Transmission date: Jan 5 2013
Welcome back satellite subscribers, today’s topic encompasses all aspects of the promised topics here on the Superhero Satellite. This is our official debriefing so we begin with a question. What pop cultural phenomenon spans Comic Books, TV, Pro Wrestling, TV, Movies, Video Games and Toys? The answer is simple….NINJAS!! Strap in your seat Heroes the Super hero Satellite is ready to begin or next transmission.
We are all familiar with the look. The black hood, the split foot black fighting garb and of course Samurai Swords and throwing stars. Ninjas were everywhere you turned in the 80s and of course I was bitten with the bug. My first actual introduction to Ninjas came via a trilogy of VHS tapes dubbed the “Ninja Trilogy” We will discuss this later. The first major introduction to Ninjas in Western Culture was in a James Bond film `You Only Live Twice.
In the film Bond goes through Ninja training and is assisted later in the movies by gun toting, sword wielding, Ninjas in non traditional grey open faced suits.
They would appear randomly from then on in different mediums but exploded into mainstream collectives. In the 1980s with the previously mentioned series of movies by Japanese sensation Sho Kosugi. The Ninja trilogy would change the way we do Ninja in our culture. Enter:The Ninja, Revenge Of The Ninja, and Ninja 3:The Domination. My local video stores featured these prominently and when I got my first RCA top loading VCR back in the early 80s I went Ninja crazy!
Enter:The Ninja was released in 1981 through the Cannon group and broke all the rules of the traditional action movie of the times. Guns, and lasers were suddenly replaced with sword play and ninja stars. Martial arts had been infused into the North American culture and the Ninja craze played a big part in doing so. Enter: The Ninja was unlike anything seen on the big and small screens in the day and suddenly the sword wielding Japanese assassins were everywhere. A plot Summary below is from a Wikipedia article and all credit goes to the original posters.
Enter The Ninja: (6.5 out of 10) After completing his training of ninjutsu within Japan as a Ninja, an American army veteran by the name of Cole (Franco Nero) visits his war buddy Frank Landers (Alex Courtney) and his newlywed wife Mary Ann Landers (Susan George), who are the owners of a large piece of farming land in the Philippines. Cole soon finds that the Landers are being repeatedly harassed by a CEO named Charles Venarius (Christopher George) in order to get them to sell their property because, unbeknownst to them, a large oil deposit is located beneath their land. After beginning to thwart Venarius’ hired henchmen’s attempts to bully and coerce the Landers into the selling of their property to Venarius, Cole eventually finds himself facing an old rival from the days of his training — Hasegawa (Sho Kosugi), who was hired by Venarius as an assassin to eliminate Cole`.
Revenge Of The Ninja: 9 Out Of 10 Revenge of the Ninja opens with a massive ninja attack on the home of Cho Osaki (Sho Kosugi) in Japan, resulting in the slaughter of his entire family except for his mother and his younger son, Kane (Kane Kosugi). When Cho arrives at his estate and discovers the carnage, the ninjas attempt to kill him as well, but Cho, being a ninja himself, avenges his family. Afterwards, however, he swears off being a ninja forever and moves with his son and mother to California, where he opens a doll gallery with the help of his American business partner and friend, Braden, and his assistant Kathy.One night, Kane accidentally drops and breaks open one of the dolls, exposing a white dust (heroin) contained therein. As it turns out, Braden uses the doll gallery as a front for his drug-dealing business. He tries to strike a deal with Caifano, a Mafia boss, but Caifano and Braden cannot find common ground and eventually engage in a turf war. Braden, as a silver “demon”-masked ninja, assassinates Caifano’s informers and relatives to make him cower down. The police are confused about the killings, and local police martial arts trainer and expert, Dave Hatcher, is assigned to find a consultant. Dave persuades Cho to see his boss and Cho attests that only a ninja could commit these crimes, but refuses to aid the police any further.In order to avoid payment for his ‘merchandise’, Caifano sends three men to clear the gallery. Cho happens to walk into the gallery while the thugs are loading the goods in a van, is attacked and responds with hand-to-hand combat. The henchmen escape in the van with Cho in pursuit, but he fails to stop the thieves from getting away. Meanwhile, Braden stealthily arrives to Cho’s art gallery to find that it was just looted. Cho’s mother and Kane both encounter him; Braden kills Cho’s mother, but Kane manages to elude him. Cho, badly mangled, returns to find his mother murdered and his son missing.In order to finish the last witness, Braden hypnotizes Kathy, who is in love with Cho, to find and bring in Kane. When she recovers her senses, she contacts Cho and informs him both of Braden’s treachery and that he is a ninja. Seeing his only remaining son in mortal danger, Cho breaks his devotion to non-violence and makes his way to Caifano’s headquarters to stop Braden. In the meantime, Braden finds out about Kathy’s betrayal and prepares to have her executed. Kane manages to free himself and Kathy, and the two inform the police.
Braden makes his final assault on Caifano and his organization, killing everyone he encounters. Eager to help his friend Cho, Dave also rushes to Caifano’s headquarters but is ambushed by Braden, who mortally wounds him. Cho rushes to help his faithful friend, but the latter dies in his arms.The film ends with an epic battle to the death between Braden and Cho on top of Caifano’s skyscraper. After a long struggle, Cho kills Braden and is reunited with his son and Kathy.
Ninja 3: The Domination. 3 out of 10 (Little is written about the third installment of this series so plot synopsis are from Wikipedia and Rotten Tomatoes. )A female aerobic instructor is possessed by an evil spirit of a fallen ninja when coming to his aid. The spirit seeks revenge on those who killed him and uses the female instructor’s body to carry out his mission. The only way the spirit will leave the aerobic instructor’s body is through combat with another ninja.(Rotton Tomatoes review) an evil ninja is killed off in a sandtrap on a golf course in Phoenix — the police riddle him with bullets, foolishly thinking that is the end of it. But as he is dying, the ninja throws a smoke bomb and, hidden by the dark cloud, he crawls into a phone-company van driven by the acrobatic Christie (Lucinda Dickey of Breakin’). As he dies there, his soul possesses her body, much to the consternation of her boyfriend, Secord (Jordan Bennett). Christie periodically uses exotic Eastern skills to slaughter the evil ninja’s foes until good ninja Yamada (Sho Kosugi) comes to her rescue.
My favorite of all three movies was Revenge Of The Ninja. Sho Kosugi as the master Ninja battling massive Ninja hordes and a final silver masked Ninja was all I needed to see as a kid to dub this the ultimate Ninja movie. On a personal Note Ninja 3 is a camp classic and the movie which I have included above, is mostly unrelated to either movie. Sho Kosugis appearances in all three films is the most realted key to bonding this movie series as a trilogy. Ninja three however was the `Supernatural part of the series. With hilarious spiritual possessions to floating swords (Visibly held up by strings!!) with laughable super jumps and Ninja moves this movie is by far the black sheep of the series but has to be seen for camp purposes alone.
I went on to rent what ever Ninja movies I could get my hands on but to be truthful none matched the first two installments of the Sho Kosugi series. Below are a couple of my most memorable rentals from the 80s. Maybe you may have seen some of these as well.
Pro Wrestling was NEXT!!
Martial arts characters were the next big thing so as Pro Wrestling does it adapts to what is popular at the time. All of a sudden Rick Steamboat became martial arts expert and ninja fighting Ricky The Dragon Steamboat. In one of the most notorious WWF skits of all time Steamboat during his Martial arts training battled Ninjas to prepare for his time in the WWF and to become the obviously Bruce Lee inspired Dragon character. Watch as Ricky is at the temple of Ching Lao (Not kidding) Wrestling fans bow your head in shame at this Colliseum Video exclusive…always wanted to say that! As Mean Gene says in this promo Absolutely Brutal. Enjoy.
Wrestling would not let go of the Ninja concept and brought them back repeatedly. Lets go though a few of the most famous Ninja types in the wrestling world.
Avatar: Journey Man wrestler Al Snow entered the WWF back in the day in a Video game inspired Ninja gimmick named Avatar. Avatar would be short lived and was actually the one of the few masked wrestlers who took OFF his mask to wrestle. This gimmick was inspired by the Sega hit video game Shinobi and blatantly the japanese wrestler Hayabusa.
Next on the list of famous Wrestling Ninjas is Kato of the Orient Express! AWA veteran Paul Diamond once teamed with Pat Tanaka to form Badd Company and went on to win the AWA tag team championships. When Tanaka went to the WWF he was partnered with Akio Sato to form the Orient express. Sato however soon disappeared from the WWF and Tanaka was missing a partner. WWF called up Paul Diamond, put him under a mask and gave him a very quick Ninja make over to once again reform The New Orient Express even though neither man was from The Orient.
Go to the 54:06 mark of this video to see The Orient Express vs. The Legion Of Doom! You are WELCOME!
We can go on shall we..Next KWANG The Ninja!! When Savio Vega was the mist spitting KWANG..The Ninja…Hiiiiii yaaa!
I am thinking at this point that you are getting the point. Ninjas were alive and well in pro wrestling. Most of these gimmicks we hope to forget or laugh about however wrestling at times did the Ninja gimmick right and one name from my childhood always makes me smile knowing that Ninjas were cool and The Great Muta was proof. Muta was a dead serious Japanese wrestler with the most innovative offense for the mid to late 80s.
Here is the debut of WCW NWA super Ninja The Great Muta!!
Ahhh…screw it..one more..More Muta!!
Ninjas were hitting Video games in a HUGE way as well..
Ninja games for systems as far back as The Commodore 64 computer system. Games such as Ninja and The Last Ninja were some forgotten gems in the early days of video gaming. Ninja was instantly addictive as you went from room to room in a Dojo like environment combating various other Ninjas and bad guys. The music is over the top and worth playing the game for!
The Last Ninja was a more traditional Ninja fighting game in the vain of the next two games we will mention for the NES and Sega Systems. The graphics layout was surprisingly well done. Your Ninja walked well designed paths and streets and battled your way through the regular set of bad guys. This games game play was outstanding for its day and if you had the console style controller for the Commodore 64 you could play the hell out of this classic! You can find this one on emulators all over the web with a simple search.!
Both Nintendo jumped all over the Ninja craze with competing games. Nintendo proudly pushed the Ninja Gaiden franchise while Sega pumped Shinobi. Both games had their merits but in one mans opinion Ninja Gaiden series was superior and it went on to have multiple sequels.
Nintendos Ninja Gaiden and Segas Shinobi were instant hits! Both series spawned sequels and as well many ties such as comic books and mini animations.
Ninja Gaiden featured smooth game play and a ultra difficult series of levels that left your hands crippled trying to complete that last jump on the mountain or to defeat that last level boss. The cut animation scenes were brilliant and very well done in the game and gave you a very authentic Ninja vibe. The way the character moved, looked and played out on the screen was pure Ninja in the palm of a fanboys hand. Take a look!
Shinobi was released from Nintendos primary competition SEGA and went head to head with Ninja Gaiden. However Shinobi lacked authenticity. Shinobi was slower , had average graphics but was decently fun. The sound track was something out of a pinball machine rather than a video game.
Both games live on today and are still spanning sequels. There are many more Ninja related games out there but you get the point.
One of my favorite ways to ingest my Ninja fix was through magazines and there were plenty of them to buy from Martial Arts, to Kung Fu to my personal favorite book simply titled NINJA!
Ninja magazine in particular was packed full of all things Ninja. It has Ninja fiction stories, it had actual combat training tips, movie reviews, the ads sold Ninja related swords, stars NunChucks Ninja suits, belts and everything else under the sun. These were great and if you can grab some issues on Ebay or online I would encourage the Ninja enthusiast to do so.
Inside Kung Fu to a lesser extent was just as useful. It wasnt always Ninjacentric but at times focused heavily on Ninjas and Ninja movies. Above are a few of the better issues. These magazines are particularly interesting as they focus on Sho Kosugi interviews and discuss behind the scenes of the Ninja trilogy and more. So if you have some spare dollars it would be spent wisely grabbing some old issues of famous Ninja magazines.
Ninjas help sell any magazines..even gaming magazines dragged out the Ninjas for a few extra sales!
A lot of Ninjadom spread into the lives of the nations youth as well. Cartoons and Action figures all were struck with the Ninja plague. Now kids from ages 5 and up could have their own Ninja adventures. Famous Martial artist and Movie Star extrordinaire Chuck Norris launched a kid friendly cartoon and comic book series called Chuck Norris and The Karate Kommandos which featured Ninjas regularly. Now you could get your Ninja fix on Saturday Mornings!
As well kids didnt forget to grab their action figures along the way as well!
Of course I would be remiss not to mention my personal favorite “Kid” friendly Ninja..Storm Shadow. GI Joe a creation of Hasbro toys in the 80s created one of the most popular toy lines of all in the day. GI Joe had its own injection of Ninja as well as we saw the coolest character of them all the White Cobra Ninja Storm Shadow!
Storm Shadow was and still remains one of the most sought after action figures along with his GI Joe antithesis SNAKE EYES. Both characters encapsulated everything that was cool about being a Ninja and their likenesses are still prominent in the minds of fan boys to this day!
Last but not least Ninjas pop up from time to time in some fashion all the time but one of the most enduring Ninja related franchises of all times actually belongs to the kids. No matter how many movies, games, action figures, wrestlers and magazines that are produced NOTHING will ever push the concept of the Ninja in more of a mainstream way than 4 turtles. Yes Turtles. TEENAGE MUTANT NINJA TURTLES to be exact! Comic book creators Eastman and Laird created a black and white indy comic book in the 80s that was more adult themed in its original concept but burned hot in the late 80s and early 90s when the TMNT cartoon show hit the airwaves and captured the imagination of kids all over the nation. Starting with the catchy theme song and ultra marketing machine Micheangelo, Leonardo, Donatello and Rapheal became household names and they were fun loving, foot soldier fightin, pizza eating Ninjas.
So there we have it..there’s your fist full of Ninja. Hope you enjoyed this trip down memory lane and all things Ninja. That`s all for now Heroes..now lets get back to the Satellite.
If you have enjoyed this blog post feel free to leave a comment as I will reply to them all. If you want to contact me directly catch me on Twitter as @charlton_hero, or join the conversation using #SuperHeroSatellite.