Why were ninjas so big in the eighties? The credit belongs largely to one man: Sho Kosugi. Sho actually knew ninjitsu, the martial art practiced by ninjas. Beginning with Enter the Ninja (1981), he starred in a series of popular ninja films that did big business for much of the decade. Although Enter the Ninja is not devoid of charm, it’s basically a standard-issue eighties action movie. It’s competently made, has a dumb but passable storyline, and boasts some decent action sequences. Still, this is the movie that made it cool to run around in your pajamas while carrying a sword.
Enter was a hit, and Sho followed it up with Revenge of the Ninja in 1983. In 1984, the ninja formula was expanded to include elements of horror and Flashdance (which is kind of redundant, I guess) in Ninja III: The Domination. Each film was progressively cheaper and sillier, culminating in one of the best bad films ever made: 9 Deaths of the Ninja (1985). From the opening credits sequence, where three girls in skimpy outfits aerobiscise to a terrible eighties pop song while Kosugi swings his sword around, it’s clear that this is something special. Kosugi is his usual bad-ass ninja self, but Blackie Dammett (father of Red Hot Chili Pepper Anthony Keidis) steals the movie as the wheelchair-bound German drug dealer “Alby the Cruel”. Alby’s gang consists of a band of lesbian mercenaries and Arab terrorist Rahji (Sonny Erang), who proves how evil he is by popping some kids’ balloons.
Sho kept appearing in films through the end of the eighties, notably Pray For Death (1985), Rage of Honor (1987), and the Rutger Hauer vehicle Blind Justice (1989), but by the nineties his star had faded. For whatever reason, ninjas just weren’t cool anymore, at least in
The amazing opening credits sequence from 9 Deaths of the Ninja:
Trailer for Ninja Assassin: