October 21, 2009 at 12:15 pm.

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