If the name Shô Kosugi doesn’t conjure up images of whirling nunchucks or twirling throwing stars then your knowledge of ninja films probably doesn’t extend much further than Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Kosugi is the godfather of the modern ninja film, a Japanese martial artist who, during the 1980s, used his mad ninjitsu skills to battle every movie bad guy from evil terrorists to Mafia thugs and even possessed break dancers. When the “invisible warrior” craze petered out in the early 90s Kosugi became a star on Japanese TV and created a workout regimen called Ninjaerobics. This weekend, however, he returns to the big screen in Ninja Assassin, playing Ozunu, head of a dangerous cult that turns orphans into blood thirsty killing machines.
The movie that kicked off ninja mania was 1981’s Enter the Ninja, a wild b-movie that features nineteen minutes of hardcore ninja action in the first twenty minutes. Kosugi is an evil ninja hired to take down a virtuous “white ninja” (Franco Nero, who didn’t do any of his own fight scenes), who is protecting a friend’s Philippine plantation. The body count is high—36 people get ninjaed, including one security guard who falls victim to the dreaded “mosquito spikes”—and even though the acting is terrible and the jokes a little flat it has, nonetheless, been described by one ninja fan as “fantastic crap.”
Probably the most outlandish of the original 80s wave of ninja flicks is Ninja III: The Domination, which features a lead character described as completely normal, aside from her “exceptional extrasensory perception and preoccupation with Japanese culture.” In this one an evil ninja attempts to avenge his death from beyond the grave, by possessing an innocent woman’s body. Ninja III is packed with cool stunts—a throwing star is tossed by some very limber ninja toes—and we learn that a ninja can transfer his soul through his sword to another person.
Besides outrageous ninja action the only thing these movies have in common is stiff acting, but acting isn’t why you buy a ticket to see a movie called Rage of Honor. If you want good acting look up Phillip Seymour Hoffman, but if you want to see a ninja take on a pick-up truck and win or slice a bad guy in half (sending his legs to and his torso fro) then Shô Kosugi is your man.