NINJA WARS press book

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It was one of the few Japanese ninja movies that actually made it to U.S. shores in the 80s, and what a weird choice. Full of fantasy special effects, bizarre super powered evil monks, sadism and rape and decapitated girls walking around, it was an exploitation feast for teenaged cable addicts, even if there was nary a black hood to be seen. It was Kadokawa’s big budget Iga Ninpocho, known here as Ninja Wars.

And this was the US press press book from 1983:

This painting was the U.S. poster and sometimes VHS clamshell package. Painted in 1982, it's still pretty 70's.
I could never quite make out this detail back when I had the VHS.
Back cover of the book featured Henry Sanada over the more familiar in the U.S. Sonny Chiba.

Sanada and pop-star Noriko Watanabe in her first film were BANK in Japan.
Chiba had a small but important role, and his Japan Action Club was responsible for fights and stunts galore.
Mikio Narita as the evil wizard Kashin Koji was our fave character. The dubbed English voice was over-the-top sinister and we used to imitate it all the time.
The "Devil Monks" had surreal super powers and/or signature weapons. They were downright monstrous, and this film bordered on the horror genre at all times.
Pro wrestler Strong Kobayashi as Kongo dwarfed the rest of the cast.

Ninja Wars didn’t get a whole ton of traction during the craze, mostly because of the lack of black hoods in both the film and its marketing. HBO even pushed it as a surreal Japanese art film rather than a martial arts exploitation movie, which wasn’t that huge a stretch…

If Ninja Wars was ‘art’ then it was a demented piece of fantasy art painted on the side of some oversexed pervert’s conversion van. Mutant super monks, bat shit-crazy wizards, undead hotties with transplanted heads, fat chicks on aphrodisiacs gettin’ nekkid, flying gags and crazy stunts, acid barf of doom. Wow…

Ninja Wars may be to 80s shinobi cinema what Lucio Fulci’s Conquest was to Conan knock-offs – the weird bastard stepchild that does and doesn’t belong to the genre, and who can tell if it’s brilliant art or a total piece of shit lost in its own pretension and trying way to hard to shock?

The 2005 Adness DVD of Ninja Wars was the first time it was released uncut, widescreen and in Japanese, and it’s well worth seeking out on the secondary market. But I’ve also kept a public domain DVD and an old clamshell VHS just to have that godawful dub I so loved as a craze-era teen.