Wednesday, May 26, 2010
Last month I reviewed the movie Ninja Assassin, and was thus compelled to go back and watch the 1983 Ninja classic Revenge of the Ninja. I hadn't seen Revenge of the Ninja since 1984 or 1985, at a friend's birthday party, but my memory of it was that it was violent, realistic, and that the short time spent in Japan was a realistic depiction of what Japan was like. Well, right off the top the movie opened with a view of the Kinkakuji temple in Kyoto, which was listed as "Tokyo, Japan", and I knew I was in for a strange and disturbing ride. Suffice it to say, my memory and reality really didn't match up on this one.
The first scene opens with an attack on the home of the Osaki Ninja clan by a group of black and red clad ninja, which upon close inspection seems to consist of a mix of slightly overweight Asians and Caucasians strategically hidden behind black ninja gear with red bandanas. The location of this attack, ostensibly "Tokyo, Japan", looks more like an isolated Japanese-style house dreamed up by an American, in the middle of a forest, rather than the middle of a city of 8 million people. Where, it should also be mentioned, apparently everyone wears kimonos.
Ridiculous as the whole scene appears now, I'm sure in the pre-internet days of 1983 this strange movie version of Japan not only seemed reasonable to American audiences, but probably expected. In this battle the Osaki clan is, for the most part, wiped out, (Therefore probably not a very good Ninja clan...) until Cho Osaki, played by Sho Kosugi, gets home with his American buddy, Braden, and terminates all of the Ninja. Braden talks Osaki into fleeing the incessant Ninja attacks that are apparently commonplace in Japan, to America, where he can start a new life as a Japanese doll dealer... Or can he?
It turns out that Osaki's buddy Braden is actually a heroin dealer, who has been using Osaki's Japanese dolls as a medium for drug trafficking. It also turns out that - major spoiler - Braden is a NINJA! And probably orchestrated the original Ninja attack on the Osakis in Tokyo. When Braden's goomba Mafia connection - a 1983 version of Joe Pesci - refuses to pay for the heroin, he goes on a killing spree, Eventually Osaki is drawn into the intrigue, and is forced to go after Braden, because, as Osaki so eloquently puts it - "Only a Ninja can Kill a Ninja".
Production values are, of course, horrible - bad hair, bad corduroy (This was 1983 after all), editing screw ups like Osaki's son Kane walking around a corner bareheaded and then suddenly wearing a baseball cap as he comes around the corner, and terribly overdramatic deaths, where people cut with swords throw both hands up, yell "AAAaaaaahhhggghh", and slowly slide down the wall until they flop to a standstill. "Revenge of the Ninja" is entertaining for those times when you just feel you need to get a dose of a bad martial arts movie... and it is not a good movie by any means - but it IS a window into the 1980's Ninja Craze that taught Westerners all of the things about Japan that actually were completely wrong and ridiculous, but at the time, completely believable. Sho Kosugi's "Ninja Trillogy" (Enter the Ninja, Revenge of the Ninja, and Ninja III: The Domination) were the ill conceived grandparents of Ninja Assassin, and kicked off the Ninja Craze that spawned the likes of Gymkata, The Master, and Stephen Hayes, and extended Michael Dudikoff's movie career by about five movies. Thanks for that, Revenge of the Ninja. Really.