Wait… WHO rented Cannon their house?

If you weren’t able to make the Revenge of the Ninja CD signing event in Januar,y the score and exclusive event print are now available via mail order, all signed by ROTN director Sam Firstenberg, stunt coordinator and silver-masked ninja double Steven Lambert, and composer Robert J. Walsh (CDs only).

Order the ROTN CD from Creature Features here.

Order the 11×17 limited edition print from Creature Features here.

The newly remastered ROTN soundtrack is just great — the sound is noticeably improved from the vinyl, there are extensive liner notes and a photo-loaded insert, and newly added are 12 classic tracks re-instrumentalized and enhanced by Walsh himself. Highly recommended!

The prints are 11×17″ on heavy stock, only 100 were printed and of those only a few were signed by Firstenberg and Lambert (in silver ink), so it’s first-come-first-served on those.

As for the event itself, it was a day of amazing stories from two men who genuinely adore this film and love even more its enduring fan following. The absolutely gushed eye-opening accounts of the production and working for Cannon Films back in the day. If you’ve heard their commentary on the ROTN or Ninja III: The Domination Blu-rays imagine the same sort of thing but in a live, intimate gallery setting.

Some gems we heard from Firstenberg:

— He largely fibbed his way into directing what would be his first action movie, and that inexperience led to the unique collaborative nature of the film. Sho Kosugi had huge sway, (Firstenberg called him “the leader” of the picture in a lot of ways) being close to producer-level and involved in more aspects of production than a first-time leading man would typically enjoy. Lambert, also a first timer on ROTN, was afforded freedoms he’d never enjoy again in bigger studio efforts. This collaborative triumvirate captured lightning in a bottle.

— Robert Walsh composed the entire iconic score in a mind-boggling FOUR DAYS. He put in marathon sessions with his own and borrowed equipment. Although most composers would start on the synth level in putting a score together hoping the studio would spring for proper orchestration later, on a Cannon budget Walsh knew from minute one a symphony was NOT going to happen, so ROTN was a synth score from concept to finish.

—  It was often a tri-lingual set. Kosugi would talk Japanese with his inner circle of students and his family, Firstenberg and his team would often meet and converse in Israeli, with most everyone else stuck in between trying to decipher everything to English.

— He’s getting more interest in his old ninja films now than he ever did before. The weekend of the event he had also done a phoner with media in Manitoba, Canada and has fielded invites from all over the globe in recent months.

And even more gems from Lambert:

— Even though studio armorers were credited, Sho Kosugi actually provided the entirety of the exotic ninja arsenal himself, and would continuously replenish items from the local martial arts training equipment manufacturers and suppliers he was already in business with creating his branded mail-order ninja gear. Lambert in particular marveled at how industrious, aware and calculated Kosugi was with the opportunity that was in front of him. He knew it was the right time and right place and was user-ready to pounce on the craze once it congealed.

— Watch the end duel closely and you’ll see Kosugi disarm Lambert (doubling Braden) of this sheath. When he tossed that sheath during the arcing sword-parry, it flew far enough away to go off the side of the sky-scraper they were on and fell all the way down to earth, amazingly not hitting anyone below.

— At some point in the late 1990s, thieves broke in to a storage unit rented by Lambert and cleaned it out. Amongst the treasures from his career lost were the ninja suits he wore in ROTN, Ninja III and American Ninja and two of the three silver Braden masks.

— The house and gardens used for the Osaki family massacre at the film’s beginning was rented from… get this… SHIRLEY TEMPLE!

35 years ago, I watched my SLP-recorded VHS tape of HBO’s airing of Revenge of the Ninja (if memory serves that same tape had The Road Warrior and They Call Me Bruce on it) so much it wore thin and snapped. To say that movie stuck with me would be an understatement. Decades later, to have an art gallery borrow some of my collection for display and ask me to design a print for an event where I’d kibitz with the men who made that movie was… well, the ultimate payoff to a life of fandom (never mind some serious validation of my pro-nerd status).

Jump at any rare chance you get to experience these men in person, their generosity with the material we know and love so well will blow you away the same it did me.

KR

 

Hear the sounds of REVENGE, meet the crew!

FINALLY – the inexplicably uncommunicative entity known as Varèse Sarabande has gone live with a web page and release date for the Revenge CD! WE HEAR YOU SERIES – Revenge Of The Ninja: Enhanced Edition goes on sale January 20th, but the first street copies will likely be had at an exclusive signing event at the Creature Features store and gallery in Burbank, CA.

Sunday, January 22nd the composer of ROTN‘s signature pulsating synthesizer score Robert J. Walsh will be joined on a panel/signing by the film’s director Sam Firstenberg, stuntman Steve Lambert and other guests to be announced. They’ll be showing clips, discussing the music and the creative process, and meeting and greeting their loyal fanbase. Don’t even try to be first in line though, as that spot’s been reserved for me.

OH… and as for me, as sort of an event co-sponsor I’ll have a modest display of 80’s ninja ephemera from ROTN and the properties it inspired in the gallery, AND Creature Features asked me to design an exclusive limited edition print for the event.

While you’re in the neighborhood, right down the street is the Martial Arts History Museum, wherein you can see the actual screen-worn silver demon mask stunt/fight coordinator Steve Lambert used in the movie, amongst other cool stuff. The museum is always deserving of patronage, so make a day of it!

See you there, and don’t forget your wallet!

For those who can’t make this event, autographed CD’s are available to pre-order from the Creature Features website.

 

Revenge of THE DOMINATION

posted in: 1 - Film and TV | 0

Last week a horror movie label called Scream Factory released Ninja III: The Domination on Bluray and DVD.

Just going to let that statement slow burn for a second…

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Not a label with a large martial arts back catalog, not an Asian cinema-friendly label addressing the East’s influence on the West, but a horror label clinging to The Dom‘s kinship to The Exorcist and Poltergeist. Scream Factory was nearly apologetic on social media to its black t-shirt clad Fangoria/Chiller crowd for pushing the envelope of their mission at hand, but the fan base was surprisingly positive at the announcement. Horror blogs reviewed it with the requsite so-bad-its-good slant [groan], and younger audiences are for the first time finding this staggering time capsule of 80s trash culture — aerobics-sploitation, Chess King sweaters and Nagel prints galore. All is good in the world…

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Scream’s release is a stunning transfer of from what I recall is a complete print. The picture is just gorgeous on Bluray (the stills here don’t do it justice), and the accompanying DVD copy is nothing to sneeze at either. I’d call it miles above any previous release, but that’s not saying much as the last time Ninja III was on home video it was a full-frame VHS.

The 80’s ninja boom was represented piss-poorly in the DVD era (which yes, I’m referring to in the past tense), but it seems no film was relegated to limbo longer than this third chapter in the Kosugi/Canon partnership. There were mostly full-frame and “open matte” releases of Revenge of the Ninja, Rage of Honor, the American Ninja flicks, dumped out with little effort and even less fanfare, but for who-knows-why The Dom never made even that cut.

The age of physical media will have now come and gone with no box sets, no deluxe extras, no mind-blowing deleted scenes or making-of docos (save for a business-oriented piece on how The Octagon came together), nor any nostalgic interviews with very alive-and-well stars like Sho Kosugi and sons. (Enter the Ninja and Pray For Death only recently became available either streaming or DVD-on-Demand sans deluxe treatment.)

Even with Ninja Assassin making some waves and the G.I. Joe films putting big-budget ninja action in theaters, no one before Scream Factory saw the audience potential for the now 30 year old material. Kudos to them.

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The big extra on the new release is a commentary track with director Sam Firstenberg and stunt coordinator Steve Lambert, which at times is just superb, but at others suffers a bit (for our purposes) from being hosted by a horror guy and aimed at other horror guys. A discussion of Kosugi’s eyepatch never touches on the traditional portrayals of Jubei Yagyu nor Sho Kosugi’s connection to Sonny Chiba and the Japan Action Club. We’re ninja geeks, we want to hear that stuff, even if it’s solely prompted by the moderator.

Still, hearing both these guys gush like proud papas about their work is very endearing. They point out Lucinda Dickey‘s work ethic, the merits of practical stunts and real fights in this post-Matrix world, all sorts of goodness.

Another fantastic bonus is Firstenberg’s own photo collection, with some behind-the-scenes stuff none of us have ever seen before.

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Sho Kosugi and his faithful double Steve Lambert on set.

It’s also just great to finally see this film in such a pristine, even enhanced state. The MGM cable channel print of Ninja III wasn’t nearly as detail-revealling as this new transfer, especially viewed on Blu. I noticed for the first time Lucinda Dickey is wearing a really bad wig in all the mountain location scenes, which were evidently shot after she started filming Breakin’ with a shorter, more Pat Benatar-inspired haircut. And yes, she did Ninja III first, a revelation from the commentary.

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So you see completists, you need to erase that shitty compressed bit-torrented rip you probably have of this film (that’s what happens when a cult fave languishes out-of-print too long, studio geniuses) and pick up this new Blu. Don’t think of it as double dipping, it’s like a whole new experience now.

I just wish it had come 5-8 years ago and with interviews of Kosugi and Dickey, packaged with all of Canon’s other ninja movies in black box that lights up from within, spews smoke and plays dramatic theme music while you power-up.

I also want six-pack abs, a 10-inch wang and gas to be under $4.00 a gallon. So, yeah…

ORDER NINJA III on Amazon right now!

Seriously. Eight to ten thousand of you read this site every month, you’re all ninja freaks and you’ve all been a pissed off as I am that the 80s craze films never got the deluxe send-up. Now that one has, we need to mobilize, buy the hell out of it and show the other labels what they’ve been missing out on.

Or even just Scream Factory to consider corresponding releases of Enter and Revenge, or Pray for Death with the fabled extra gore?

Hmmm? Think about it guys…

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AMERICAN NINJA: Selective memory helps

posted in: 1 - Film and TV | 1

25 years ago this weekend, Tim March, my brother Seth and I were dropped off at a theater in Worcester, Massachusetts for an afternoon matinee of American Ninja. The ‘craze’ was actually in the process of ‘jumping the shark,’ Tim and I were getting jobs or landing girlfriends, finding better stuff to spend money on than Black Belt magazines. It was starting to get kind of embarrassing to be caught running around the woods with homemade nunchucks. It just wasn’t the early 80’s anymore.

Time to grow up? F-that! We were there with bells on. Why? Because we were DEDICATED! (translated: DORKS)

The story of a man and the balisong he loved. MICHAEL DUDIKOFF was a bit too Timothy Van Patten-y for our tastes, but with this flick and AVENGING FORCE following shortly after, he proved himself an 80's B-icon.

The lights go down, popcorn being devoured, 80’s synth score blaring. Ninja on the big screen!

During the initial fight (and the fact that black suits and swords were on screen in the first five minutes is a testament to the smarts of Sam Firstenberg), there was a bit where two ninja tie-up a GI with chain in a niftily executed piece of what the Japanese call Hojōjutsu.

Tim leaned over to me and whispered “Holy shit! This is real!!!” and for a minute we thought a more realistic and credible ninja flick was upon us.

90 minutes of multi-colored ninja on monkey bars and wrist-mounted laser guns later… not so much.

A little red-in-the-face over the seemingly inevitable goofiness the American genre clung to, we exited the theater kinda knowing it just wasn’t going to get any better from then on. So, like proper blindly loyal geeks unwilling to blaspheme the cause, we panned for gold and found a lot to love in American Ninja. Quarter century of perspective later, some of it actually holds up.

It starts with Mike Stone.

The unsung hero of the American craze, Stone actually left the ninja business behind after his pioneering work on Enter the Ninja. American was his return to the hood, albeit behind-the-scenes and/or doubling for various ninja cannon fodder.

Stone choreographed the film, but he certainly didn’t need to coach karate and weapons master Tadashi Yamashita, whose “Black Star Ninja” ranks with the 80’s best martial villains.

Never mind all the fights, Black Star’s wacking of a padlock with twin swinging kamas is one of the coolest ninja scenes ever! He’s totally bad ass, and carries the movie single-handedly. But then,  aw shit…

The selective memory FAILS and you remember the fucking machine guns and lasers he resorts to using. LASERS?!?! God, if one single moment, one brief second of celluloid, was the moment the ninja craze was injected with a smelly, cheesy poison that slowly killed it for the next five years, the laser shot was IT.

And don’t even get me started on the Rainbow Ninja Coalition…

Do I even need to rant here?

The ‘Ninja Land’ training compound shit just killed us. When Ninja III: The Domination was released in 1984, Tim and I dragged our posse of high-school friends to it, and my rather anti-ninjite friend Patty coined the term “Caca-Ninja-Movie” with which she tormented us for years. A year later, when the colored ninja gymnastics show started here, there was Patty’s voice in my damned head chanting “Caca-Ninja! Caca-Ninja!” and for fuck’s sake she was RIGHT!

But then… at the end… is this pretty damn good ninja battle with a huge body count, and Mike Stone doubes for John Fujioka as a whirlwind of black and red death. And Steve James goes all Ram-Bro with an M-60 machine gun then punches a big Bolo-looking dude in the junk, and its all awesome again.

AN's climax is a genuine BATTLE with better choreography and editing than any other point in the film.

Steve James. Taken from us in '93 by pancreatic cancer. What a loss.

But then again… Dudikoff breaks a bow and arrow over his knee for no reason and they blow up a cheap model helicopter and Judie Aronson never gets topless. DAMN YOU AMERICAN NINJA! I try to love you and treat me like shit, even in front of my friends! My mom warned me about you, why didn’t I listen? I swear to god if you don’t stop drinking I’m moving out of this trailer.

In ninja movies, arrows aren't shot to kill, they are shot to be CAUGHT! Then broken defiantly. Was anyone ever actually hit with an arrow in an 80's craze flick?
I fell in love with Judie Aronson in WEIRD SCIENCE and then again in FRIDAY THE 13TH: THE FINAL CHAPTER. Those two hooded goons seemed perfectly capable of getting that shirt off her, BUT NO! We're in PG-13 land now...

All right,  all right. Enough bi-polar projecting. Let’s look at American Ninja for what it really was – a franchise reboot that from a studio perspective actually worked. You’re Cannon and you have a great thing going with Kosugi, but he wants more control and bolts. You’ve got more projects lined up, you know anything ninja is BANK right now, so what do you do? Find another star.

The star is unproven though, so you cheapen the production to risk less money, and to cast a net over a wider audience you take out the gore and boobs and silly it up a bit to make things kid-friendly and foreign market compatible. And what do you get for your efforts? A modest hit and a four-sequel franchise that lasts into the early 90’s on home video. THAT is successful business.

Prototype costuming done for the in-studio shot footage used in the trailer. Textiles improved for the final. If nothing else, some nice effort was put in on AN's costuming.

So happy 25th American Ninja!

We’ll continue this celebration in the following days with a quick look at some pre-production strangeness and Matt Wallace returns to talk sequels.

In the meantime, you can pick up all the glorious Dudikoffness on DVD right in our Amazon store here.