Ten Ninja Movies. Six Bucks. One Blog Post.
We’re spoiled when it comes to movies these days.
Between Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime, and whatever other streaming services you use, it’s easier and easier to watch what you want, when you want. And that’s great! I mean, for just a couple bucks a month, you can have access to an unprecedented library of movies and TV shows, including a bunch of super-rad original programming. (Netflix’s Voltron series is arguably the best of the 80’s cartoon reboots, but that’s another blog post entirely).
And, just how the rise of iTunes and the MP3 drove CD sales down, so it goes with DVDs and other physical movie media.I’ve found this isn’t a purely economic thing: it’s personal. I have fond memories from when I was a kid, where I’d poke around the movie section of Borders or Sam Goody (dating myself, I know) and marvel at the rows and rows of VHS (might as well date myself more) on display. And, invariably, being a kid without much in the way of cash, I’d always have to leave something interesting-looking behind. And also being a broke-ass kid, I’d be sure to give the dollar bins a good rummage, which led to wonderful discoveries such as Sonny Chiba’s The Street Fighter.
Maybe it’s just nostalgia talking, but these days I’ve found it harder and harder to replicate that feeling. I mean, even when you can find a store that sells DVDs, the selection’s usually not nearly as broad as one could hope. And heck, even then, most of the time there isn’t anything to really catch my interest. It’s a lot of “well, I could drop a couple bucks on this … or I could just watch another Shaw Bros movie on Netflix instead.” First world problems, I know.
Sometimes there are exceptions.
A couple weeks ago, I was perusing the movie racks at a random ‘retro’ gaming store. Nothing really caught my attention (even if I was tempted to pick up the entire run of The Vision of Escaflowne on VHS for like 20 dollars) until the point a friend of mine brought a particular DVD set to my attention.
NINJA COLLECTION VOLUME 1.
Ten ninja movies for six dollars. That comes out to sixty cents per movie. I’d never heard of any of the films on the back, but that just makes it more of a surprise, right? With titles like Purple Hood Ninja and Purple Hood Ninja 2, I honestly couldn’t pass it up. Last week, I started throwing the discs into my DVD player to see what was up. And for the most part, the movies fell into one of three categories.
The first six films on the list are basically old samurai (or “chanbara,” if you wanna use the fancy term) flicks which are sometimes about ninjas. For the record, the Purple Hood Ninja movies were originally titled The Man in the Purple Hood— basically a samurai Robin Hood. Fun stuff. My only real complaint with most of these is that they’re subtitled. This is probably the only time I’ll complain about subtitles– mostly because when I’m in the mood to watch a bad ninja movie, I like to putter around and do other stuff as well, something you can’t easily do when you have to keep your eyes on the screen to understand the dialogue. Not that there’s much in the way of plot to miss, really, but it’s a matter of principle.
The next three movies (Ninja Power Force, Ninja Kids Phantom Force, and Golden Ninja Invasion) are Godfrey Ho movies. I imagine most of you are going “who?” but hopefully there’s at least one reader who got really excited to learn that.
In a nutshell, Godfrey Ho is the Ed Wood of Asia. During the ninja craze of the 80’s, Godfrey Ho realized there was a huge, huge market for ninja movies in the west. Furthermore, Ho soon came to the realization that ninja movies inexplicably starring white guys would sell better.
His solution? Take footage from a low-budget Hong Kong film (usually gangster movies of some stripe) and then film even-lower-budget ninja scenes, which he would then insert into the movie at random. As one could expect, this results in an incomprehensible mess of a movie, which only gets worse (or better, depending on your viewpoint) when the ninjas often looked like this.
Godfrey Ho released over a hundred movies like this– so many that even he doesn’t remember how many godawful ninja movies he cranked out. But hey, a buck’s a buck, right? I’m honestly kind of surprised none of his movies have gotten the MST3K treatment, ’cause seriously, they’re pretty much perfect movie-spoof material.
This brings us to the last movie in the collection, and honestly the single flick that made this whole DVD set worth it.
The movies in this set are in an ostensibly chronological order– historical chanbara movies first, then the modern day ridiculousness of Godfrey Ho … and then we veer way off into sci-fi territory with Cyber Ninja.
Cyber Ninja is a movie that delivers on its premise from the start. Set in some kind of inexplicably future-feudal wasteland, it’s a movie about … well, a cybernetic ninja. There’s an army of robot ninjas fighting a scrappy human resistance movement, and tanks shaped like Japanese castles, and a princess who gets kidnapped, and something about an evil demon tree … it’s pretty much a feature-length episode of Power Rangers. Only there’s no shoehorned in subplots about teens with attitude learning about friendship or whatever. Cyber Ninja doesn’t have time for that, when its runtime is better devoted to dudes in foam rubber robot suits murdering each other with swords. Cyber Ninja knows what you came for, and it gives you exactly that.
I respect that in a film.
The whole mechanical samurai aesthetic makes Cyber Ninja feel like the movie version of a Nintendo game. Which, upon a little research, it was. Well, not Nintendo specifically, but the movie was co-produced by the Japanese video game company, Namco. There was even a Cyber Ninja (known as Mirai Ninja, or “Future Ninja” if you want to translate it) arcade game released in Japan that never came out in the states. If I get really ambitious I might see about trying to play it on an emulator, but I fear it wouldn’t be nearly as fun as just watching Cyber Ninja again instead.
The best part about this ninja movie set is the sheer randomness of it all. Not only are the movies gloriously obscure (and therefore far less likely to be spoiled by internet chatter), but each one is unpredictable, and occasionally surreal. It’s a far cry from how every big Hollywood movie seems to follow the same plot arc nowadays.
Sadly, it appears that they never made a NINJA COLLECTION VOLUME 2. Guess I’ll just have to search for Sonny Chiba movies on Netflix instead.