Ninja Wars (1982)

Ninja Wars (1982)- * * *

Directed by: Kosei Sato

Starring: Hiroyuki Sanada, Noriko Watanabe, and Akira Nakao and Sonny Chiba

Set in the Japan of the past, Ninja Wars tells the tale of Jotaro (Sanada) and Kagaribi (Watanabe) - two lovers whose lives are violently interrupted by the evil Lord Danjo (Nakao). Because of what he’s been told, he believes that if he marries Lady Ukyo (also Watanabe), he will be the ultimate ruler of Japan, if not the world. The problem is, he needs to make his own aphrodisiac in order to seduce her, so he kidnaps her sister, who happens to be Kagaribi. Her tears are a vital ingredient in the potion. Jotaro is not happy about this and goes on a quest to find her and rescue her, but he has to contend not just with Lord Danjo, but also his henchmen, known as the Five Devil Monks. Thankfully, Jotaro is a ninja, and he will need his skills to strike back at the power-mad Danjo and his axis of evil. Will he succeed?

Ninja Wars opens with a freeze frame, which is a promising start to a fine film - normally we’re satisfied with a movie that ends with one. But that detail aside, The Ninja Wars (or simply Ninja Wars as the big-box Prism VHS that we saw calls it - apparently the “the” was too cumbersome for them) is a very well-shot, traditional Japanese period piece. But it also is chock full of weird, wacky and off-kilter ideas. It has a lot of the ninja weaponry and costuming we’ve come to expect, and seeing as how it is actually Japanese (as opposed to the many knockoffs which aren’t), it commands more respect from the viewer.

The movie fluctuates back and forth between a serious drama, complete with beautiful costumes, wonderful sets, and the aforementioned excellent cinematography, and a bizarre, fairy tale-like flight of fancy, which the flying ninjas, strange weapons, and items like the “Crescent Sword Technique”, which is like an ancient light saber, only serve to reinforce. The dubbing on the VHS is highly ridiculous at times, especially the monks, who with their ridiculous gravelly voices sound like Cookie Monster. There are many spoken moments familiar to viewers who have seen dubbing jobs like this before: take note of the “HA-HA-HA-HA!!!” laughter by Lord Danjo and you’ll know what we mean. Speaking of the Devil Monks, apparently (at least one of them) pioneered the afro haircut. They were evil henchmen, and fashion-forward.

Ninja Wars was a Toei production, known today mainly for having a barely-noticeable appearance by Sonny Chiba. We didn’t even know he was in the movie before going into it, and frankly, it doesn’t matter. We were mainly drawn in by the amazing box art, and during the golden age of the video store, when the Ninja Boom was in full swing, you had to do something to stand out from the many competitors. Prism definitely did. But the fact is, Ninja Wars is more than a simple ninja movie, and couldn’t be farther away from the epics of Godfrey Ho. Granted, we like Godfrey Ho, but this really shows the range and diversity even within the Ninja Boom, that we could get things on opposite ends of the spectrum like this and one of Ho’s movies. That’s one of the reasons why ninja movies of the 80’s are well worth exploring today. Like a lot of movies of any kind, however, Ninja Wars loses a bit of steam towards the end, but it’s still well worth checking out.

For a Ninja Boom-era movie with more, Ninja Wars should be what you’re looking for, and now that it’s on DVD, it’s easier to find than ever before.

Comeuppance Review by: Brett and Ty

Also check out a write-up from our buddy, The Video Vacuum! 


Terminator Woman (1993)

Terminator Woman (1993)- * * *

Directed by: Michel Quissi

Starring: Karen Sheperd, Jerry Trimble, Michel Quissi, Ashley Hayden, and Ted Le Pat

Sgt. Jay Handlin (Trimble) and Sgt. Julie Parish (Sheperd) are cops with an ongoing rivalry about who is the better Martial Artist - but could there be some sparks flying in the romantic department as well? In the midst of trying to figure these things out, the pair travel to Africa of all places to try and bring down crime lord Alex Gatelee (Qissi). Consequently, they get into a ton of fights and face some other trials and tribulations - Julie is kidnapped, Jay has to reject the advances of Gatelee associate Myra Bolo (Hayden), and so forth. After enlisting the help of some locals, their Martial Arts abilities are truly put to the test when they face the ultimate showdown - Gatelee himself, of course. Will Jay be Handlin business? Find out today...?

Terminator Woman, not to be confused with Lady Terminator (1989), is professionally-shot and competently made - could it be a coincidence that this was not one of Trimble’s Roger Corman-produced actioners? That being said, the pacing is off and things get a bit dull at times. If about 10 minutes were lopped off, this whole outing might have a bit more verve to it. But the leads are all top-notch: You’ve got fan-favorite Trimble, who, in the most complimentary sense, resembles a more meatheady Emilio Estevez, and his trademark raspy voice is instantly recognizable. Then you’ve got fellow fan-favorite Sheperd, an enjoyable screen presence whose Martial Arts skill is excellent and wonderfully captured here. Finally, there’s Qissi, who also directed the movie, who very convincingly plays the baddie. So those are the movie’s strengths and weaknesses for you, and they fight it out - like everyone else on screen - throughout the running time.

Generally speaking, we don’t really care for ‘Africa Slogs’, as we call them, but this one is tolerable, thanks mainly to the aforementioned leads. The Trimble/Sheperd team up was an inspired choice, and it might remind you of similar pairings, such as Richard Norton and Cynthia Rothrock in the Rage and Honor diptych, or Steven Vincent Leigh and Sophia Crawford in Sword of Honor (1996). If nothing else, the movie as a whole plays to the strengths of the leads, and there are plenty of fights - as well as some good-natured stupidity - to prove that.

The whole thing is very 90’s - just witness the scenes at the Backlash club for proof. Maybe it’s an Africa thing, or maybe it’s an action movie thing, but it’s hard to imagine a dance club in the U.S. being named “Backlash”. It’s a bit too angry for us. Judging by the large “TW” logo on the U.S. VHS box art, perhaps the filmmakers were attempting a bit of branding: this is the one and only TW, and in their ideal world, people would ask each other around the water cooler, “have you seen the latest TW movie? I did, and it was awesome.” Latest, because surely more TW’s were planned. As it stands, presumably Sheperd is the TW, but the movie isn’t solely about her and her quest. Trimble is an equal part, and they didn’t call the movie “Terminator Man” - though, to be fair, Steve Railsback is the true Termination Man. Schwarzenegger ranks somewhere in there too, I’m sure.

In the midst of all the action, Trimble finds time to do a spontaneous shirtless Martial Arts workout/display alone in his hotel room whilst wearing tight jeans. The only outfit a 90’s action star needs.

Comeuppance Review by: Brett and Ty

Also check out write-ups from our buddies, DTVC and The Video Vacuum!