SHINSO: SHINOBI NO MONO Thai press stills

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!!!!

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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. 

 

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Posted in Film and TV August 29, 2012 at 12:21 am.

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Great gallery of Japanese cinema stills

I highly recommend taking a stroll (or ‘scroll’ more accurately) through EigaGoGo: Japan Cinema‘s tumblr gallery. Tons of vintage Japanese cinema publicity stills from all genres, with some great shinobi stuff peppered in.

Click any image to enlarge.

The above are from the Shinobi no Mono films, the below from Samurai Spy.

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Posted in Film and TV April 4, 2012 at 1:54 am.

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‘Ninja-To’ visual shorthand in American vs. Japanese films

One thing you hear over and over from the anti-’Ninja-To’-sword-haters-club is the blade is “pure Hollywood.” Before this recent spat of research and over-scrutinizing swords in old movies, I used to argue against that notion; the Japanese studios got ninja ‘wrong’ decades before we did, right? And the blade was sold mail order well before our ninja boom, so Hollywood sure didn’t invent the sword. It wasn’t even used in The Octagon (1980) or Enter the Ninja (1981).

BUT, what can be said is “pure Hollywood” is the narrow strictness of the visual shorthand for ninja. From 1982′s Revenge of the Ninja onward, the regulation ‘Ninja-To’ was absolutely chiseled into the vocabulary of ninja in American film and TV. The sword was so well branded here, Kosugi or Dudikoff using a curved blade would have been seen as a blasphemous prop master’s error.

The Japanese were, as with manga, much less narrow in their use of screen props, however their use of a sword for a shinobi character carried additional editorial significance. Whereas American films were typically ninja vs. mobsters, drug lords, night shift security guards and sometimes other ninja, Japanese movies typically featured ninja vs. samurai.

Samurai use long, ornate blades that make statements of their social rank and wealth. A ninja’s cruder, less decorated blade is an indication of lower social rank. It says his sword is not his soul, but a tool to get a job done. At the same time, the shorter blade when used against full-length katana in the hands of an armored warrior says volumes about the ninja’s skill and courage.

So let’s take a look at some different swords in the hands of shinobi. We’ll start with the most historically credible ninja films ever made – the Shinobi-no-mono series.

But hey! Is that a straight blade???

I’ve had a few people refer me to this photo in opposition to statements I’ve made about the lack of short, straight blades in Japanese ninja films. And yeah, that is Raizo Ichikawa holding an apparently straight blade made by a studio prop master under the guidance of tech advisors like Takamatsu Toshitsugu and Masaaki Hatsumi.

But look again:

Hmmm. Why was the poster image altered to reflect a more traditional sword? Or was the publicity photo above retouched? And was it altered by Daiei back in the 60s or by Animeigo for their recent DVD packaging?

[UPDATE: Or as VN reader Kent Wood points out, is the above image just a scan from a book that is bending at the spine, thus distorting the page? I think he's right! I think I'm missing the forest for the trees...]

Point I’m making here is even with the Bujinkan tech advisors on board, the blades are inconsistent between the Shinobi-no-Mono films, and they sometimes change from shot to shot. So don’t go putting too much importance behind any single still.

Above, two publicity shots with two different props. Rather than an editorial statement, this is more likely just the difference between what is called a “hero prop” – in this case a character’s signature sword, which they only might have produced a few copies of – and a more disposable prop used as a ‘stunt double’ if you will, for quick-cut fight scenes where the piece is more likely to be damaged.

Raizo’s “hero props” changed from film to film as well – note the different tsuba below. Sheath length also varied, but the blade was always short (signature Hatsumi!).

And not all Daiei ninja used such swords. Battle scenes involving multiple extras and stuntmen as Iga clansmen revert to plain katana and wakizashi. Budget saving measure, or where they embracing the notion that blades would differ from man to man, mission to mission?

Now, I’ll pose a question to everyone who’s seen these films.

I think there’s actually an ever so slight CURVE to this blade. What do you all think?

Hard to tell. I’d kill to see this prop, if it still exists. If there is a curve, it is so minor, changing perspective straightens it right out.

And here’s another question - why the hell hasn’t someone replicated this awesome baby and sold me ten of them? WHY?!?!?

Meanwhile on the small screen, Onmitsu Kenshin (aka The Samurai in Australia) was absolutely bursting with ninja during its 60s-long run. Prop swords varied from season to season, with a limited TV budgets always the deciding factor in style.

Note Tonbei the Mist‘s wakizashi with oversized round tsuba, in comparison to the standard swords of the hero Shintaro. The good Iga ninja always used these, while the evil ninja clan-of-the-season would have various plain swords. There was, however, a recurring sword used for the several seasons’ boss villains – an absolutely monstrous ‘horse cutter’ (I think?) with a handle as long as its blade. I love this freaky thing!

The 60s weren’t all gritty, B&W, espionage-based, hard ninjutsu, though. There were as many swashbuckling adventurers and colorful plucky heroes as tormented shadow dwellers. Plenty of heroes who were of otherwise samurai status as well, so they used their same trusty blades when on night missions.

Ninja with samurai swords or samurai in ninja garb? Counter-clockwise from top NINJA HICHO FUKURO NO SHIRO (Castle of Owls), AKAI KEGEBOSHI (The Red Shadow), KAZE NO BUSHI (Warrior of the Wind)

However, the 70′s was a decade where ninja on the big screen were less likely to be the hero, and more likely to be fodder butchered by a surly sword-swinging ronin. The financial and scheduling realities of movie and TV production usually trumped any desired fealty to martial tradition or obscure history, so these disposable ninja carried off-the-rack, bulk produced props that didn’t require exclusive tooling or smithing. There were a lot of wakizashi blades with katana handles, and shorter curved swords with square guards, like this:

That’s one of dozens of ninja mowed down in the Lone Wolf and Cub films, and the above style sword was standard issue in 70s and 80s films.

Here’s a better look at what Japanese filmmakers considered the ‘Ninja-To’ pretty much at the same time as we were buying the straight versions made famous by Hayes and Kosugi:

Shogun’s Ninja (Ninja Bugeicho: Momochi Sandayu – 1981) features two competing forces of ninja, both using the same medium length curved blades with plain handles and square guards.

*As a side note, is there a film with a wider pendulum swing of great costuming (above) and laughable bullshit (below)? These hunter cammo suits give me douche chills.*

The same year, Enter the Ninja began Sho Kosugi‘s assault on America. Mike Stone‘s weaponry was custom, not mail order, and the swords were closer to the Japanese studio model.

But in 1983, the smoking chest was opened, and there it was!

From Revenge of the Ninja on, Kosugi was in charge of choreography and props, and never strayed from the short, straight blade with long handle and square guard – used by ALL ninja – heroes, villains, rival clans, students, masters… everyone.

He even made his own in Pray for Death (1985), a scene that drove Tim and I nuts because the sword he supposedly forged real quick during his power-up montage ends up a fully decorated blade with ornate hammon line, right out of the prop bin.

*And that dumb-ass helmet ranks with the cammo gear above!*

When the Cannon Films ninja mantle was passed to Michael Dudikoff, so too was the now requisite ‘Ninja-To,’ seen throughout the five American Ninja films that closed out the 80s craze.

And at the same time in Japan? Masaaki Hatsumi was a big part of the kids’ show World Ninja War Jiraiya (Sekai Ninja Sen Jiraiya – 1988), which featured a variety of outre ninja-based characters with just as wide a variety of swords.

Curved swords…

Coming next: A look at Kosugi’s officially licensed swords, and some props from our own collection here.

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Posted in Film and TV and History and Martial Arts March 8, 2011 at 6:50 am.

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9 Essentials of 60s B&W Shinobi Cinema

Part of Wildgrounds’ 2010 Japanese Cinema Blogathon

The first cinema-based ‘Ninja Craze’ in Japan is pretty well defined by the decade in which it took place – the 1960s. Yes, there were enormously popular manga, highly rated anime on TV, and martial arts practitioners bringing codified shadow skills to the public for the first time. But nothing has the cementing property that cinema does. Conquering the silver screen is conquering culture. It’s the big league of any media trend, and sustained cinema success is what turns a fad into a movement and hits into history.

Black and white ninja movies from the early to mid 1960′s are a niche within a niche, pretty much within a cross cultural niche altogether. But obscure? Hell no. This genre explosion was akin to Spaghetti Westerns or 80′s slasher flicks; a concise representation of a major money making movement that superbly reflected it’s time.

Here then are nine (being the essential number of ninjutsu) must-see flicks that thanks to the modern information era (and some fan-based yo-ho-ho) are now widely available and looking better than ever… with English subtitles. There’s never, NEVER, been a better time to be a ninja movie fan, and here’s some you NEED to hunt down:

1.) Shinobi-no-Mono (aka Ninja 1: A Band of Assassins) 1962

I hesitate to rest on crutches like “genre defining” or even “the Citizen Kane of shinobi cinema,” but man are both of those statements true of this franchise-launching monster. Ninja movies had been made since the silent era, black suits and throwing stars weren’t invented here or anything. But there were spy films made before Dr. No, too. Satsuo Yamamoto‘s Shinobi-no-Mono is the ninja Dr. No, and Raizo Ichikawa would be the boom’s Sean Connery.

With genuine ninjutsu masters on set serving like military advisors for a war movie, this is the film that established credible shadow skills on screen. Gone were the magical wizard antics of 50′s ninja films. Spy gadgets, commando tactics, exotic sword skills and weird weapons would hence be the norm, as would striking use of shadows and light. Shinobi chiaroscuro was here, and EIGHT sequels would follow. (See movie posters here.)

2.) Seventeen Ninja (orig. Jushichinin no Ninja) 1963

Blammo! The craze was off and running, and every kid and cubicle-caged office worker in Japan wanted to be a heroic black clad martial arts super spy. Then along comes a flick like Yatsuo Hasegawa‘s star-studded Seventeen Ninja, which is one of the best examples of the ‘ninja as disposable espionage asset’ theme explored again and again throughout the decade. Slavishly devoted to serving in the shadows, the ninja life pretty much sucked and you were dead meat at the drop of a dime.

Seventeen is a blood-soaked game of human chess between a guilt-ridden spy master (Ryutaro Otomo) and a vicious anti-ninja expert (Jushiro Konoe). It’s all about attrition as life after life is sacrificed. As the bodies pile up, it all comes down to one final emotionally conflicted ninja (Satomi Kotaro) and a simple but risky deception.

3.) Warring Clans (orig. Sengoku Yaro) 1963

A superb example of pop culture and marketability changing the course of a film. Three friendly rivals to fortune and females get caught up in a plot to smuggle guns for the government, with ruthless pirates and an aggressive ninja clan running interference all the way. Okamoto Kihachi‘s comedic actioner doesn’t necessarily need the shadow set, but somewhere along the way this samurai story picked up all sorts of steam when the black hoods were turkey-bastered into the plot. There may not be a more likable and engaging cast of three male leads in a film outside of Three Outlaw Samurai. Absolutely great!  (More on this film here.)

4.) Kagemaru of the Iga Clan (orig. Iga no Kagemaru) 1963

Damn, ’63 was a good year! I had to include at least one kid’s film in the list, and this live-action adaptation of the first multi-media mega property of the ninja boom can be enjoyed by anyone of any age. A plucky young ninja (an early role for genre legend Hiroki Matsukata) fends off a small army of weirdly mutated and super-powered villains in Noboru Ono‘s simple but charming adventure. (See merch and images here.)

5.) The Ninja Hunt (orig. Ninja Gari) 1964

A clan is doomed, ninja are the problem, and expendable mercs are hired in a desperate gamble for survival. Enter Wadakuro, a down-and-out ronin played with Deniro-like ferocity by the legendary Jushiro Konoe. Is he fighting for the clan’s protection, or his own vengeful obsession to slaughter everyone in a black hood? And will anyone survive the bloodletting that unfolds?

Jaw-droppingly brutal, Tetsuya Yamaguchi‘s film explores serious emotional depths as a man hired to fight shadows devolves into an even darker creature himself.

At the time of this and Seventeen Ninja, Konoe was also starring in a prolific series called Yagyu Bugeicho (Yagyu Chronicles or Yagyu Secret Scrolls). The eighth entry, Katame no Ninja (aka The One-Eyed Ninja) sees Konoe’s version of Jubei Yagyu lead an army of 64 shinobi swordsmen against an impenatrable fortress in one of the few battle-based ninja flicks ever made. This one is also highly recommended, and just missed this list. (More on this film here.)

6.) The Detective Fencer (orig. Onmitsu Kenshin) 1964

Had to include this for its historical value outside of Japan. Koichi Ose‘s television hero “Shintaro the Samurai” was the first international export of the ninja boom, and caused a sensation in Australia. Generations of Aussie kids grew up on this ninja-infused small-screen serial, and the cast’s live appearances on promo tours down under drew bigger crowds than The Beatles. Detective Fencer is a theatrical chapter of The Samurai, with a dizzying array of gimmicky ninja and Shintaro’s “Tonto”-like sidekick Tonbei the Mist, played by one of Japan’s most popular ninja actors Maki Fuyukichi. (More on The Samurai and Tonbei here.)

7.) The Third Ninja (orig. Daisan no Ninja) 1964

Takeda Shingen unleashes the greatest ninja assassin ever, and it’s up to three lesser-skilled but highly motivated rival shinobi to stop him. Kouno Toshikazu‘s stylish pic is just a superb and well rounded genre entry; great innovative action photography, haunting harmonica-accented score, espionage arsenals vs. anti-ninja booby traps, etc. And Satomi Kotaro‘s conflicted hero is the poster child for the often-explored ‘how do I get out of this doomed life of a ninja and bang this hot chick’ theme. (More on this film here.)

8.) Samurai Spy (orig. Ibun Sarutobi Sasuke) 1965

Masahiro Shinoda‘s masterpiece is, hands down, the artistic apex of the ninja genre. Hell, it’s above the ninja genre, and possibly jidai-geki as a whole. The tale of a beleaguered Sasuke (Koji Takahashi) trying to stay uninvolved in feudal conflicts, but always being sucked into swordplay and shadow-play alike, there’s just no other ninja film like this. From the woozy jazz-laced score to the unconventional fight scenes, Shinoda spat in the face of genre conventions with unparalleled cinematography and a very human story that is barely contained in the trappings of shinobi cinema. This is art here, to the tune of Criterion DVD special edition level. Just wow… (We did a four part breakdown of the visuals in this film starting here.)

9.) Mission Iron Castle (aka Ninja 9, orig. Shinobi no Shu) 1970

The Shinobi-no-Mono series was so successful, it spawned seven sequels in which Raizo Ichikawa played three different lead characters. After his untimely death in 1969 (at only 37, why he’s called Japan’s James Dean), Daiei Studios dipped into the well one more time, making the best 60′s B&W ninja movie ever seen in the otherwise color-dominated year of 1970.

The boom was over, the look and tone were outdated, the choice to market this flick under the beloved Shinobi-no-Mono banner questionable… But damn is this an f’n great movie!

Issei Mori directs Hiroki Matsukata as the reluctant leader of a small band of spies charged with kidnapping a noblewoman from a heavily ninja-proofed castle. Things do not go as planned in what is possibly the darkest and most fatalistic of the already noir-ish 60′s fare. Both the decade and it’s distinctive style of shinobi cinema went out on a high note with Mission Iron Castle. (See the ladies of this film here.)

So what is that, 18, 20 hours of gorgeous black-and-white shadow cinema for you to start on?

There are, of course, lush color films from the same era; The Red Shadow (Akai Kageboshi), Castle of Owls (Ninja Hicho Fukuro no Shiro) and Warrior of the Wind (Kaze no Bushi) making the short list, with Owls being arguably the best ninja movie ever made.

However it is the black and white poetry of hooded espionage like in the films above that really define the 60′s ninja boom.

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Posted in Film and TV November 4, 2010 at 11:38 pm.

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Sorry eBay’ers…

If you were one of the folks his past weekend trying to win either of these original press kit photos from the ninth entry in the Shinobi-no-Mono series, Mission Iron Castle, my apologies for being the source of your disappointment. I swung a heavy wallet at these cuties: Michiyo Yasuda and Yoko Namikawa sporting the finest in night gear coture.

Particularly fond of these as they are the source imagery for the superb collage poster, a two-sheet version of which hangs on the wall at VN HQ.

And if you haven’t seen this masterpiece of grim, noirish shinobi espionage, do so, it is truly one of the best ninja movies ever made.

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Posted in Sword Girls July 21, 2010 at 9:39 pm.

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Shinobi-no-Mono posters

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…

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Posted in Film and TV June 4, 2010 at 7:21 am.

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More BAND OF ASSASSINS

Missed this one in our February post on Shinobi no Mono poster art. God I love that post-tinted color!

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Posted in Film and TV March 2, 2010 at 12:10 am.

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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.

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Posted in Art and Advertising and Film and TV January 29, 2010 at 9:50 am.

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Colorized SHINOBI-NO-MONO menkos

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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.

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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.

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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…

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Posted in Collectibles December 1, 2009 at 10:48 pm.

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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?

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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?

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If this spoiler was displayed in theater lobbies, audiences must have been pissed...

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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.

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Posted in Film and TV July 21, 2009 at 1:12 am.

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