The best VN Halloween/monster features in one easy list!

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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. OeREAD HERE — A nifty, creature-laden obscure samurai-vs-demons flick from the early 60s.

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Kaiju in Masked Ninja AkakagePART 1 — PART 2 — The classic tokusatsu series had some great monster-of-the-week action!

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Ninja vs. Yeti in Strike of the Jaguma!READ HEREAND MORE HERE — You just have to see this stuff to believe it…

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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.

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Demented creatures in versions of Satomi Hakkenden — PART 1PART 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.

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Kabakichi, the samurai werewolfPART 1PART 2 — Full-on lycanthropes throwing jumping high-kicks, with plenty of other weirdo creatures to boot!

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Sakuya Yokaiden, monster slaying sword-girlREAD HERE — Some of the best mixtures of digital and practical effects make this sword-flawing yoke-fest a must-see!

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Henshin Ninja Arashi‘s manga monstersREAD HERE — Many are familiar with the tokusatsu show and toys, but the manga is a much darker, more severe fare with some amazing creatures.

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Monsters and Martial Mummies in Majin Hunter MitsurugiREAD 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!

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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.

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Demented sorcery and undead fencing legends in Makai TenshoREAD 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…

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Happy Halloween everyone, see you in November with some MAJOR new stories…

 

Oh ALIEN VS. NINJA, I knew you wouldn’t let me down…

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I’m delighted – DEE-LIGHTED – to wrap up Monsters and Masks Month 2010 with an early review of Sushi Typhoon’s Alien vs. Ninja from action auteurs Seiji Chiba and Yuji Shimomura. This thing’s been a big hit at film festivals the past few months, and having just watched a screener rushed to us from the good folks at Funimation, I can see why.

Only slightly less pixel-based than NINJA GAIDEN.

Alien vs. Ninja does something the likes of Aliens vs. Predator, Freddy vs. Jason, Mega Snake vs. Giant Octopus, even King Kong vs. Godzilla ultimately failed to do; DELIVER on the promise of the title.

What you get here is a bunch of ninja fighting a bunch of aliens. And that’s pretty much it! No overcomplicated story, no extraneous characters or side plots, no taking itself too seriously. The ninja are on screen early, the aliens attack right away. Seems so simple, yet why do all those other ‘versus’ flicks save what you’re there to see for the often too-short final scenes?

Maybe Chiba’s the difference. When a film is written and directed by an action and effects guy, you know he’s going to stay in familiar territory and not try to recreate Citizen Kane.

Although AvN will probably go down in history as the ‘Citizen Kane’ of monster-infused ninjasploitation.

Take some good looking young people with screen fighting skills, put them in the finest custom warrior couture...
...add some pervy fetish costuming and...
...some ludicrous gore bordering on silly and you're set up for a pretty good film.
BUT WAIT! Add a legion of slimy mutating aliens to the mix and you end up with something special.

The eponymous extraterrestrials of AvN are derivative of both Giger’s Alien and… um… FLIPPER. I didn’t like the Soichi Umezawa creature design at first, but as things progress the goofy snouts and cheapness of the suits start to really work with the crazy-8 bonkers tone of the film.

The real gem of AvN is the kunoichi Rin played by Mika Hijii, last seen in Isaac Florentine’s Ninja. Clad in a latex catsuit with armor accentuating all the right bits, she’s cute enough to turn aliens into groping perverts (literally).

Luckily her ninjutsu skills include a variety of splits and leg scissors, and luckier for us, the camera is always in the right spot when such moves are executed.

No better way to dodge a phallic alien tail!

Mika steals the show in the third reel, stomping an alien in the crotch with high-heeled boots (alien’s got nards!), pulling slimy pink alien fetuses (ew!) out of various orifices of zombified ninja, finding the creature’s weak spot – THE TAINT! – and generally scoring all kinds of style points strangling opponents with her legs and thighs.

In a film full of good fights, the showdown with the boss alien is the best. With the alien’s ability to mimic opponents, we actually get a man vs. monster swordfight! Male lead Masanori Mimoto eventually has to bust out some pro wrestling and MMA to take him down, with a few nods to video games in there for good measure. Action Directors Yuji Shimomura and Kensuke Sonomura hit home runs all around.

Alien vs. Ninja watches like a director’s fight reel…with monsters! It is post-Versus Japanese indie cinema at it’s exploitation-budgeted finest. A live action video game that while often played for laughs always delivers serious action.

The fights are so frequent and satisfying, you forgive some flaws. A comedy relief character could be cut out entirely (although his death scene is perhaps the biggest laugh in the movie). The very end goes really hokey digital, too, and is best forgotten.

But you’re not going to have more fun with a ninja movie than this. Watch it with a group, or make it a party flick.

Simple, straight forward, solid. AvN is confident in what it is and doesn’t try to be anything it can’t. It’s a cheeseburger. It’s not claiming to be a steak. And what’s better than a good greasy burger when you’re in the mood?

Alien vs. Ninja is on the festival circuit right now, and due out on domestic DVD sometime this winter. In the meantime check out Death Trance, an earlier Shimomura/Chiba flick also heavy on costuming, creatures and damn good fights.

Read IFC’s “I Can Sum This Movie Up in Three Words” review here.

Fangoria loved it, too.

And here’s a bunch of shots of Mika Hijii looking CUTE with a wakizashi!

Ancient Astronauts and Stone Age Samurai in ZIPANG (part 2)

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Alright, so Japan’s burliest sword goon and the cutest pistol-packin’ bounty huntress EVER have been whisked away to the magical land of gold along with a hundred ninja, their spy master, a circus troop and a lunatic cave man. Time to really mix things up with some hulking warriors right out of an archeological dig!

Based on Jomon Period ceramics, these costumes are just beyond cool. One of them is rather Dai Majin-like, no?

In the midst of these martial artifacts is this Egyptian-y, Sumerian-y who-knows-what-y warrior woman who under that stone mask is quite the barbarian babe!

But the king of Zipang takes the cake. His bulky armored battle suit is modeled directly from “Dogu” god statuettes from Japan’s prehistory. These things are universally attributed by ‘Ancient Astronaut’ theorists to be space suits worn by extraterrestrial visitors, but Zipang provides a more sound and logical explanation – they were MECHS!

DUH! Ancient Astronauts my ASS… Why wouldn’t stone age Japan be populated by stone age giant robots?

This suit was pretty damn huge, and must have been a bitch to move around in on set. He doesn’t exactly sprint around or get into a Douglas Fairbanks-level acrobatic duel or anything, in fact the movement is right up there with the best of classic sci-fi cinema’s clunky metal men.

And the unlikely mech/tech doesn’t stop there. Hanzo’s demented arsenal of  espionage gadgetry is unrivaled in ‘Bamboo Punk.’ C’mon, this is a movie about a magical land of gold populated by mythical monsters and immortal cave men… there really isn’t a need for historical credibility here.

The ratchet-and-wire-sprung claw thing above is a replacement for a hand lost in combat. It can launch off his arm like a Shogun Warrior’s missile hand, with grappling line and everything. Even more absurd (read: awesome) is a binocular/camera rig which codes color photos onto shuriken-shaped discs, which are then thrown into the wind where they home in to HQ. Note the ray skin on the housing, like a katana handle. Nice detail… on an absolutely ridiculous prop!

Sums up this movie pretty well, actually…

The homing messenger shuriken is the most high tech 'ninja star' ever. Ironically in the same movie that uses the most low-tech effects for other shuriken throughout, like these hung on fishing line to simulate flying towards our heroes.

‘Hanzo’ ends up being a pretty fun character (although his outfit looks like it’s made of lawn bags). He’s obsessed with completing his mission to steal the sword to a fanatical degree. His army has all sorts of silly skills, like burrowing through the ground ala Bugs Bunny. But they also move as a cohesive and well-disciplined unit. When the inter-dimensional vortex opens, they try to snag their master out of it by forming the biggest ninja human pyramid ever.

So yeah, Zipang has enough wacked-out shit to keep you guessing throughout what is (inevitably) too long a movie. It gets mired down in the third reel with a lot of conversations and emotional conflicts. However up to then there’s enough cool ninja stuff, beautifully filmed fights and Yuri the Pistol cuteness to carry me, and then some. The stone age Japanese warriors are a rare treat, and the make-up effects and costuming are just great.

Plenty of grey market editions floating out there, including subbed prints from Britain and Taiwan, but the best looking, longest running and best translated is Kurotokagi‘s.