Stephen reviews: Wrath of the Ninja: The Yotoden Movie (1989)

wrathoftheninja_1Wrath of the Ninja: The Yotoden Movie [戦国奇譚妖刀伝 Sengoku Kidan Yōtōden] (1989)
AKA Legend of the Enchanted Swords; Yotoden: Chronicle of the Warlord Period; Wrath of the Ninja – The Yotoden Chronicles; Blade of the Ninja

Starring Keiko Toda, Kazuhiko Inoue, Takeshi Watabe, Tomomichi Nishimura, Masami Kikuchi, Kazuki Yao, Kaneto Shiozawa, Norio Wakamoto, Reizo Nomoto, Shōzō Iizuka, Ritsuo Sawa, Eken Mine

Directed by Osamu Yamasaki


Ninja action is awesome, right? Especially when there are lots of demons and illusions, and martial arts showdowns scattered around, right? The more the better, right? Well, sadly that’s not the case for Wrath of the Ninja which proves that you can indeed have too much ninja action in a movie, as hard as that is to believe. I think (hope) that this is the result of compressing down the longer original story into oblivion. The film version of Wrath of the Ninja is a compilation of the series, and it’s got all the usual problems of such a film cranked up to eleven.

The plot, what’s left of it anyway, revolves around three ninjas from different clans who each own a special weapon with a legend attached to it. They’re up against the commonly used historical figure of Oda Nobunaga, who was also the villain of Black Lion as well as other anime. Here, as is common in stories set in feudal Japan, Nobunaga is a demon bent on conquering the world. I think. I’m actually not sure what he’s after. The story doesn’t have enough time to bother with something as trivial as the objectives of the main villain. But whatever he’s trying to do, it involves the massacre of the protagonists’ hometowns, which obviously unites them in an unstoppable ninja team-up out for revenge.

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Enter the Ninja (1981)

Enter the Ninja (1981)

Starring Franco Nero, Susan George, Sho Kosugi, Christopher George, Alex Courtney, Will Hare, Zachi Noy, Constantine Gregory, Dale Ishimoto, Joonee Gamboa

Directed by Menahem Golan

Expectations: High, but tempered because I’ve heard this is dumb.


It’s been much too long since I watched an 80s ninja flick, so I decided to remedy that with the first film in the unofficial Ninja trilogy featuring Sho Kosugi! Perhaps this wasn’t the best choice to make, as I’d heard from a couple of different sources that this first film is one that can easily be skipped and I would be much better served by the much more famous pseudo-sequel Revenge of the Ninja. As a completionist, I scoffed at these suggestions and soldiered on, receiving a film just about as good as I was led to believe it would be.

Franco Nero plays Cole, an American war veteran who has spent the last few years training to become a ninja. Yes, that’s the same Franco Nero that starred in Django and Camelot, and no, I don’t quite understand the logic in casting him as a ninja. I do like to theorize that because of his involvement, somewhere in the world this film was screened under the title Django vs. Ninja, but I have no factual evidence of this. Whatever, he’s a ninja and Sho Kosugi, another student at the school, objects to Nero’s inclusion in the sacred order. A rivalry forms but just as you think it might be going somewhere awesome, Nero leaves Japan to hang out with his old war buddy in Manila. There he finds a wealthy landowner looking to steal his friend’s land out from under him, presumably to build some high-rise apartments or to farm heroin or some other clichéd 80s action movie shit. I honestly didn’t pay too close of attention to his motives.

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Mini-Review: American Ninja (1985)

Starring Michael Dudikoff, Steve James, Judie Aronson, Guich Koock, John Fujioka, Don Stewart, John LaMotta, Tadashi Yamashita, Phil Brock

Directed by Sam Firstenberg

Expectations: I can’t imagine I’ll do anything but enjoy this.


American Ninja is not a great movie, but damn if it isn’t fantastic! Another shining example of the line between trash and art, American Ninja manages to contain some of the laziest writing I’ve seen in a while (OK, not that long) AND some of the best action sequences in recent memory. Modern directors would do themselves a favor to sit down with American Ninja and examine its finer points.

Joe is an amnesiac Army solider who happens to possess some serious ninjutsu skill. He doesn’t remember how he acquired these talents, but he sure knows how to put them into action. In the opening scene Filipino guerrillas disrupt a convoy and when Joe decides to play hero, a shitload of ninjas jump out of the trees and slaughter the rest of the Army crew before giving chase. This sets into motion a cat and mouse game where an evil plantation owner and his personal ninja army set out to kill the American interloper, the… wait for it… American Ninja!

Yes, this story could only be taken seriously in the 1980s, but it’s incidental to the action. Anything that allows ninja night raids on prison rooftops and scenes featuring hundreds of ninjas training in multi-colored jumpsuits on jungle gyms is OK in my book. The action is the star and the film is at its best when the dialogue drops out and the sharp action begins. The prison break scene is an especially juicy highlight, with excellent editing punctuating the clever moves of the ninja and his prey. Michael Dudikoff holds down the movie pretty well with his passable second-tier martial arts and Steve James is fucking awesome as his Army buddy. I look forward to seeing James in more movies and I thoroughly hope he figures prominently in the sequels because I just couldn’t get enough of the guy.

American Ninja also reminds me what action films of today are missing. Simple slow-motion sequences of trucks blasting through vendor carts are relics of the past, something the younger generation may never fully experience. It also brought my mind to other moments in film history, unaided by the computer, that would never be done similarly in modern times. Scenes such as the boat sequence of Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade when the giant propeller rips apart the boat Indy fights on. Can you imagine the bullshit visuals that would typify a scene like that today? Someone has to stand up to motherfucking Skynet and make a goddamned action movie again! Are you with me?

Thanks American Ninja, I needed that.

Uncle Jasper reviews: Ninja Vengeance (1988)

Ninja Vengeance (1988)

Starring Craig Boyett, Janet Pawlak, David Lord, Steven K. Hayes

Directed by Karl R. Armstrong


In this actioner, a heroic ninja biker kicks the stuffing out of a villainous Texas sheriff and stops him and the KKK from bullying a black resident.

Holy Shit… Now that’s a plot synopsis!! In fact, that’s all it took for Ninja Vengeance to pull me by the ears and command my full attention. I mean, who can argue with a premise like that, right?

Unfortunately, a lot of the problems with Ninja Vengeance stem from its admittedly badass premise being mauled by piss-poor execution. I’m sure the filmmakers felt all honorable and shit by making their hero a crusader against the KKK, but the question begs… why not a black dude as the ninja? Surely that would make more sense, and make the vengeance all the more “vengeful”.  I’m reminded of a movie like No Retreat, No Surrender, which was great fun but had the same cringeworthy curse of the token black character serving no real purpose but to pump up the white hero. In this case the film goes a step further by actually killing off the black guy in order to motivate the lead character. Am I the only one that squirmed a little bit by the sex scene between the ninja and the black guy’s female friend? Did they just kill off the black dude in order to have these two get it on?

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Uncle Jasper reviews: Rage of Honor (1987)

Rage of Honor (1987)

Starring Sho Kosugi, Lewis Van Bergen, Robin Evans, Gerry Gibson, Charles Lucia, Richard Wiley, Carlos Estrada, Ulises Dumont

Directed By Gordon Hessler


Like a sneak attack from the shadows, I bring you another stealthy actioneer from Sho Kosugi: Master Ninja™!

Rage of Honor is definitely a low point in the Sho Kosugi arsenal. Taken as a straight 80’s actioneer it will definitely satisfy. The film not only contains genre staples such as jungle warfare, shirtless dudes with machine guns, and slick-haired assholes in bright suits and aviator sunglasses, but it also seems to stem from that holy trifecta of all great action films of the era: Heroin, Uzis, and Organized Criminals.

That’s great if your name is Chuck Norris, Arnold Schwarzenegger, or Sylvester Stallone. But if you are Sho Kosugi, purveyor of all things ninja, you come to expect a little more. Don’t get me wrong, Sho does a lot of ninja-like things this time around. You’ll get your shurikens, grappling hooks, and exploding smoke bombs. Unlike previous films however, he decides to ditch the ninja costume and Japanese mysticism for a more Americanized, guerrilla warfare approach. The result is not a ninja film, by any stretch. It’s more like a ninja-tinged, loosely tossed together version of First Blood, Part II.

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Uncle Jasper reviews: Pray for Death (1985)

Pray for Death (1985)

Starring Sho Kosugi, James Booth, Donna Kei Benz, Norman Burton, Kane Kosugi, Shane Kosugi, Matthew Faison, Parley Baer

Directed By Gordon Hessler


Digging into the archives here at Silver Emulsion brought a staggering discovery to my attention. Although we have done our best to bring you reviews of classy motion picture entertainment on a regular basis, we are still far from perfect and definitely have a long way to go in our quest for celluloid gold. In our first six months we have covered a whole slew of classics but have sadly remained deficient in one of the greatest genres of film known to mankind. No I’m not talking about film noir, westerns, or Hollywood musicals. I’m talking fucking Ninjas! And when I’m talking fucking Ninjas, I am of course talking Sho Kosugi.

For those not in the know, Sho Kosugi is pretty much the Henry Ford of ninja lore. What child of the 80s could not remember begging mom and dad to buy a couple of those cheap ass plastic ninja swords in the supermarket toy aisle, banging them together with friends until they bent in half, sadly drooping along while they carried out stealth assaults? Who cannot remember the deluge of ninja related video games and TV shows at the time? That was all courtesy of Sho Kosugi and a little movie from 1983 titled Revenge of the Ninja.

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