While the Ninja has become a pop culture oddity in the recent years, famously equated today as being a best-selling juice blender, in the 1980's the ninja was understood as a Eastern martial arts badass.
And yet most American's really have no idea about what a ninja exactly is. Whereas, the United States military have special-ops soldiers, sharp-shooters etc. for special situations in combat, in the feudal Japan of the 15th-17th centuries the ninja were elite-trained warrior (s) who cloaked themselves in secretive wares and set out on special missions of warfare, sabotage, espionage and assassination. The Eastern martial arts and military have always prided themselves on honor, and at most times, philosophy. Yet the ninja-warriors' key to efficiency has been their unscrupulous detachment from honor. The ninja is a dirty fighter and his goal is succinct with his mission--to accomplish it by any means necessary.
While many will argue that the portrayal of the ninja in the movies of the 1980's was over-exaggerated, in part because of the warriors magical powers often given to them--this likely stems from the notion of mystical powers given to martial artists in the Hong Kong films of the Shaw Brothers of the '70s--the ninja, still, has become a canonized warrior of sorts to the generation of American kids who grew up in the 1980's. The ninja films of the 80's
inspired kids to explore their intrigue into martial arts, regardless of their propensity for portraying any element of reality, as well as given them a desire to buy a throwing star. Why? Because throwing stars are kick ass, that's why.
What follows is a list of our favorite ninja movies of the 1980's (and in no particular order):
Enter The Ninja (1981)
Produced by Cannon Films and written by Elvis Presley's former martial arts instructor/friend Mike Stone, Enter the Ninja
serves as the perfect example of the East-meets-West martial arts movie. Perhaps, one of the earliest incarnations of the American ninja movie (produced in 1981), Enter the Ninja
stars Spaghetti Western superstar Franco Nero alongside Sho Kosugi. Kosugi's name would become synonymous with the ninja genre in the American cinema of the 80's and he would often times play the evil or bad ninja or the good ninja vigilante warrior out for revenge in the era when the revenge film was king. Enter the Ninja
is the story of a Westerner martial artist who travels to the Philippines to see an old war buddy, only to discover that he's having some trouble with a local business owner who wants to buy him out for his land. Refusing to sell, the business owner's thugs begin to muscle him causing the Westerner aka "Cole" to take a stand and fight.
Those will a curiosity about Enter the Ninja can watch the film here
in its entirety for free.
Revenge of the Ninja (1983)
Produced by Cannon Films, Revenge of the Ninja
sees the return of ninja actor Sho Kosugi. While Revenge of the Ninja
is often equated as being a sequel to Enter the Ninja,
it isn't in story, only perhaps, in the idea that Kosugi returns to the big screen as a ninja warrior hell-bent on seeking out revenge ala Death Wish
against those who slaughtered his entire family in Japan, while Kosugi has been away.
American Ninja (1985)
Produced, yet again, by Cannon Films. American Ninja
is perhaps the first completely Western ninja movie
. Featuring actors Michael Dudikoff and Steve James as two military rebels who go up against the Black Star Order of ninjas while stationed in the Philippines. American Ninja
features one of the greatest scenes ever put on film. A team of ninjas attack Dudikoff in the jungle, they all shoot at him with bow and arrow. With multiple arrows flying toward him, Dudikoff grabs a shovel and as the arrows are about to hit him, he manages to shift the angle of the shovel's wooden handle causing all of the arrows to stick in the handle of the shovel all at once. It's amazing.
Ninja III: The Domination (1984)
Produced, once again, by Cannon Films. Ninja III
, again, features Sho Kosugi as well as pretends to be a sequel to both Enter the Ninja
and Revenge of the Ninja
. This time around, the ninja mysticism comes into play in what is perhaps the most over-the-top and crazed ninja movie of the 80's. A ninja is sent to America to assassinate a high official. Although the ninja succeeds in his mission, he does not get away as the film opens with a chase sequence that rivals the car chase in Bullitt
(1968). The ninja is killed by dozens of Los Angeles police officers, but before everything is all over, his spirit descends into the body of a telephone technician who just happens to witness it all hanging up above on a telephone pole at work one day. The ninja's spirit slowly overtakes her body and one-by-one the woman telephone tech becomes the most lethal ninja assassin of all time as she cloaks herself in the ninja outfit and sets out to exact revenge on all the L.A. police officers that destroyed the assassin in physical form.
Confused? It makes total sense as you're watching the film. Sho Kosugi returns as a ninja bounty-hunter who sets out to investigate the death of the ninja, and in the end--the ninja must destroy the other ninja. It's basically a masterpiece of the 1980's, while at the same time mixing Western ninja lore with over-the-top crazed early '70s Shaw Brothers horror ninja/martial arts theatrics.
Pray for Death (1985)
As the king of Western martial arts/ninja movies Sho Kosugi returns in Pray for Death.
Kosugi plays "Akira" a former ninja in Japan who has sworn off the ninja life after a traumatic fight against his own brother. Married to a Westerner, Akira decides to leave Japan and move to America. He opens a Japanese restaurant with his family through the widow of a former American friend
. Throw in some corrupt cops who hassle him as well as the mob, and Akira is forced to defend his family the only way he knows how. The art of the ninja must return to him in order to keep his family safe. And what will he do to those that are threatening his family? Well, the title of the film says it all, doesn't it?