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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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…
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!
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:
All this, and an all-star cast including Raizo Ichikawa and Shintaro Katsu!
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:
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 Robotseries.
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.
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.
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:
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…
Let’s see what becomes of this ‘ornery Oni, this clandestine kabuki killer, this… maniacal maladjusted masked magician…
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?
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.