A few more that got away…

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Couple years ago now, one of my sources for the hand-colored press stills from Thailand that have so contributed to the identity of this site contacted me with some new offerings. A lot of it was stuff I already had or didn’t want, but there were some gems, so I agreed to take them (regardless of the increasingly inflated prices asked). A few days later, however, I hadn’t heard back, so I nudged and got a weird response.

To paraphrase, ‘That was you who bought them, right?’

Turns out the rocket scientist seller threw them up on eBay, and assumed I knew and was the one who nabbed them with a Buy-It-Now.

I wasn’t…

The really frustrating thing, they went for less than I agreed to give them directly. Honestly!!!

Well, years later, I guess the bitterness has subsided enough that I can make eye contact once again with the images they had emailed me in a cruel lure. Grrrrrrrrr…. getting angry again just writing this post…

Well, before I turn green and start smashing, here’s a pile of posed publicity stills from flicks like Ninjutsu Gozen-Jiai (aka Toruwakamaru, the Koga Ninja), one of the Rytaro Otomo Kurozukin flicks, Akai Kageboshi (aka The Red Shadow), and some others I forget…

hand-tints_1 hand-tints_2 hand-tints_3 hand-tints_4 hand-tints_6 hand-tints_7 hand-tints_8 hand-tints_9


Yep… any and all of these would look pretty damned nifty on my wall.

Congrats to the lucky buyer though, you’ve got some treasures. Oh, and if hard times ever hit, I’m always in the market!

Even more hand-colored CASTLE OF OWLS stills

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I just can’t stop rescuing these from dealers in Thailand…

And why not? I love hand-tinted antique photos, and these are from my favorite ninja film ever (and the one I’ve written about the most on this site, too).

Some nice costume details here. I love the briefly seen utility armor seen during the raid and bombardment of Iga.

Wonderful still of what I’ve described as the “Wolf vs. Sheepdog” dynamic in the relationship and rivalry of Juzo and Gohei.

Not every chambara star looked good in ninja duds, in fact some looked downright silly (Toshiro Mifune being a fine example), but man do Ryutaro Otomo‘s square-jawed good looks totally work hooded! It’s all in the eyes, and Otomo is prefectly cast as the unwavering stalwart avenger of his people.

The relationship between Juzo and the kunoichi Kohagi is superbly woven into the already rich narrative. The moment below, when he sniffs her out as a woman of ‘peculiar skills’ despite appearances is just the beginning of their cat-and-mouse interaction.

But he is Otomo, when all is said and done…

The film noir lover in me wants to do-away with the happy ending of this otherwise dark and ironic epic, and have Kohgi be a true femme fatale waiting to turn on the man who thinks he’s turned her, but… the softie in me loves these characters so much I’m glad they make it out of the shadows both literally and figuratively.

Finally, below are some cleaner close-ups from images I posted years ago:

This detail from my older batch had been mechanically marked-up by a Thai mural or poster painter back in the day.

And this close-up is much cleaner than the deteriorating one I originally ran way back.


Here’s a quick-link again to previous articles here, including CASTLE OF OWLS WEEK from 2009.

The Jidai-Geki Knights review over at Lard Biscuit.

And hey, why just watch the whole damn film on YouTube!

SHINSO: SHINOBI NO MONO Thai press stills

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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. 


Another look: AKAI KAGEBOSHI

I think these still from the other Red Shadow, Akai Kageboshi, almost look better in B&W. The details of these astounding costumes are brought out better in higher contrast than they were in their decaying sepia-toned originals, which made up THE very first post ever on VN, back in June of 2009.

Y'know, almost a year ago I called this my favorite picture in my collection, and damn its still 100% true!

Another look: CASTLE OF OWLS

In looking at repurposing color images for B&W print ads, I tried to look for zones of photos that weren’t necessarily the original focus. Blowing up some of these areas produced a lot more grain, which when thrown into B&W makes these old Castle of Owls photos look even older. Love this detail above from the color original first seen here in September 2009.

As much as the print production artist in me loves the historical connection made by these mechanical pencil lines on the press photos, used by mural painters my guess, they are a real drag when you want to really see the image.

Flipped and tightened this one. Y'know, CASTLE OF OWLS would have made a damn good B&W movie.
I will never get tired of this image, in any form.

Another look: SENGOKU YARO

Couple weeks ago I was poking around with some B&W print ads using imagery from my Thai press kit collection – converting the decaying colors into more contrasty greyscale, exploring new crops, bringing out the grain and textures of the paper more, etc.

The results turn out to be a pretty interesting second look at some of the first stuff I ever did on VN, so I thought I’d share. This first batch is from Sengoku Yaro (Warring Clans), the color originals of which were featured back in June of 2009.

These particular exercises were in COMPOSITION.

The original full frame - a decent action shot, but lacks a real focus. You can, however...
...break this scene down in two different ways - one centering on actor Yuzo Kayama, the other...
...on the non-descript ninja he's about to dispatch. A whole different context.
The composition of this Yuriko Hoshi challenge pose is already great, but once again composition can hone in and change contexts.
This detail is actually a nifty little image on its own.
And this crop lets you see more of the hottie starlet, while still conveying the notion she's surrounded but defiant.

I also worked on some familiar images from Castle of Owls, Red Shadow and The Black Hood, all coming up over the course of the week.

Press stills from NINJUTSU GOZEN-JIAI

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The 1957 Toei FX romp Ninjutsu Gozen-Jiai (aka Torawakamaru, the Koga Ninja) is the perfect example of the pre-60’s craze kid’s ninja film: mischievous wizard hero, evil sorcerer, spirit-creatures fighting in the clouds, etc and so forth. Before the real ninjutsu practitioners taught the makers of Shinobi-no-mono the real-deal, these magic duels were what the genre was all about.

These stills, contemporary with the film's release, are from a press kit for Asian secondary markets.
The film's dashing hero Torawakamaru (Sentaro Fushimi) has whatever magical powers he needs to in any given situation - teleportation, mind-over-matter, flight, and the requisite giant toad transmutation.
Here he is again, with the cute-as-a-button Ueki Chie as the princess-in-peril. Great costumes here.
Oddly enough, this film has the exact same historically-based conflict as the SHINOBI-NO-MONO films did years later: Tokugawa vs. Toyotomi, with Sandayu Momochi and Ichikawa Goemon (Nakajiro Tomita, in black above) working in the shadows.
Torawakamaru and Goemon's final duel goes from courtyard to rooftop and beyond. After a while, gotta think Japanese architects were reinforcing rooftops to accommodate constant combat...
A little closer in on these amazing costumes. Too bad both the film and the stills are B&W, the colors must have been intense.
In magic-based ninja flicks, ALL final duels end up in the clouds, or the shadow realm, or the zone of cloudy shadows, whatever. Shortly after this exchange, the combatants transformed into giant toad and fire breathing serpent, per union rules. No stills of such in the press kit alas.
Don't look to me for a rational explanation of this crudely composited still, I'm as baffled as you are. The kid is Goroichi (Ueki Motoharu), son on the evil Goemon. He, however, is the plucky boyscout/sidekick type, and the film is strangely brutal when it comes to the kid's emotions at watching his father's demise.

A movie (such as it is, with a serial-like running length of just over 1-hour) like this isn’t for those looking for the black suits and the blood-letting. It’s very one-dimensional, prone to silliness and comedy relief, and the FX scenes are a bit too few and far between. But, it is a prime example of what the genre was at the time. If you dig Magic Serpent, see it’s predecessor for sure.

Read Paghat’s review over at the Weird Wild Realm, along with pics of the toad and serpent.

Ninja Dojo write-up and link where to buy.

Alas, I have no idea…

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…what movie (or movies) these are from, but they certainly are on-topic for the month!

Awesome hair, awesomer nose!
That's Ryutaro Otomo on the left, I believe. Guessing this is from late 50's or very early 60's, the pre-SHINOBI-NO-MONO years when ninja were still colorful swashbucklers, mischievous wizards, or both.
The crimson goblin get-up looks out of NINJUTSU SUIKODEN INAZUMA KOTENGU, but not the rest of the scene...
Again, these are from a cache of press kit still rescued from a Thai ad agency. The pencilled grid lines would have been reference for someone doing a wall-mural or large painted poster of the image triangle-by-triangle.


Everything seems to have worked out A-OK. Whole lotta oni masks in the one...

If anyone can shed some light on the images above, drop yer beloved e-publisher a line at unknownpubs-at-yahoo-dot-com.

Ninja vs. Yeti in STRIKE OF THE JAGUMA!!!

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The 1961 Satomi Kotaro adventure vehichle Kaiju Jaguma no Moshu (aka “Strike of the Jaguma”) is an absolute miracle of bizarre villains and over-the-top costuming. This has become cliche around here, but if the picture above isn’t enough to get you bouncing around the web in a buying frenzy, then you’re on the wrong site.

A gang of thugs is terrorizing local villages, but they aren’t just any hoodlums – their ranks wear ninja gear and masks, their leader is a whip-wielding fiend in an ornate demon get-up, and his number-one heavy is a white gorilla. Possibly a yeti. Or at least a guy in a yeti costume who’s REALLY dedicated to his gimmick and never takes it off. You be the judge…




These Thai press kit stills, contemporary to the film’s release, show the superb range of costuming, even for the un-masked hero. The hour-long film (probably run as a double bill) is a fine example of a frugal “programmer” that while often silly delivers on action and character design in droves. Flicks like this made a lot of kids wide-eyed and happy.




There are a couple of real ‘No f’n way!’ moments in this one – none more jaw-droppingly awesome than Kotaro’s dispatching of the white-gorilla-man-yeti-thing with, naturally, a gorilla-press slam that would make any pro wrestler proud.

For more, read Paghat’s review here, a French review here, and see a few screen caps here.