Wednesday, April 28, 2021

NINJAS ENTER, REVENGE, DOMINATE, PRAY, RAGE AND DIE, 9 TIMES. SHÔ KOSUGI THE ULTIMATE MOVIE NINJA!




I was ten years old when I went to this store called Consumer's Distributing on a mission. The front of the store was a couple of desks with giant catalogues sitting atop them. You would flip through the pages to find what you wanted fill out a card and hand it to the person behind the counter and they would disappear into the backroom - which might have been the size of a walk-in closet or could have been the warehouse from the end of Raiders of the Lost Ark - to locate what you specified on the card. The mission that brought me to this store located on Front street in my hometown on a Saturday was the news around my neighborhood that the G.I. Joe figure Storm Shadow was in stock. Storm Shadow was a ninja who fought on the side of the bad guys aka Cobra. He also came with more weapons then most of the other G.I. Joe figures. When you are counting on money from your Grandmother you must push those dollars as far as you can! The point of this story is that at the age of ten ninjas were the coolest and took up a lot of space in my imagination. There was a mysterious element to these masked warriors. They used cunning and stealth to fight much stronger opponents. I was a skinny kid that had my fair share of being picked on and I identified with these fighters who could sneak around and win fights. I have only sewed two things in my life, one was a football for an assignment in home economics class and using these new found skills I crafted my own ninja hood that I would use well into my teenage years as my friends and I made numerous VHS short films where we fought one another. Here we are in the midst of 2021 and over a year into a global pandemic. We are all coping in our own ways. I have been heading back mentally to the video stores of my youth and my comfort movies with all those amazing covers. In my preteen years Shô Kosugi was the living embodiment of a real life ninja. With us wearing masks everywhere we go these days what a perfect time to revisit the ninja films of the 1980s.

 

WHO IS SHO KOSUGI?

 

He was born Shōichi Kosugi June 17th, 1948 in Tokyo, Japan. As a child his parents enrolled him in a local dojo where he began to study Karate. At the age of 19 with 120 dollars in his pocket he traveled to Los Angeles to study economics at CSULA.  Originally Shô was hired onto Enter the Ninja as one of six stuntmen out of over 600 applicants. At the time he was working five jobs, teaching martial arts as well as attending university. He was trying to break into the acting business and would be in several films as an extra. The Bad News Bears Go To Japan, The Godfather Part II and Bruce Lee Fights Back From The Grave. A day into filming Emmett Alston who was originally directing and Mike Stone staring was fired and was replaced by Menahem Golan and Franco Nero. Mike Stone stayed on as a stunt double and fight choreographer. The second day of shooting was an action scene with Kosugi. Menahem and Yoram liked him so much that the script was rewritten and Shô moved out of second unit stunt work and was now the bad guy in the movie. After this film the phone began ringing for Shô to become the lead in movies. From 1981 to 1987 he would appear in six films that involved ninjutsu somewhere in the story line. He would also appear in the television series The Master in 1984 alongside Lee Van Cleef. Shô would continue to appear in movies over the next couple of decades. This essay will look at the six feature films Shô Kosugi was in from 1981 to 1987. 

 

ENTER THE NINJA (1981) 

 

I surmise it was named after the success of a film eight years earlier, Enter the Dragon. The film has the distinction of being directed by Menahem Golan after the fired aforementioned Emmett Alston was fired after the first day of principal photography. Enter was also produced by Yoram Globus. Meneham was coming off his latest directorial effort called The Apple which description reads like a Gaspar Noe film. "In 1994, a young couple enters the world of the music industry, and subsequently the world of drugs."  Golan and Globus would produce a staggering amount of genre films of various quality under the Cannon Films label. Alongside Kosugi the film costars some genre heavyweights, Franco Nero (Django, Keoma) and Susan George (Straw Dogs, Dirty Mary, Crazy Larry). 



 

Enter the Ninja opens with a credit sequence - which drew me to that figure of Storm Shadow all those years ago. The credits open on a black-clad ninja using a wide array of weapons, nunchaku (which is a traditional Chinese weapon), tonfas (which can also be traced to Chinese origins) , a pair of sais as well as a bow and arrow to name a few weapons. As the title credit Directed by Menahem Golan appears so does a white ninja flying into frame with a kick that miraculously knocks down the black ninja even though it does not connect. So begins Enter the Ninja!

 

We then see a vast land of green and sea below us, the camera pans to reveal a ninja dressed in white. He looks both weary-eyed and determined. His focus is towards something, someone just out of the frame. Slow zoom to his eyes. We once again take in the landscape and holy shit BLACK NINJA! A fight is about to begin! Nope the white ninja flees. Enter a bunch of RED NINJAS under the direction of the BLACK NINJA! Even though this is a cat and mouse pursuit among ninjas they run in open fields. Perhaps taunting one another that mere skills of cunning and sneakery will not define this fight. The red ninjas set fire to the surrounding fields. This does not deter the White Ninja! He begins to dispatch the red ninjas one by one. The black ninja shows back up with the ultimate ninja weapon the shuriken aka NINJA STARS! Which I remember seeing for the first time ever in real life under showcases of glass in a place at the North and South Carolina state line called South of the Border. The ninja stars were nestled beside butterfly knives which I would see Michael Dudikoff wield in American Ninja! Back to Enter the Ninja, the black ninja procures two shuriken and proceeds to throw them inexplicably into a tree?!?!? Now it's a nunchaku vs sword fight! This does not last long. The white ninja destroys the nunchaku and runs to a river. More red ninjas! The shuriken he throws does not miss! A foot chase continues over open land. Now standing in shin high water before a waterfalls the black and white ninja sword fight. They arrive at a massive water fall. The white ninja "Butch Cassidys and Sundance Kids" it and the black ninja follows suit. Now we are at a bridge guarded by more red ninjas! Time for stealth, nope a fight ensues! Smoke bombs are tossed. The white ninja knocks down the black ninja, "Surrender or die!" The black ninja says, "Surrender!" The white ninja proceeds to walk over to a man we can assume is a master ninja. He bows. And then draws his sword and holy shit! Decapitates the master?!?!?! What is going on???  This is the first eleven minutes of the what would begin a ninja film craze in American cinema. Enter the Ninja would also be the first in a loosely based "Ninja Trilogy". Like a true ninja Shô Kosugi disappears for the next fifty minutes. Then he reappears with another weapons demonstration for a prospective job to help greedy land developers. He is hired. "When will you do this a.....job?" "At once sir." "And if you fail?" "Then I do not wish to live." Cut to ninja finale action! Watching Christopher George in the final moments of the movie walking around screaming "NINJA!" "NINJA" "NINJA" is worth the price of admission. 

 

REVENGE OF THE NINJA. 1983 

 

Shô Kosugi returns with one of the great ninja motivators, revenge! This time he is in the lead role. Name before the title lead role! This film also has the distinction of having his oldest son Kane acting as well. We open on a pastoral family scene in Tokyo. A new mom is fawning off and showing her son to family. The scene is soon disrupted by ninjas! These ninjas are clad in black with red belts and headbands. They use all the tools in the ninja kit and murder everyone. The new mother briefly escapes and hides the crying baby. Mom returns to the violent scene to be cut down seconds later. Ninjas cannot hear crying babies. Shô playing Cho Osaki strolls along a scenic path with art dealer Braden played by Arthur Roberts. They are talking business. Braden is telling Cho he should move to America. Cho responds that his father and grandfather died fighting on this this land. Braden says, "Are you going to wait here until the same thing happens to you? That's crazy." Spoiler alert. It just did. Cho fights all the ninjas. He cuts through swords, bamboo, and spears. More ninjas show up. A smoke bomb is released to no effect. He has won the fight with a Taxi Driver shot by shot of the dead to prove it. However the plot has just begun. Cho unlike the other ninjas can hear crying babies and rushes to his son. There is a truly inspired dead ninja wrapped around a tree. Cho's mother shows up to reiterate that his father has died on this land and now his wife - in case Cho has forgotten what happened ten minutes ago. Braden reiterates that Cho and his surviving family should go to America they will be safe and happy there and will have a great fortune. Cut to United States, six years later. Even in the 1980s immigrating to the United States took years and years.


 


Cho's son Kane Osaki now of school age is walking with his grandmother and they are stopped and confronted by a gang of bullies. Kane assimilating to American society is wearing his LA Dodgers ball cap. The bullies abscond with it. Kane however will not back down. Although he is the smallest kid on the playground we assume he has been trained in the martial arts and quickly stands up to the bullies. Not without taking a few hits himself. Cho shows up and admonishes Kane for fighting. The grandmother is not having it. She tells Cho that Kane must be taught in the ways of the ninja and shows him her necklace bearing the families crest. Cho listens and begins to train Kane. So what we watched earlier was just pure natural martial art instinct and talent. 

 

Cathy (Ashley Ferrare) shows up to the dojo and ends the training session only to begin one of her own but not before she gets very close to Cho fishing for a kiss. They fight. Cathy has some moves but still has much to learn. She tries to get intimate again. Cho does not have it. Braden shows up to the gallery he promised Cho would bring him great fortune. Cho shows a perspective buyer a statue of a ninja. "It's a ninja, professional soldier. Specializing in espionage and assassination. About four hundred years ago." Braden pipes in, "Worst bastards the world's ever known right?" Cho, "It's a common misunderstanding that ninjas were all evil. But not accurate" Braden, "But they still killed people." Cho, "That was their special skill a thousand ways of death." The prospective buyer traces who finger along the replica word of the ninja and cuts herself. Not all is what it appears. Moments later Kane walks through the gallery and accidentally knocks over one of the dolls. White powder spills out. I'm sure it is only a filler for the statue. Cathy is there to help and reassure Kane t

hat it will be their little secret. Kane runs along. Cathy meets Braden and tells him Kane knocked over a statue. So much for keeping secrets Cathy. That white powder was not filler, it was heroin! Seems Braden is using the gallery as a front. Once gain not everything is what it seems. 

 

Braden is in business with the mob and Braden is getting impatient. He wants the money. However mob boss Caifano (Mario Gallo) tells him he is going to have to wait on the dead presidents. "Two more days ain't going to make a difference." There's more to the story. Seems Caifano already fronted 100 hundred thousand big ones up front. Braden is saying his Japanese connection wants the rest of the money now. Threats are made. Braden last words before leaving the mob meeting, "If you think about going behind my back you are making a big mistake, a very big mistake. You don't even know me...yet." Cut to Braden back at his office and he is opening a drawer to reveal...a ninja uniform! With lots of ninja weapons and silver mask!?!?! And yet again not everything is what it seems...

There is some good action in the movie. A van fight scene is quite memorable. Kane kicks ass.  The end fight scene finishes, as a ninja fight scene should, twenty floors up on a rooftop tennis court. Revenge of the Ninja is directed by Sam Firstenberg who would also directed Breakin', Breakin' 2 Electric Boogaloo, American Ninja and the next movie I'm going to talk about.   

 

NINJA III The Domination (1984)

 

Oh, where to begin.... The Domination would be the last of the Cannon ninja trilogy films. A trilogy linked only by the word ninja in the titles and Shô Kosugi in various lengths of screen time. Sam Firstenberg is back as director. This would also be the first film where Kosugi would be credited as the fight choreographer.

The opening of the film sets the disjointed nature of the rest of the film. We cut back and forth between a man in suit who parked his car in a remote and a bunch of other guys golfing. Is it sunrise? Is is sunset? The man in the suit climbs a trail as suburban sprawl is off in the distance. He heads towards a cave. Once inside discovers? or returns to? a treasure trove of ninja weaponry. Is this some telefon "the woods are lovely dark and deep" type shit going on. The man replaces his suit for ninja garb. He climbs back down the hill as the first golf shot is taken. 



The ninja is creeping around the golf course and approaches one of the dudes and crushes a golf ball in front of him. He then begins killing everyone. In pure ninja fashion! Ninja star!. Blowpipe!. Blowing the dart directly into the barrel of a revolver being fired is exactly what you would think it is. Mindbogglingly amazing!!! Double kicks are administered. Twice. A couple tries to take off in a golf cart. Nope. The ninja lifts it off the ground and then punches the driver. The driver swings a golf club, it wraps around the ninja's arm.!!! He kills him and his woman companion. Golf security show up and phones in a "451 at the golf course." The closest cop car responds to the "451 at the golf course." 451 is not only the temperature that freedom burns but also the code for ninjas killing mofos. 

 

This being a country club the cops are on the scene in five seconds. The ninja having stashed everything except a get away vehicle high tails it on foot. The cops pursue in a squad car and motorcycles. The ninja jumps on the roof of the cop car and proceeds to stab his sword through the roof into the cop riding shotgun who is firing his shotgun. Side note: this ninja - unlike the ninjas in the two previous films is wearing a grey ninja outfit. At the time of this writing I do not know exactly what it means but wanted to make note of it for further research. The ninja then dispatches the bike cops with more ninja stars. The ninja then swings his grappling hook around a palm tree and swings off the car with precision ninjutsu timing as the cop car flies off the course into a giant water hazard off of hole seven. The other motorcycle cop quickly follows suit and flies into the water as well. 

 

A cop copter then shows up and the 451 has now been elevated to a 1020. Another squad car is in pursuit. The grey ninja climbs the palm tree. Getting to the top as the copter hovers above he jumps onto the copter and throws one of the cops down. More cops show up to the scene. One gives an order not to harm the helicopter. They know the defund police movement is in full effect and they may never see the budget for a replacement. 

 

The ninja in a puro piece of ninja cunning pulls out another shuriken and places it in the split on his tabi boots and kicks the pilot. Another cop grabs the ninja and they both fall out of the helicopter into the water hazard. The helicopter with a grievously injured pilot begins to fly out of control and crashes in a ball of flames on the other side of a ridge. The plethora of cops approaches the water. I do not know the destruction of the helicopter has changed the code from a 1020 to 1271 or not. There is no time radio as the dragnet closes in. A cop approaches a bunch of reeds. Big mistake one was actually the blowpipe. Cop dead. The ninja once again takes off on foot. More ninja star bike-jumping action. Some Punishment Park type cops show up. Things are looking grim for the assassin. They shoot and four cops surround the ninja in a circle. Miranda rights time. Nope. Quick thinking and a sword in a 360 move takes out the four cops. No time for a pause the ninja leaps up and throws more shuriken. The ninja star inventory done spiked metal balls makes an appearance and are thrown into the fray. More cops. More bullets. The ninja is dead. Nope. One more kick. More bullets. Then a smoke bomb. The ninja has disappeared. The cops take off to find the ninja. The ninja then emerges from the fucking sand trap!!! Cut to the ninja strapping safety gear to his boots to do phone line work???? Nope. That is Christie (Lucinda Dickey) working on the phone lines. At the top she moves her hard hat and her feathered hair blows in the breeze as she surveys the scene from up high. She then spots the ninja stumbling down below. He descends to find out what is going on. The ninja grabs her and tries to kill her. They wrestle on the ground. She frees herself. He yells (in a foreign language). She pauses. She returns and takes the dying ninjas sword form him which seems to be his dying wish. She sees a flashback of the ninja being gunned down moments ago. The sword is giving off a great and intense power. More flashbacks. And thus begins Ninja III The Domination. 

 

The Domination is a ninja film, a revenge film, and an exorcism film, with a stalker "romance" thrown in. Chris is living her best 80's life. Playing a standup arcade game with leg warmers, headband aerobics gear. She is also carrying the ninja sword everywhere she goes. Not only she dealing with a revenge ninja curse she is also dealing with a stalker cop. And a bunch of other sex abusers who are also part of the gym where she works out. She fights them with an arsenal of kicks and punches. The cop than coerces Christie into his car under the guise that she is under arrest. Chris says arrest me or stop the car. They then windup at her place? The movie gets weirder and weirder. But hey, I thought Shô Kosugi was in this movie? 

 

Thirty minutes and fifty-six seconds a man steps off of a 747 jetliner. He is clad in a black suit and has a sword hilt as an eye-patch. Mr Kosugi aka Yamada-san is now in the movie! Three wise old dudes greet him. They have bad news, but will talk later. We never see the three wise dudes again. 13 movie minutes later Yamada is back. I dig this film in all it's kitchen sink weirdness. Yamada drives around looking for Christie in an El Camino. He escapes from three cops while being handcuffed in the backseat of a police car.  How can you not dig this movie! Of course a ninja movie is only as good as it's closing fight scenes. Which takes place not in a kumite ring, or tennis courts but begins in a temple on the outskirts of suburban Phoenix. 

 

INTERMISSION

 

The Kuji-Kiri according to Shô Kosugi movie ninja mythology.. These are the nine levels of Ninja power. 1) Rin - Strength of mind and body. 2) Kyo - Direction of energy. 3) Toh - Harmony with the universe. 4) Sha - Healing of self and others. 5) Kai - Premonition of danger. 6) Jin - Knowing the thoughts of others. 7) Retsu - Mastery of time and space. 8) Zai - Control of the elements of nature. 9) Zen - Enlightenment 

 

9 DEATHS OF THE NINJA (1985)

 

9 Deaths would see Shô Kosugi team up with writer/director Emmett Alston who was fired from Enter the Ninja and would pave the way for Kosugi to a breakout performance in that movie. Gone from Cannon Film Group this picture was made for Crown International Pictures. It also features one of the all time great video cover art of the era. 


 


The movie opens on a banner and pans left passing a mountain range. We see many people who look like rebel fighters. It looks like the Middle East? A smoke bomb is thrown at two guys in a lookout tower. Then the camera pans up in puro hero shot of a guy and we notice a belt with weapons and lollypops! It's Shô Kosugi! The opening action sequence features Sais vs an M-16. It turns out we just observed a combat exercise conducted by one of the world's best anti-terror teams. From Japan, the captain of the D.A.R.T. team, Spike Shinobi, (Shô Kosugi) his U.S. counterpart, captain Steve Gordon and in charge of communications and control, Lt. Jennifer Barns. Helicopters take off kicking up sand and dust everywhere. 

 

And then holy shit!  

 



A James Bond choreographed credit sequence! Complete with dancers, Shô Kosugi busting out serious sword swinging skills, a song, "Take Me High" Performed by Ivy Violan and a fog machine! 

A group of tourists board a bus and began a tour of some beautiful island volcano locales.  They take in some local culture. We see people dancing and a wedding ceremony. It's warm and sunny. All is well. Some dude with the biggest walkie-talkie ever has other ideas. The wedding was a farce! The bride boards the tour bus and removes her white lace dress to reveal combat fatigues. She tells the tourists that she is Colonel Honey Hump. Yes, you read that correctly. She is taking the people on the bus as prisoners. She also has a penchant for cutting people open to see what they had for breakfast. Oh, oh. Kane Kosugi and his brother Shane (first appearance in a movie) are on this bus. 

 

Calls are made to Washington. That's D.C. The U.S. Capitol Building and the portrait of Ronald Regan make us sure of this. It's a priority one and Regan has authorized the use of the D.A.R.T. team. We then see Spike's training regiment. That requires a lot of watermelons. A flashback. A different type of training (or real world) exercise. Now being in the forth ninja film and we see ninjas only clad in black. No flourishes, no red belts, headbands.  Okay, I wrote too soon. Some ninjas show up with white belts and headbands. We then learn a ninja lesson, "A ninja does not allow himself to be swayed by emotion." Spike Shinobi was deemed not worthy to be a ninja and must follow a different path. Cut back to his watermelon beheading training session. While Spike trains, Steve and Jennifer sit by the pool soaking up sunrays. Jennifer the communications expert is alerted that the D.A.R.T. team has a "Red Option 4 Active." Training, sunbathing time is OVER. 

Cut back to the heart of the Philippine jungle. The terrorists are sending out a message to the world. There will be no more bloodshed than necessary. We meet the commander of the organization. Demands are made which are the release of a prisoner and the total withdrawal of American drug enforcement personal from Southeast Asia. If these demands are not met than there will be total execution of all hostages. A gun shot rings out killing the first hostage. I surmise that bloodshed was necessary. A box is delivered to a government building. A woman opens it and screams. I guess the terrorists did not bank on government forces watching their earlier broadcast so they had to also pay for shipping and handling. While annoying to pay for both it is necessary. 

Wait a second....are those martial art oompa loompa's....yes, yes they are.

 

The movie cuts back to the cruelty of being a hostage in the jungle. The commander boasts that he has never seen a more pitiful group of hostages. I surmise he has seen his fair share of hostages. The plot becomes a cat and mouse affair of D.A.R.T. trying to locate the terrorists. Having watched my fair share of films that were made in the Philippines I have to say that they have the greatest per capita movie helicopter sequences. These films have also taught me that if you are flying a helicopter and also doing street detective work you should have a different set of clothes. You do not need to go crazy or anything a different jacket will suffice. Also if you have helicopters at your disposal you will have aerial montages. The length of these montages is up to you. 

 

The 9 Deaths of the Ninja is ultimately a story about American intervention. The United States and the Philippines goes as far back as 1899 with the Philippine-American War, which occurred in the years of 1899-1902. After its defeat in the Spanish-American War of 1898, Spain ceded its longstanding colony of the Philippines to the United States in the Treaty of Paris. On February 4, 1899, just two days before the U.S. Senate ratified the treaty, fighting broke out between American forces and Filipino nationalists led by Emilio Aguinaldo who sought independence rather than a change in colonial rulers. The ensuing Philippine-American War lasted three years and resulted in the death of over 4,200 American and over 20,000 Filipino combatants. As many as 200,000 Filipino civilians died from violence, famine, and disease. 

I'll take off my tweed jacket with elbow patches for a second and get back to the movie at hand. As far as 9 Deaths goes as a ninja action movie, it is okay. The one death of the terrorist leader was inspired. And if 9 Deaths is indeed a film about intervention it is one that sees the American forces seize the day and rectify the wrongs.

 



 

 

PRAY FOR DEATH (1985)

 

Pray for Death opens with a beautiful weapon display montage and the very 80s song "Back To The Shadows" We then get right into a giant ninja battle using a variety of weapons. This sequence is actually a ninja TV Show that is watched by two boys, Shô's own sons Shane and Kane. Kosugi. 

 

If we look at the 9 Deaths of the Ninja through the lens of American intervention Shô Kosugui's other film released in 1985 Pray For Death is a film about the dark side of the American immigrate experience. Shô plays Akira Saito. Akira's wife Aiko (whose father was an American) wants them to move to America in pursuit of a better life. Akira has his apprehensions citing how violent American cities are. He goes forth anyway and begins the process of moving to America. 

 

Akira meditates in a dojo and is subsequently attacked by red ninja. It's a classic sword vs lit torch battle. The red ninja is actually Akira's brother Shoji who upon dying cryptically says, "You think it's....over." This being the beginning of the film so, Akira and myself do not believe it is over. You may move to a new country but you cannot leave the past of the old country behind. The immigrant parable. A wise man looks on.  After Shoji the wise old man does not look on any longer but fights. He then shouts, "You must forget the past!" The wise old man is actually Akira's father Kaga. After they fight he informs him that he is moving to the United States. His father being cool says that whatever decision Akira makes will be the right one. He then hands Akira an ornate sword but Akira refuses saying when he leaves Japan he will leave his shadows behind him. It is here that Akira's father contradicts himself and states, "You cannot escape your shadows, my son. You will always be a ninja." Looking for a concession Kaga wishes Akira at least takes an ornate facemask. Akira accepts. He will take it as a memory. The condition is he never reveals the families' sect. And must swear to it. It is sacred and bound until death. Akira swears. Both men know Akira will never set upon Japanese soil ever again. 

 

Upon landing in America, Houston, Texas to be more precise the family pays their respects to Aiko's father and walk down the rough and tough streets. They then head to the restaurant they have bought from Mr. Green. The neighborhood much like the restaurant is in very rough shape. After the sun sets some dudes drive over to the restaurant and it looks like it is being used as a drop off place for "the stuff". My guess is not the great yogurt you cannot get enough of but more likely drugs, or drug related money. 

 

Akira and the boys go off on an excursion with Mr. Green leaving Aiko behind. More dudes show up and look for "the stuff" but "the stuff" is not there. We subsequently learn that "the stuff" is a paper bag full of jewels. I was wrong not drugs. James Booth who also wrote the movie plays the heavy “Limehouse” Willie. When not holding a pen he holds a tire iron that he beats Mr. Green to death with. The resulting station wagon explosion I have to say is the second best of the explosions in a Shô Kosugi movie. The first will happen later in the film.

 

We cut back to the Saito family as they earn their first American dollar at their newly renovated and opened restaurant. Unfortunately the moment is short-lived when neighborhood bullies attack Akira’s sons. Takeshi fights them off but Tomoya is kidnapped by “Limehouse” Willie and demands the necklace that Akira knows nothing about. Aiko wants to phone the police but Akira says, "not yet" Akira heads to a warehouse without the necklace but with information on who took the jewels. A butterfly knife is pulled on him and Limehouse cuts his chest open. Then “Limehouse” grabs a blowtorch, ignites and it brings it close to Tomoya. The blowtorch is seconds away from harming Tomoya when Akira and us learn that he cannot escape the shadows but will once again become them. Akira momentarily defeats “Limehouse” and saves his son. 

 

Akira takes Aiko's advice and heads to the police and learns of the limitations of American policing. Meanwhile the Saito family is further terrorized. Death, death, death and vengeance follow. Pray For Death is a dark movie and arguably the best of the 1980s Shô Kosugi ninja movies. It also has one of the best movie jumps of all time! There was also going to be a sequel to Pray For Death, unfortunately it never materialized. If the last pieces of dialogue are any indication it might have been a Ninja type Batman story. And one last thought the pastel purple and pink shot of the Houston skyline is peak 1980s cinematography. 

 





RAGE OF HONOR (1987) 

 

Rage once again sees Shô working with director Gordon Hessler who also directed Pray For Death. The film begins with a boat party in Buenos Aires, Argentina. The good times do not last for long though. There is a bunch of undercover agents from the Drug Investigation Bureau D.I.A. onboard lead by none other than Shô Kosugi playing Shiro Tanaka. "Party's over." Bullets and kicks begin flying through the hot, humid air. The bad guy gets in a speedboat and begins to escape, thankfully there is another speed boat and Shiro is in pursuit! Bullets won't cut it but a ninja star! will! The shuriken hits the driver and the boat veers off and EXPLODES! The rest of the party goers are arrested and the D.I.A. hit the mother load of drugs. Despite this success Shiro and his partner Ray seems to have run afoul of the rules and regulations of the department. 

 

We are now in Phoenix, Arizona. Where the D.I.A. is either headquartered or has a branch. Shiro is having dinner with his lady friend Jennifer Lane. Ray is working and seeing what is going on at Tetra Imports. A convertible red car would not be my first choice for undercover work but what do I know. He sneaks into the building and is discovered by thugs. Given his car choice this does not come as much as a surprise. We meet Havlock. Based on his look carefree and scattershot this is our heavy. Slapping a shirtless and bound Ray confirms this. Havlock informs Ray that his boys are soft when it comes to inflicting pain, he is different he enjoys it and pulls out a metal rod conveniently lying in a nearby fire and lights a cigarette off it to show how hot the rod is. Shiro and Jennifer are leaving the restaurant and gets an earlier message from Ray. He has to ditch Jen and speeds off in a black corvette. Probably a better, but still a flashy car for undercover work. Shiro arrives at Tetra and gets right into it kicking dudes into hot water tanks and shooting mofos all the while clad in a black tie and white scarf. Eliminating the immediate threats he heads to the basement where and gets to Ray right before he passes away. Shiro promises to get the bastard if it is the last thing he does. Tetra blows sky high! Havlock is at the airport and out of there. Shiro hides from the first responders in a bunch of dirt. 

 

Shiro shows up at the head of the D.I.A. and once again is lectured about procedures. Shiro needs authorization to head to Argentina to find Havlock. The head of the department says he is looking for revenge. Shiro says no, just order. He is informed he is not going on a goose chase vendetta. He is given two weeks off but has to file a report before. 

 

Rage is a film about bureaucracy and regulations - two things that will bog down anything you are trying to do. The film is also about loyalty and obligation. And first and foremost, honor and the rage the goes with it.  Once again eschewing procedure Shiro - to no ones surprise - arrives in Argentina. Framing it as a vacation. For all the regulations the department has it does not follow up where it's agents are traveling to.  It is also a film about surpassing the ego as is demonstrated by Havlock calling out a martial arts bodyguard that a fight is much more than brute strength. And then uses brute strength to defeat him.

 

Shiro and Jen arrive in Buenos Aries and run into an old pal who goes by the name of Dick. He and Shiro go way back because he knows all about the timely demise of Ray. Dick has info that can lead to Havlock. Dick is leaving town but has to meet a contact first. Dick also says that it is none of business but Shiro has to let it go. Meanwhile Jen is upstairs checking into the room and is attacked by a dude. Shiro gets up there and we see some truly spectacular athleticism. Jen wants to jet. "What can you do about what has already been done." She puts down an ultimatum. Shiro has to choose her or vengeance. Shiro informs her that it is not a choice but an obligation.  Ray must've been a swell dude and partner. Everyone around Shiro is telling him to move on. As he promised a dying Ray he will get Havlock if it's the last thing he does and the way it is shaping up it very well might be. As Shiro clad in a black leather jacket and black turtleneck observes the goings on at an export warehouse I'm struck with the thought that Shô would have made a great Golgo 13. 

 

Rage moves along at a good pace never really bogging itself down in unnecessary plot details. The story is simple - Shiro's partner was killed and he is out for - in his words, "order".  The film also benefits from the on location shooting in Argentina. With a fight sequence-taking place in what I assume would be near the Iguazu Falls. One watches these films for action and there is plenty of bullets and kicks and people being thrown through shit. And finally people show up clad in ninja garb with some different weapons. Havlock and Cho get their final battle and it begins with Sergio Leone close-ups and slow motion to accentuate the importance of this fight. The film kicks into high gear when camouflaged ninjas show up in a LOUD ass helicopter firing fucking bazookas and one wields a cross-like staff with three separate blades. This is worth the price of admission alone. I also have to say as far as movie villains go Havlock has some serious longevity. As the end credits roll (unknown at the time) they also mark the end of the Kosugi era. He still acts and shows up in movies but never again would have the star power of these 1980 action movies. 

 

Because in these dark pandemic times we all need a piece of inspirational montage 1980s music, I leave you with this song “Back To The Shadows” from Pray For Death.

"There's a spirit deep within you, 

That must remain concealed, 

Where the heart of a warrior,

Can never be revealed,

Back to the shadows,

Back to the shadows,

Back to the shadows

Destiny will find you 

And peace will come at last,

For the heart of a warrior,

Must forget the past

Back to the shadows,

Back to the shadows,

Back to the shadows

Love will last

Freedom's in your grasp,

Memories surround you,

Back to the shadows,

Back to the shadows,

Back to the shadows."

 

 

Monday, August 24, 2020

TAKASHI MIIKE Interviews with Robert Mitchell 三池崇史がロバート・ミッチェルにインタビュー

 

Robert Mitchell with Takashi Miike & Darryl Shaw. Sept. 2019

Here at Soldier Of Cinema we wish prolific, genre master Takashi Miike a very happy birthday! We look back at the times when Robert Mitchell and Takashi Miike spoke about his films. 2015 at the premiere of Yakuza Apocalypse and last year, 2019 prior to the premiere of First Love.

Tuesday, August 11, 2020

SHINOBI NO MONO (1962) ONE OF THE GREAT NINJA FILMS

 

 

SHINOBI NO MONO (1962)

Directed by Satsuo YAMAMOTO

Starring Raizo ICHIKAWA

Before Sho Kosugi, before Michael Dudikoff donned Ninja hoods there was Raizo Ichikawa who was also known as the "Japanese James Dean". Raizo would act in over one hundred and fifty movies all for the Daiei motion picture company. In fact two years after Raizo's death in 1969 the Daiei studio would go bankrupt. Of all of his films it was the Shinobi series which would propel Raizo into super stardom.

Shinobi no Mono is set in the first year of the Tensho period (1573). The Tensho period would be marked by the the daimyo Oda Nobunaga the ruthless warlord whose burning ambition was to conquer all of Japan. Nobunaga was opposed by a coalition of other daiymo and Buddhist sects. It was in particular the Buddhist people that Oda was particularly fond of displaying his penchant for destruction. In 1571 (two years before Shinobi is set) Nobunaga destroyed a Tendai monastery and massacred all of the occupants of this holy ground. Historical context is needed to fully appreciate this film as it is very much rooted in history.

We begin the film by meeting Goemon (Raizo Ichikawa) a mid ranking ninja of the Momochi clan. He is a young man with endless ambition who one day wishes to assume the head of the clan. He and the other ninja are summoned to a meeting led by Momochi (Yunosuke Ito). During this meeting we learn the origins of ninja. The art of Ninjutsu was created by En-no-ozunu during the reign of Emperor Tenchi. Ninjutsu was then spread to various monks to extend and protect Buddhism. The very religion that Nobunaga is so bent on destroying. The Momochi clan has vowed to work for daimyo opposed to Nobunaga as mercenaries.

Along side this political context lies personal dynamics. Ninjas for all their special abilities are after all only human and it seems personal rivalries are amongst one of the many problems of a ninja clan. Goemon and fellow ninja Yohachi vie for top spot in the Momochi clan. The Momochi ninja clan and the Nagata ninja clan are rivals. Kizaru (Goemon's counterpart in the Nagata clan) vie against other ninjas for the honor of top ninja.  Goemon gives into his carnal needs and begins to have an affair with Momochi's wife Ino-ne who is very much neglected by Momochi. If this sounds very much like a soap opera it is because it is and takes up the first act of Shinobi.

A scene that really shines for me is when Ino-ne is fraught with paranoia that Momochi is watching her and Goemon. It is here we see the power of the ninja. Using deception, secrecy and stealth the ninja can confuse and get into the mind of an opponent. To give away anymore of the plot would be to ruin the film.

I must confess I have always been intrigued by Ninjas since I was a small boy so I will always have a soft spot for films featuring Ninjas. I recommend Shinobi no Mono to aficionados of ninjas but more importantly to Japanese cinephiles. Shinobi no Mono is a film very much steeped in Japanese history. The "action" scenes of the ninjas are very much a standout for me. We see the ninja use all the skills of their trade, shurikens, smoke, dexterity etc etc. One final note the cinematography of Takemura Yasukazu is absolutely exquisite.

Wednesday, May 27, 2020

CRAZY WORLD: Premiere Interviews Nabwana I.G.G. VJ Emmie & Alan Hofmanis. Wakaliwood

                           Ian Goring, Nabwana I.G.G. Robert Mitchell, V.J. Emmie 09/14/19

CRAZY WORLD was the closing film of the 2019 Midnight Madness at the Toronto International Film Festival it it blew the roof off of the Ryerson Theatre. That screening will go down as one of the most memorable and energetic screenings in the entire history of the program.

The film centers on children kung-fu masters who use their martial art skills to battle child kidnapping mobsters. Nabwana I.G.G. brings his Wakaliwood gonzo action that we first saw with Who Killed Captain Alex? and continued with Bad Black. The midnight screening was made even more special as V.J. Emmie provided live commentary as the film played. Here are my interviews with Nabwana I.G.G. VJ Emmie & Alan Hofmanis.

Here is an amazing moment when Midnight Madness called Wakaliwood!

Tuesday, May 26, 2020

JOHN BOORMAN: CONCLUSIONS. Some Thoughts Upon Reading

                                Mike Lane, Sarah Mitchell, John Boorman & Robert Mitchell
                                         The Lilly Library Indiana University Oct. 27th, 2016

 “In old age, words escape me. If I wait patiently, they float up, and I recapture them. If that fails, I am obligated to go down to the cellar, where they languish, and drag them back up. I note that water is starting into the cellar. I fear that some words will drown and be lost for ever. The quest for harmony of word and image has been my life. Sight loss is making the world look like Turners. While I still can, I hasten to testify.” John Boorman


One begins to read a book on John Boorman to further gain insight into the thoughts of a unique filmmaker who directed films such as Zardoz, Point Blank, Excalibur, Deliverance. To this end the book will satisfy those looking for further insight and kernels of more film knowledge. Such as Lee Marvin agreed to make Point Blank on the condition that they throw out the existing script and start anew. As well as how it was David Lean who unknowingly saved Point Blank and Mr. Boorman's first American feature film from being stopped before production was set to begin.

The book begins with the heading TYPEWRITER and Mr. Boorman writes of his teacher and mentor John Maquire who encouraged the sixteen year old to pursue becoming a writer. John's mother then bought him a used typewriter. "where I sat every night tapping away with two fingers, a bottle of Tipp-Ex at hand" He would go on to have some success publishing some short stories. This yearning for story telling would soon find another way of expression and become the major driving pursuit of John Boorman's life.

In the opening pages we read about when John begin to make movies on Super 8 with his school friend Barry Vince."This was our fantasy. Film-making was a distant dream and occupied by people who went to Oxford." These pages took me back to my high school days and making films with my friend John Harvey and our VHS cameras. Running around our hometown as gangsters and suffering artists. Our movies were first inspired by John Woo, Martin Scorsese and Quentin Tarantino. As we continued our films became more personal and more art-house with our love for grindhouse still embedded in our short films.

A notable early passage where Mr. Boorman speaks about beginning to make the film The Emerald Forrest and living with indigenous people of the Xingu region of the Amazon rain forrest and how the tribe sees themselves as part of the greater whole rather than seperate beings and how our fixation on individuality can be alienating. As I reading through these particular pages I was thinking of the current moment of time we are all sharing amidst the spread of COVID-19. Of the need to collectively wear masks in public that do not necessarily protect us but to protect the other people we will come into contact with. Mr. Boorman takes this philosophy and applies it to making a film. "However clear your vision , you cannot make a movie on your own. You need a tribe. As a director you struggle to communicate to the cast and crew the essential nature of the film you are making. If things go well , there comes a magical moment when they 'get' what you are trying to achieve. From that moment, the film makes itself.' I was thinking of how the film-making process will be altered as time moves forward in the new era of the cornavirus Another exceptionally strong section for me personally was when Mr. Boorman takes us through his personal film school. Sections on writing, rehearsals with actors, another section on shot selection which will be a section I revisit often.

As I read Conclusions there were many times I had the feeling as though I was sitting by a fireplace in Wicklow Hills, Ireland across from Mr. Boorman as we spent an evening drinking scotch as I listened to his stories of film-making, life and friendships and family as well as his affinity for water and trees. As I was nearing the end of the book it really felt as though I was privy to a very private and intimate conversation with a person who is very much more than the films that brought me to this book. Mr. Boorman is clearly preparing for the end of a life lived. He has outlived many of his film-making contemporaries as well as losing friends and family. His words convey a sense of peace as well as preparing for death. He is still very much driven by imagination and curiosity of our shared existence and the planet we currently call home. As I read the last words of Conclusions there is a hint of regret in Mr. Boorman's words that so much of his time was spent in the pursuit of making films. Ultimately it is the life we have lived which is of utmost importance. Life is about the friends and family the precede us to the other side and the friends and family we leave behind. May our stories live well after us.

Thursday, December 19, 2019

A DECADE OF INTERVIEWS 2010 - 2019: Soldier Of Cinema Robert Aaron Mitchell



As the decade draws to a close I thought it would be cool to look back at a decade of interviews I have conducted. This is no small undertaking I have been fortunate to interview a lot of people over the past ten years. What follows is one interview for each year. This is not be exclusionary, I am thankful for every person I have met under the strange circumstances of meeting them for a few seconds and then asking questions as a video camera records. What follows are only from video interviews not the numerous email and phone interviews from the now soon to be past decade.

2010 STAKE LAND TIFF World Premiere

At the 2010 Midnight Madness program I spoke with Director Jim Mickle who has gone on to make several more feature films as well as Hap & Leonard featuring the beloved characters of Joe R. Lansdale, actor and writer Nick Damici and as well as genre legend Larry Fessenden who in the past decade has continued to produce and direct provocative genre films as well as co-produce and contribute to Tales Beyond The Pale a horror podcast in the spirit of 1930s radio dramas. Larry has also written horror video games Until Dawn and Man Of Medan. These interviews would wind up on the DVD and Blu-ray release of the movie.


2011 OFF! NXNE Music Festival
I was working with my good friend Ryan O'Shaughnessy and his Tune In TO website. I interviewed Keith Morris, Dimitri Coats, Steven Shane McDonald and Mario Rubalcaba the members of the punk group OFF! this was a huge thrill for me because Keith Morris was the first singer of Black Flag. I have always enjoyed running around doing interviews at music festivals, a completly different vibe than my usual film festival beat.


2012 THE LORDS OF SALEM TIFF World Premiere Interviews with Rob Zombie, Sheri Moon Zombie and actor Jeff Daniel Phillips. Doing world premiere red carpet interviews are very short usually not substantive affairs. I try to infuse something unique in this quick snippets of conversation. My research lead me to the fact that Rob Zombie was born in Haverhill, Massachusetts which is not far from Salem. I brought this up as an ice breaker and our quick conversation lead to Stanley Kubrick. At the moment I felt we were vibing one another the moment was over. It was also cool that the film was well received at Midnight Madness and holds up. 2013 R100 TIFF World Premiere with Hitoshi Matsumoto This was an extremly fun interview. It is always great to meet filmmakers from all over the world and it was a huge thrill to meet Mr. Matsumoto especially in this setting where red carpets are a rarity in Japan most filmmakers only do formal press conferences. It was also awesome that I was able to make the great comedic legend laugh. 2014 TUSK World Premiere Interview with Kevin Smith There was a lot of things swirling around this night behind the scenes. Time was running out and it looked as though I was not going to speak with Kevin Smith. I did and said it was great that he was back to making movies and he gave me a huge bear hug which has since been written about in a dissertation and published in a book. 2015 SLUMS THE CITIES OF TOMORROW The In Light Human Rights Film Festival I was the videographer for a new film festival that was created in the anthropology department at Indiana University in Bloomington, Indiana. Later in 2015 I would interview Sir Patrick Stewart at the Green Room premiere but I went with this conversation with professor Nicolas Reeves because I really enjoyed our conversation and the documentary is becoming more and more relevant as the wealth divide increases. 2016 THE BAD BATCH TIFF Premiere with Jason Momoa This is one of my most talked about interviews I have done and happen before already star Jason Momoa was launched into superstardom. It also features another bear hug. Guess I am a huggable guy! 2017 BODIED TIFF World Premiere with Dizaster This was the opening film this year and was great to research and learn more about the underground hip-hop battle scene. I had no idea that Toronto had such a vibrant scene. The film was very provacative and in your face so was battle rapper Dizaster. It was also another interview that ended in a hug! 2018 THE WIND TIFF World Premiere It is great to go into a movie not knowing anything about it. From an interview and research stand point though it makes an interview quite difficult. I really enjoyed these interviews at THE WIND Premiere with director Emma Tammi, writer Teresa Sutherland and actors Caitlin Gerard, Julia Goldani Telles The flow and ease of the interviews went really well and I was happy to support this film. 2019 FIRST LOVE Interview with Takashi Miike This was another year that featured some very cool interviews. The long awaited return of Richard Stanley and the few minutes with elusive Nicolas Cage, third time really was the charm this year but I went with my interview with legendary filmmaker Takashi Miike. In my film collection I probably have more films by him than any other filmmaker, in large part to how prolific he is. This would mark the second time I have interviewed Mr. Miike this time it was great that I could sit down with him for a longer interview. Interviews with a translator can always be difficult but I feel this interview flowed well. Honorable Mention SADAKO VS KAYAKO 2016 The photo on this post is from this premiere and one of my favorite photos my good friend Ian Goring has taken of me over the years. This was a really fun premiere and threw out the normal interview process out the window.

[REVIEW] CULT FILMMAKERS: 50 Movie Mavericks You Need To Know by Ian Haydn Smith


Ian Haydn Smith's new book Cult Filmmakers: 50 Movie Mavericks You Need To Know is a book well suited to the cinephile world of lists and discussions. Mr. Smith chronicles fifty filmmakers ranging form David Lynch to Ana Lily Amirpour to Abel Ferrara. I don't want to mention too many as part of the fun for me was turning the pages to see and read about the next filmmaker. The directors span over a hundred years of cinema.

"What makes a cult film, or characterizes its filmmaker as a cult figure?" Is the first line of Mr. Smith's introduction and the question is indeed the crux of the book. It is a pertinent question and the book shines as Mr. Smith gives us insights about his thought process to his answers. In this modern cinema era films are sometimes positioned and marketed as "cult" films. As the local movie theater is dominated more and more by giant blockbuster films by a handful of media companies it is also a nice reminder that in every decade filmmakers were and are operating outside of traditional systems. Directors throughout the decades are telling stories that are unique, weird, provocative, compelling, a reaction and a reflection of the generation they were created in and ultimately theirs.

Another aspect of Cult Filmmakers: 50 Movie Mavericks You Need To Know that is really outstanding and elevates the book are the beautiful illustrations by Kristelle Rodeia that accompany every filmmaker page. It's great to see what set piece or prop accompany the filmmaker.

As Ian Hayden Smith writes, "Rather than offering an authoritative guide through the rich history of cult filmmaking, this book aims to be another voice in the conversation about cult cinema." I surmise  this book will indeed begin and renew discussions and disagreements of what is a cult film and what makes one a cult filmmaker and will definitely stir passionate conversations of the filmmakers featured within and those not included. The book will also certainly bring delight as a reader looks back at well known directors, upcoming filmmakers and forgotten auteurs.

You can by Ian's book here