SHINSO: SHINOBI NO MONO Thai press stills

posted in: 1 - Film and TV | 0

More of the amazing hand-tinted, one-of-a-kind press photos from Thai cinemas, this time to the franchise prequel/reboot Shinso Shinobi no mono, sadly Raizo Ichikawa‘s last time under the hood.

These individually colored photos are on a different paper stock than previous ones I’ve scored, a smoother tooth that because the dyes sat more on top of the finish rather than getting absorbed into the fibers, yielded a much more saturated color. The colorist on this particular batch was pretty heavy-handed as well. The results are a bit awkward, even sloppy, but when the colors do work they pop like a candy dish.

The below pose will be familiar to anyone who has the movie poster:

Although a different ‘take’ from the same shoot (note the different eyes), what you can see here is the difference between dyes applied right to the surface of a photograph vs. a 4-color process then halftoned and printed in bulk.

Unlike the more demure Japanese advertising, these rather over-compensated Thai colors get downright silly sometimes…

OK, so you, my loving audience, by now must be asking “Keith, we just want ninjerz and stars and claws and boobs and shit, why are you always boring us with this antique printing methodology and vintage P.R. crap!?!?!”

Well, you’re just going to have to suffer, because these hand-tinting techniques are not only of personal aesthetic joy to me, they’re actually a big part of my family history, so take a seat and grab a notebook cuz this will be on the test.

My grandfather Levi Rainville was a renowned photographer in central Massachusetts going back to the mid 1920s. Post-war, when he had started the original Rainville Studios he  actually employed professional colorists for formal portraits, the likes of which are still hanging in the town halls, libraries and schools of several Blackstone Valley mill towns.

My dad Arthur, who inherited the family biz, remembers the techniques from when he was a kid hanging around the darkroom. ( I did the same thing in the 70s, and probably got into too much chemistry, resulting in my totally normal and balanced demeanor today!)

The colorists (all women, for some reason the trade was considered for females, at least in the States) would start with a sepia-toned photograph which by default gave a warm beige skin tone as a base. Transparent oil paints (the time-trusted Marshalls Photo Oils are still made today) were applied in thin layers, built up thicker and more opaque where necessary. Sometimes pure white paint would mask out the sepia for eyes and teeth.

The half-photo, half-painting result gives these images a truly timeless quality. Shinso Shinobi no Mono is a movie from the mid 1960s but these images could almost be hand-tinted antiques from the 1860s.

I’d love to see more copies of these exact photos, curious about the quality of coloring. Each copy had to be colored individually by hand, so each is unique onto itself. Were these particular copies a Monday morning labor or a Friday afternoon rush job by an impatient clockwatcher? Should they have been more subtle in their hues, or are there even more garishly over-saturated versions out there?

And… oh, I’m sorry, did you want me to return to topic or something???

Fine! If you haven’t seen it, Shinso is one of the best entries in the Shinobi no mono series, and as it stands alone from the rest of the seven flicks is a great jumping-on point for noobs. A young ninja sees his father murdered by three samurai, grows into a consummate warrior and goes on the revenge hunt, inflicting the same wounds that killed his father back on them one-by-one. Being late in the series, this film benefits from the lessons learned by the earlier entries – there’s lots of action, ninja training, hooded combat, arcane weaponry, beautiful women in peril and “Japan’s James Dean” Raizo Ichikawa being the amazing star he was. Great stuff…

But man oh man, look at those hand-tinted colors!!!!


Want to know more?

Here’s a tutorial on the techniques. Man, what a pain in the ass! No wonder they invented Kodachrome…

Some of the earliest photos of Japan were hand-colored.

Wallace Nutting was a famed source of hand-tinted photography in New England.  My grandad sold these when he was young and my folks collect them to this day. 


Shinobi-no-Mono posters

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Looked at some Taiwanese / HK stuff last time, and people get testy when I stray to the Chinese side of shinobi cinema, so I’ll boomerang things right back with some tried and true Raizo Ichikawa.

Speaking of Raizo, I’ve been drooling over the Sleepy Eyes of Death box set from Animeigo, which I’m late in picking up. I haven’t seen these films since the inky VHS bootleg days, and man do they look and sound tremendous here. Plenty of slaughtered ninja around, too…

SASUKE Book-n-Record

posted in: 2 - Books and Manga | 0

This kid’s book-and-record (flexi-disc that is) Sarutobi Sasuke: Ninja Shugyou (Ninja Training?) is from 1973, and I know little more than that. The art throughout its 10 cardboard pages is no great shakes – and is actually quite stiff at times – but there is one killer ninja combat spread, and a great back cover. Are they trying to portray Raizo Ichikawa there?

Man I love this detail!

See how much fun it is to kill ninja, kids. Try this at home!

If you want to see a pile more of these painted book-and-flexi sets in all sorts of genre, visit the superb Black Sun!

Color campaigns for B&W classics

When discussing 60’s B&W ninja flicks, the Shinobi-no-Mono series is THE genre-defining series. The movie posters, however, relied on strong reds, greens and blues to catch the consumers’ eye, and are some of the only color reference for the props and costumes involved. Here’s a few examples of nice color art for a grim and gritty B&W property.

As always, we HIGHLY recommend owning this seminal series, four of which are available in superb US editions in an affordable box set from Animeigo.

Colorized SHINOBI-NO-MONO menkos

posted in: 4 - Collectibles | 0


Thought a good follow-up to my anti-Ninja Assassin / pro-Shinobi-no-Mono rant last week would be a look at some rather strange S-n-M related merch – colorized menko cards.



Released contemporary with the 60’s series, these ‘cigarette cards’ used stills from the B&W films, with colors rather awkwardly overlaid. I think the idea was to make the otherwise grave imagery as colorful and kid-appealing as possible, because the color choices are pretty illogical otherwise.





I think for the month of December we’ll concentrate on MERCH, this being the most gloriously commercialized of all holiday seasons. So look to the Collectibles and Toys and Statues categories to bring out the ninja kid in all of us…

Find yourself a copy of DEMON OF MOUNT OE!

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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:



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


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.




This web-slinging wizard transforms into...
...this awesome giant spider!
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.

ZOKU SHINOBI NO MONO press stills (part 2)

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The Shinobi no Mono films not only revolutionized the way ninjutsu was portrayed in film, they changed the very notion of ninja characters. Raizo Ichikawa was the perfect victim protagonist – the lone man struggling to survive in a world that really IS out to get him. To outwit the oppressive machinations around him, to carve out a life for himself when giant conflicts rage around him big enough to steer society itself. Could there be a more appealing character, a more engaging conflict theme, to a nation that in the 60’s was putting more and more of it’s young people into office cubicles?




Packed as the second film was with political conflict and wartime drama, the purpose of the hero this time was to endure. Goemon has already lost his clan, and throughout the film he keeps losing what little he has left. By film’s end, he knows there no escape, and has resigned himself to a grim fate. Can returning to his martial arts at least allow him one last act of justice?


If this spoiler was displayed in theater lobbies, audiences must have been pissed...
Goemon gets THIS CLOSE to gaining revenge and changing history. Alas, this film IS a tragedy, so despite being skilled enough to throw a shuriken while wearing a climbing claw, it's off to the boiling oil shortly after this scene.
Zoku Shinobi no Mono has a superb domestic DVD release as Shinobi-no-Mono 2: Vengeance via Animeigo. Obviously highly recommended. The castle invasion that ends this film is second to none!

Read some great reviews here and here and here.


ZOKU SHINOBI NO MONO press stills (part 1)

posted in: 1 - Film and TV | 2


These sepia-toned (and aging poorly) 8×10’s are from either a theatrical lobby promo kit or a studio press kit contemporary to the 1963 theatrical release of ninja blockbuster Zoku Shinobi no Mono (Return of the Band of Assassins, ). Raizo Ichikawa returned as a thoroughly retroshinobified folk hero Ichikawa Goemon in a direct sequel to the ground-breaking first “Band of Assassins” film. The success of this sequel cemented the serious ninja movie trend (this series alone would go nine chapters), and like the others in the line, it delivers on all fronts.


Star presence is when you can manage a recognizable (and dramatic) face even when fully hooded. But facts are facts – Hollywood or Tokyo – when the Japanese James Dean is your franchise star, costuming takes a backseat to face-time on screen. What I love most about Raizo is the absolute conviction he portrayed, especially in the black pajamas. He could really SELL it. He sold danger, desperation, fear, tension, love, joy, and crushing heartbreak like few others.




Yeah, Tomisaburo Wakayama is great in these movies and all, but as a non-sword-fighting villain that inevitably leaves those of us weaned on LONE WOLF AND CUB disappointed.

The first Shinobi no Mono had two major strengths – the fascination of the arcane ninjutsu being shown as a credible martial art for the first time on screen, and a sympathetic plight of appealing protagonists. In the second film, much of the ninja stuff was old hat, so they upped the intrigue and espionage. This film isn’t ninja vs. ninja, it’s ninja vs. world.

(to be concluded…)