Film Review: Pray For Death (1985)

Release Date: August 9th, 1985
Directed by: Gordon Hessler
Written by: James Booth
Music by: Thomas Chase
Cast: Sho Kosugi, Norman Burton, James Booth, Kane Kosugi, Donna Kei Benz, Michael Constantine

Transworld Entertainment, 92 Minutes

Review:

“I’m going to burn your kid like a roman candle.” – Limehouse

After three awesome ninja movies for Cannon Films, quintessential 80s ninja action star Sho Kosugi took his talents to Transworld Entertainment to make Pray For Death. This, more than his other Cannon films, felt like a true spiritual sequel to Revenge of the Ninja, Kosugi’s greatest movie. This is a pretty close second to that film but doesn’t quite measure up to it.

The story actually isn’t even that different from Revenge of the Ninja. In this movie, Kosugi moves his family to America to start a new life away from his ninja past. The family opens their own business, a restaurant. They quickly have a beef with some mobsters. One of Kosugi’s kids (played by his real life kids) is kidnapped. Then his wife and one of his kids is rundown by mobsters in a car. His wife is then murdered in the hospital. Kosugi finally straps on his ninja gear and goes Ginsu City all over Houston, Texas.

While the Texas setting didn’t give us a cowboys versus ninjas scenario like one would hope, it still gave us a sole bad ass ninja against a bunch of evil mobsters. Although, there is that amazing scene where Kosugi literally flips over some hillbilly gangsters in a beat up pickup truck. That should have been nominated for the Brass Balls Stunt of the Year Award in 1985 but I just made that award up and I didn’t have the money to make my own trophies in 1985 because I was six. But maybe I’ll make it and mail it to Kosugi now.

Pray For Death is not the epic ninja masterpiece that Revenge of the Ninja is but it is pretty close. It doesn’t have as much action as Revenge but it is heavier on the drama and family elements of the story. Also, it doesn’t have the insane and lengthy ninja battle that capped off Revenge. Regardless, it is still one of the greatest cut’em up ninja flicks of the 1980s. Plus, any film that makes Kosugi the focal point, benefits greatly. Enter The Ninja and Ninja III: The Domination lacked when compared to Revenge and this film, simply because Kosugi wasn’t the main character and just more of a glorified cameo.

I love Pray For Death. For a film that wasn’t made by Cannon, it certainly feels like it was.

Rating: 7.5/10

Film Review: Revenge of the Ninja (1983)

Release Date: September 7th, 1983
Directed by: Sam Firstenberg
Written by: James Silke
Music by: W. Michael Lewis, Laurin Rinder, Robert J. Walsh
Cast: Sho Kosugi, Keith Vitali, Virgil Frye, Kane Kosugi, Professor Toru Tanaka

Cannon Film Distributors, 90 Minutes

Review:

Any motion picture that starts with a kid getting a Chinese star to the face is my kind of movie!

Now I have probably seen this thing a dozen times but the last time I watched it was in the late 90s. In the 80s though, my cousin Billy and I used to rent this movie from the Movie Van all the time. He was way more into martial arts than I was. At least, he stuck with it long enough to actually compete. He even had a wall of trophies. I bet he could’ve beat that little twerp LaRusso!

As kids, this movie was great. One, it had friggin’ ninjas! Two, it had really violent ninjas! Those two things will make any red blooded bacon eating American boy jump for joy while fist pumping to Def Leppard tunes!

They don’t make pictures like this for kids anymore. Granted, it was rated R but it was a movie all the boys in the 80s couldn’t get enough of. Besides, our parents didn’t care what we watched, as long as we weren’t putting shuriken through grandma’s cats.

Watching this film now, I still feel the same way. Revenge of the Ninja is a bad ass film. In fact, it is so bad ass that it physically hurts. But it hurts in a good way, like when you wake up with your arms aching because you power-lifted the day before and it’s been six years since you’ve even seen a gym.

The film stars Sho Kosugi, who is the greatest ninja actor of all-time. It also stars his tiny son, who is also capable of kicking the bejesus out of anyone… and he does. Kosugi starred in a string of ninja movies in the 1980s. This is actually the second film in a loose trilogy referred to as The Ninja Trilogy, unofficially. The first film being Enter The Ninja, which also stars Django himself Franco Nero, and Ninja III: The Domination. All three films star Kosugi and were produced by the awesome Cannon Films.

The plot to this thing is interesting. Kosugi’s movie family is murdered by ninjas except for his mom and his baby. His American friend convinces him to go to America to sell Japanese dolls. Kosugi does this but we learn that the dolls are used to smuggle heroin into the States. The baby, who is now a bit bigger than a toddler, finds this out, even though he doesn’t know what the mysterious powder is. Kosugi has to fight thugs, then a mysterious silver-faced ninja shows up and we get a big ninja versus ninja finale on a downtown rooftop.

One of the coolest things about this movie is the action. Kosugi is a master of execution in both the delivery of his sweet moves and how he takes out the baddies. Also, the film features a car chase where one of the cars is Kosugi on his feet! A ninja on foot is just as effective as Steve McQueen’s car from Bullitt!

I was worried that this film would play like crap, all these years later. I was pleasantly surprised to find out that I still love it. In fact, I’m pumped to watch the other two films in the Cannon Ninja Trilogy.

Rating: 8/10

Film Review: Godzilla: Final Wars (2004)

Also known as: Gojira: Fainaru Wōzu (Japan)
Release Date: November 29th, 2004 (World Premiere)
Directed by: Ryuhei Kitamura
Written by: Isao Kiriyama, Wataru Mimura
Music by: Keith Emerson, Nobuhiko Morino, Daisuke Yano
Cast: Masahiro Matsuoka, Rei Kikukawa, Don Frye, Maki Mizuno, Kazuki Kitamura, Kane Kosugi, Jun Kunimura, Akira Takarada, Tsutomu Kitagawa

Toho, 125 Minutes

godzillafinalwarsReview:

Godzilla: Final Wars, which came out in 2004, was the last of the Godzilla films to come out of Japan (until 2016’s Shin Gojira). Additionally, it was made to commemorate the 50th anniversary of Godzilla. In doing so, the filmmakers at Toho decided to throw just about every monster they have ever created into this one movie. That being said, the word “epic” is a vast understatement to what this film was. Although, just so we’re clear, epic isn’t a synonym for “good”.

This film was at times glorious and at times hard to look at. The plot was recycled Godzilla shtick: alien race comes to Earth, alien race tricks people, alien race brainwashes monsters, alien race turns monsters against us, alien race makes monsters attack world capitals, Godzilla shows up, bigger mayhem ensues. Now I’m not knocking the formula because frankly, I don’t care that much about what the story is, as long as big monsters get to tear the crap out of each other for my enjoyment.

That being said, never has there been more kaiju violence in one place than in this film. Once Godzilla is reintroduced to us after his exile, he goes ape shit and runs through every monster like he’s playing Mortal Kombat III. Every second of Godzilla bad assery, I loved. It completely rectified any flaw that this film had and it went on for what seemed like forever. It was like a kaiju Royal Rumble match and Godzilla was that big unstoppable hero who drew number 30 – only to show up late to the party fresh and ready to crack every skull.

So what was wrong with the film? Well, in some instances, monsters were dudes in traditional rubber suits. In other instances, monsters were 100 percent CGI. The mixture of CGI vs. rubber monsters was odd and it just didn’t click. I’ve always been a fan of practical effects, although CGI doesn’t entirely irritate me. However, to mix the two so blatantly and so poorly kind of magnifies the flaws in both. Where effects should blend in and look real, having two differing styles together on the screen, at the same time, makes both styles look worse. I get that this was probably a cost-cutting measure due to the immensity and scope of this film but c’mon, the Godzilla franchise has made billions in fifty years. They could’ve fattened the budget a bit more or just cut out half of the unnecessary human versus alien special effects segments, which wouldn’t be horribly missed.

Speaking of which, the human parts of the film just felt like a really bad Underworld rip-off, which is itself a really bad Matrix rip-off. I liked how they structured the general plot but most of it was over-the-top and kind of tedious to watch. The only real highlight was the American general who looked like a thicker Tom Selleck with a generic American tough guy voice. He was certainly a caricature of what Japanese people see from a blockbuster bad ass American military leader but it worked. He was also played by MMA legend and pro-wrestling bad ass, Don Frye.

This isn’t what I’d call a good film or even close to being the best in the Godzilla mythos but it was supremely enjoyable and a bit of a gem in regards to the non-stop kaiju violence. In the end, I was more than satisfied.

Besides, if you love Godzilla, you aren’t going to let a few flaws ruin the movie.

Rating: 7/10

TV Review: Ninja Sentai Kakuranger (1994-1995)

Original Run: February 18th, 1994 – February 24th, 1995 (Japan)
Created by: Toei Company
Directed by: various
Written by: various
Music by: Eiji Kawamura
Cast: Teruaki Ogawa, Satomi Hirose, Hiroshi Tsuchida, Shu Kawai, Kane Kosugi

Toei Company, 53 Episodes, 25 Minutes (per episode)

kakurangerReview:

After watching Kyōryū Sentai Zyuranger and Gosei Sentai Dairanger, I had to give the next installment Ninja Sentai Kakuranger a shot.

This series, like its predecessors, was used for footage in the American Power Rangers franchise. Kakuranger was used as the basis for the third season of Mighty Morphin Power Rangers, as well as its direct sequel Mighty Morphin Alien Rangers.

Initially, I didn’t like this series as much as its two predecessors. Sure, ninjas are friggin’ awesome and everyone loves them but it took too long for things to get going. Also, the early monsters in the series just weren’t that cool. To be brutally honest, they looked like the spawn of Garbage Pail Kids that mated with those really bad old school Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles figures that just sat on shelves forever because they were too ugly and bizarre for kids to take home. You know, when the Ninja Turtles toy line was trying to milk every dollar, so they made a slew of awful characters or weird versions of existing characters because they were out of ideas. Maybe the Sentai creative team was out of ideas too. But the concept of using Youkai (Japanese monsters from folklore) was a cool direction. The problem was that the first several Youkai were just unimaginative and unsightly.

As the series progressed, we met the villain Young Noble Junior (“Gashadokuro” in Japanese). He immediately became my favorite villain in the franchise out of the stuff I’ve seen. He was cool and a bad ass heavy metal rocker that was trying to crush the Kakurangers and resurrect his father, Daimaou – another really cool villain. He also has a few great musical numbers.

Young Noble Junior only lasts during the middle of the series though. Once his father shows up, the focus is then on him for the remainder of the story. However, Young Noble Junior’s coolness might be eclipsed by the evil all-female Sentai group, Flowery Kunoichi Team. These were cat-themed female ninja assassins who looked cool as hell and who had a ton of awesome moments throughout the Kakuranger series.

As far as the Kakurangers themselves, they didn’t feel all that developed until around the midpoint of the series. Over the course of a half dozen episodes, the team split up and had to go on solo quests. These episodes were, by far, some of my favorite out of any Sentai series. This is where the Kakurangers came to life, as each had to battle their own demons in an effort to earn their own powerful scroll: the MacGuffin of the series, as it was needed to defeat Daimaou.

The series tapered off as it got towards the grand finale and it never recovered the great formula it had in the middle of its long duration. In the end however, it was still a mostly positive experience. The show just had a lot of creative hiccups throughout its run.

Rating: 7/10