Every year we celebrate the site’s birthday by reposting the very first thing we ever did — a look at vintage press still from Akai Kageboshi.
AKAI KAGEBOSHI – the other ‘red shadow’
(originally published June 7, 2009)
Can a respectable, accomplished beautiful woman from noble samurai family possibly say no to a hooded bedroom invader so clearly superior in his warrior fashion sense? I think not!
I may have started this site just to find a good home for this picture. Seriously.
Said hood is Hashizo Okawa, the shinobi son trying to exact revenge on behalf of his tattooed ninja mom-done-wrong in the 1961 Toei film Akai Kageboshi. It’s part tournament movie, part mulit-generational mystery, part ninja romance – all with a supporting cast of staggering chambara manliness.
It all starts with our old pal Hattori Hanzo, played by Jushiro Konoe of Ninja Hunt and the Yagu Secret Scrolls series, who intercepts a ninja on a castle incursion. During their struggle, he realizes his prey is actually a woman, and the two are so turned-on by each other’s shinobi sex appeal, they have at it on the spot.
Couple decades later, that same lady of the shadows is a bitter and obsessed ninja MILF who has trained her son, the offspring of that fateful encounter, in the family trade. Decked out in all sorts of gorgeous ornate get-ups, he is ‘The Red Shadow’ – the instrument of her revenge.
The plot, from that set-up, is full of twists and turns and amazing characters. Sonny-boy’s mission is to collect 10 swords, one of which has part of a map etched onto it’s handle that when matched up with mom’s killer tats will lead them to a Shogunate treasure and vindicate her failure as a shadow agent. The ten swords, however, are the prizes in a martial arts tournament, so Red has to snatch the blades from the victors every night.
This goes along fine, as long as the winners are old semi-retired swordsmen or young hotties practicing Naginata, but when one of the victors is Jubei F’N Yagu, played by Ryutaro Otomo, it’s a whole different deal!
Red throws everything in his ninja repertoire at Jubei, just to see it all bounce harmlessly off his square jaw. Jubei, meanwhile, butts his way into the intrigue afoot, then Hanzo comes out of retirement, Red falls in love, snakes fall from the ceiling and shuriken sing through the night air…
So yeah, Akai Kegeboshi is a pretty damn essential film, for those of you who haven’t seen it. Grey marketeers and fan-subbers have made it readily available, too, so there’s no excuses. Despite literal translations, would be a good idea to refer to this maybe as “The Crimson Shadow” or “The Scarlet Shadow” or something else, as the name “Red Shadow” has a rather significant pedigree elsewhere…
Here’s a ton of images, like the above, from Thai press kits released contemporary with the film’s original theatrical run.
Staged publicity shot, shows how amazing the costumes are in this film. That bo shuriken looks pretty deadly…
A staged combat shot from the publicity kit. AK is actually light on black-suited cannon fodder.
Co-star Satomi Kotaro in publicity pose – check out the ornate fan designs on that tsuba!
That’s Keiko Okawa as Yuri, halberd expert and Shadow’s main squeeze.
Otomo’s Jubei dispenses with the otherwise signature (maybe cliché) eyepatch for a perhaps more intimidating wink of doom. The film does a great job of portraying Yagyu as an omnipotent force of nature with a sword, and Shadow is in WAY over his head facing him.
Shadow is also no match one-on-one for the veteran Hanzo, it’s everything he can do just to escape these encounters. And there are some really cool escapes, too.
The bit where someone has come so close to getting slashed in the head, their straw hat has a triangle cut in it is so damn cool…
Bit of a spoiler here, but it’s not like you don’t see it coming from a mile off. And yes, by contractual obligation, the final showdown is in the shadow of Mt. Fuji.
I’ll wrap this up with some close-up scans of the mission gear. LOVE that mesh soft-armor hood!
Don’t let these sepia-tone and B&W press photos fool you, Akai Kageboshi is a beautiful color film. The print that’s floating about the ‘trading communities’ is probably from TV and is pretty inky, though – but by no means a deal breaker.
2001s Red Shadow (aka Akakage) is the sort of remake/adaptation that watches fine if you are TOTALLY unfamiliar with the source property. That way, you’re not aware of the squandered opportunity for a modern digital-age superhero ninja vs. monster romp.
Ignorance can be bliss though, especially when the costumes are this cool. And like or hate this movie based on your literacy of its tokusatsu roots, who can argue with the replacement of the annoying kid with a hot kunoichi in leather and fishnets?
These scans are from the somewhat poorly photographed studio press book, although the photographer over-lighting the subjects does bring out some of the great textures and details of these video game-inspired costume updates.
What happens to props like this? Is it on the director’s lawn or floating in the producers pool or something? Or maybe some prop house is saving it for re-purposing in an Inframan remake?
When you’re a niche geek within an already geeky niche you tend to do your own gift shopping. My session of retail therapy last holiday season was these:
While I’m not the biggest tokusatsu fan out there, I do like the brazen absurdist nature of Akakage, and its importance in the ninja TV pantheon goes without saying. This set of 4-5″ retro-styled vinyl figures was produced in 2000 by Marmit.
'Red Shadow' himself is the tamest of the three. That pompador should be a lot more pronounced in front.
Shirokage is a nice sculpt, one of the only MAKI FUYUKICHI licensed toys ever produced.
Nice as it is, this sculpt of Aokage doesn't nearly capture what an annoying little shit he is on the show...
A nice touch was this stand/background prop in the form of Shirokage's spy kite.
I only wish there was a gigantic toad head for them to pose on, or some of the kaiju produced in larger scale.
This will be my last post before Christmas, so happy holidays everyone!
When your hero is as spectacularly garbed as the titular lead is in Akai Kageboshi, you need everyone else he’s fighting to provide visual contrast. So in what is one of the most colorfully costumed ninja films of the 60′s, there are some downright dour grunts in the trenches.
JUSHIRO KONOE is another mega-star in the legend-crowded cast here, playing a conflicted Hattori Hanzo.
His men sport the finest in off-the-rack costume shop extras fare. the chunky dude on the right is my hero...
Alas, no one in Japan ever wanted to vary the mission gear in daytime scenes. That grey just isn't doing the job in these cane fields.
Or in the trees.
And the results speak for themselves.
Hanzo, in his unassuming grey, is actually the central pillar in all this colorful drama. Twenty years ago, he caught a female spy sneaking into the castle. Wrestling around, the two get so hot and bothered, they have to go at it right on the spot (and knowing how manly ninja are, the inevitable happens).
It leads to a life of loss and regret for him, single motherhood and revenge obsession for her, and a tormented young man raised without a father figure who thinks its normal to meet girls by sneaking into their rooms at night in a chain-mesh hood.
There are some excellent ninja-on-ninja fights throughout AK, and the battle in the cane fields is rather good. See a few scens for yourself in the trailer below:
With all the sneaking around and sword thievery in Akai Kageboshi, there’s a need for some – literally – flashy escapes. Here’s where the 60′s style of cinematic ninjutsu takes over from what in the 50′s would have been magical illusions or disappearances via sorcery.
The smoking 'gasa' straw hat trick! Works great day or night...
The old 'flaming paper scroll while jumping over the wall' bit!
The phosphorous flash/smoke bomb - gets you out of a lady's bedroom scott free.
These are some serious caltrops, especially when the apex of foot wear is cotton socks and straw sandals.
Tomorrow, we wrap up AK week with a look at Hanzo and his men in grey…
Not only is Akai Kageboshi a great ninja movie that spans the colorful flamboyant 50′s and grimmer realistic 60′s, it’s also a damn nifty TOURNAMENT MOVIE!
The tournament is one of the strongest devices in martial arts cinema. It’s single location/single set format is cheap and easy for filmmakers, it’s a vehicle for a wide variety of performers and showcases all sorts of fighting choreography in one little neat package. With a tourney movie, you don’t so much tell a story as you do “book” an athletic drama – the scriptwriter can be part pro-wrestling promoter. You don’t need necessarily much more than the competition structure to make an engaging film.
AK, though,actually balances an intricate and emotional plot with the tourney device, taking the contest’s strengths and weaving them into the layered story. Best of all, you get all sorts of interesting characters with different styles and weapons.
RYUTARO OTOMO stars as Jubei Yagyu, whose presence is huge in both the tournament and the intrigue at large. Otomo plays the legendary figure with a simple shut eye rather than the iconic eyepatch, and he's a swordsman of superhuman stature. Too cool!
Off topic a bit – if you want another budo tournament movie, the same Ryutaro Otomo stars in Festival of Swordsmen, which is absolutely fantastic. Get both titles here!
Yes, indeedy! One year ago today, I posted the first content on Vintage Ninja. 200+ posts, hundreds of pictures and thousands of readers later, I’m pretty damn happy with where everything stands. I’m no web wizard, but the site is pretty functional and has a rather distinctive look. Mainly, though, I wanted the site itself to stay out of the way of the CONTENT.
The sharing of that content was not only the original inspiration for starting VN, but is the fuel that keep it going, and as more and more of you give me feedback, the rewards of the effort grow exponentially. When you web publish, you end up e-meeting all sorts of same minded folk you weren’t sure were out there at all, and it is great to know there’s a population out there who remember the 80′s craze and are rabidly discovering the 60′s media that led to it.
We’ll celebrate our one-year anniversary with a week-long look at the first movie featured on VN – Akai Kageboshi – the other ‘Red Shadow,’ first seen here in the form of decaying and discoloring press kit photos contemporary with its 1961/62 release. Click here to go back to those amazing photos and a more complete rundown of this terrific movie.
Ninja movies of the 50′s were largely centered on colorful wizards and swashbuckers, while the 60′s saw an explosion of grimmer fare based on credible martial arts and espionage techniques. Akai Kageboshi is a perfect bridge between those, with plenty of glamorous characters mixed with all sorts of great fights and daring ninja escapes. And there’s a kick-ass tournament thrown in there, too!
HASHIZO OKAWA plays the title character, the bastard son of two ninja entangled in a multi-generational conflict.
If there's one thing decidedly 50's about this movie, it's the lush, colorful costuming. Here, mother and son are disguised as a traveling magic act.
Mom is a kunoichi who blew an important mission decades before. She's now obsessed with completing that mission using her son as the muscle.
This tattoo is half of the puzzle leading to secrets that could topple the Shogunate. The other half of the key is contained in one of ten prized sword blades being awarded in a martial arts tournament. Her son must defeat each winner and steal their trophy sword - a plot structure guaranteeing a pile of awesome fights!
And does the kid ever have the wardrobe to pull the whole thing off!
Challenging as it is, the Red Shadow’s mission seems pretty straight forward. But throw in Hattori Hanzo – charged with his pursuit, Jubei Yagyu – a contestant in the tourney who isn’t about to give up his trophy to some masked punk, the crushing reveal of who his father is, and a chance meeting with a gorgeous spear-weilding deb who may turn out to be the love of his life, and things get real busy for our hero.
Tomorrow, a look at the tournament. Wednesday, some nifty ninjutsu. Thursday, a look at Hanzo’s grey-clad commando force. A nice week ahead with a great movie.
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:
This were-cat-looking thing is my absolute fave!
Red Shadow's jeweled mask, combined with his powered-up katana, produced these never-fail monster-exterminating lightning bolts.
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:
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!"
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.
The tried-and-true model stomping session is always good, though...
Good use of rear projection. The color exposure differences sometimes hinder these shots, but again, the color format was new.
Miniature figures and modestly-budgeted modelscapes were often complemented by fire or smoke spitting critters that lent increased dynamics to otherwise cheesy-looking scenes.
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.
It’s not that you can’t win auctions over international eBorders, but it’s a bit logistically tough – there’s the kanji barrier, shipping rates, communication delays over the dateline, etc. and so forth. All these are excuses enough to keep me from doing so, and thank god, cuz I’d be soooo beyond broke!
But TRAWLING Japanese eBay, doing a little eWindow shopping, THAT we can all do from the financial safety of our own geographical confines. This week, I found several amazing sonosheet book-n-record sets.
Manga / anime version of MASKED NINJA AKAKAGE
This one bridges the illustrated and live action TV show. LOVE THAT TOAD!!!
This amazing HENSHIN NINJA ARASHI piece also bridges the manga and TV show. That red demon he's fighting looks like a yokai version of Gossamer from LOONEY TUNES...