LION MARU knockoff?

About fifteen years ago now, I purchased a small collection of Bullmark Tiger Mask vinyl figures (like these) at a toy show in Ohio. Erroneously in that batch was this 13″ Kaiketsu Lion Maru figure, vintage early 70’s. It has no manufacturer’s markings or date, and I’ve been told it is likely a Chinese knock-off or unlicensed piece, which makes it even cooler.

I’m assuming this piece is indeed contemporary with the show’s original run, as it was in a collection of early 70’s vinyl that has never been reissued. It’s in amazing shape for its age, too. The rooted hair is still silky, no splits on the vinyl cape or cuffs, rubber boots still soft. I’m lucky I guess. Over the years I’ve entertained some offers from other collectors on this, but you’d have to be swinging some heavy yen…

The Dokuro ninja jobber is a modern piece in the same vein, released late 2009.

Sword girl and ninja pals vs. the monsters in SAKUYA YOKAIDEN

posted in: 1 - Film and TV | 0

It’s 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.

Sakuya is aided by two ninja with an esoteric arsenal of “bamboo punk” gadgets.

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.

Mature kappa are pretty damn scary here. This is what Sakuya’s adopted bro will become if she lets him succumb to his monster side…
Undead samurai are always cool.
These spider-faced she-devils spew webs. You know its a family film because they spew out of their MOUTHS and not a blurred-out nether orifice.

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 Monsters trilogy 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!!!

HENSHIN NINJA ARASHI manga monsters

posted in: 2 - Books and Manga | 0

While the legacy of Shotaro Ishinomori‘s Henshin Ninja Arashi (aka Transforming or Metamorphosis Ninja Arashi) lives mainly in tokusatsu TV nostalgia and vinyl collectibles of one decade or another, for me the manga holds the most charm. Packed with monsters, violent as all get out, streamlined of extra characters and bulky storyline, it gets right to want you want – a weird looking armored ninja slicing up critters with a big mystical sword!

Created by the same man responsible for KAMEN RIDER, this series was built on the smiliar 'monster-of-the-week' structure, with one central transforming hero and a very small cast of supporting characters there mainly to get captured and need rescuing. Then it was out with the never-fail magic sword finisher!
LOVE that lanky, pissed off werewolf!
Giant mummy with sentient bandages = WIN!
The regularly shinobi-friendly toads fared no better against Arashi's invincible sword.

The arch-villains had these great, CREEPY skull-themes in their design. Absolutely amazing...

DEMON SPIES

posted in: 1 - Film and TV | 0

If you want some seriously grim and downright harsh oni-masked ninja action, Demon Spies (Oniwaban) is your huckleberry. Based on a manga by Kazuo Koike of Lone Wolf and Cub fame, the film follows five masked ninja trained from childhood under impossibly brutal conditions. Graduation means killing their instructors, and their baptismal mission thrusts them into a no-win situation that decimates the cast. Not the cheeriest of movies, this…

Masks of one type or another are worn by all the ninja throughout. The frightening expressions and messy hair of these things is a great visual.

Koike’s feudal Japan was often a bad place, a worse place to be a ninja, and an especially worse place to be a female ninja. This film takes those conventions to a new extreme, and I’m not sure the result is entertainment in any form. Demon Spies is as gory and action packed as any Lone Wolf film, the costumes are great, and it tries to put some attrative young ninja in a sympathetic light, but man after the ringer they’re put through from scene one, you just want to say ‘enough.’

Kung Fu Cinema did a full review here.

Animeigo’s now out-of-print DVD liner notes can be read online here.

And if you want some insight into the Japanese theater mask thing, there’s a thorough database here and some amazing images here.

Proof that not every original Japanese movie poster is good. While I appreciate Animeigo's use of source material on DVD packaging, the ONIWABAN art pretty much blows. Any of the above screen images would have yielded a more alluring package.

MONSTERS and MASKS 2010 is set to begin!

posted in: 7 - Ninja Miscelany | 0

Wow, it’s October already, which means two things:

1) I’m gonna start eating candy by the pound!

and

2) Monsters and Masks Month is back!!!

Last year, every October post was generally horror-themed or featured prominent demon or skull masks, with plenty of kaiju thrown in as well (and the usual gratuitous girl ogling). If you missed any of it, click below to see the whole month by tags:

Monsters and Masks 2009

See what you missed? And that’s just a sampling…

Nowhere else do martial arts cinema and Halloween horror coexist so blissfully, so swing on back this weekend for the kick-off of the October shinobi-shock-and-splatter fest.

Oh, and all you horror-bloggers — give a guy some linkage love, will ya!!!

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