I love the ninja movies of Sho Kosugi. Back in the ‘80s, Kosugi’s name in the credits guaranteed at least two things: awesomely over-the-top ninja action and tons of bloody violence. At least that’s how I always remembered them. As we all know, those childhood memories don’t always hold up when revisiting movies you were so sure were classics. But I still hold a soft spot for Kosugi’s “Ninja trilogy,” three early ‘80s Cannon Films that were actually unrelated except for Kosugi’s presence as a ninja master in each.
Of the three, only one had been officially available on DVD (albeit in full frame), 1983’s Revenge of the Ninja. That one is the best of the bunch, followed by the only slightly less entertaining Ninja III: The Domination, currently unavailable on DVD (except as a low grade, quasi-legit import). Now MGM has made the film that started it all available as part of their “Limited Edition Collection.” Originally released in 1981, Enter the Ninja is “limited” alright – limited to the exact number of people who order it. This is a DVD-R release, manufactured on demand so as to fulfill only the exact number ordered.
It makes sense that some studios are doing this with their more obscure catalog titles. While it’s nice to have them available, it’s worth pointing out that at twenty bucks a pop they’re rather expensive considering they’re just DVD-Rs. Enter the Ninja has been enhanced for 16:9 TVs, but it’s a pretty subpar presentation overall. Dirt, scratches, and other print flaws are absolutely rampant throughout. Softness is an issue at times. I mean, if this thing was five bucks it might be easier to look the other way on such problems. But again, these DVD-R releases aren’t exactly a bargain so the poor quality control is worth noting.
As for the movie itself, I heartily proclaim Enter the Ninja the weakest of the so-called “Ninja trilogy.” For one thing, after the super cool opening sequence, Sho Kosugi is barely in it until the third act. By then, the leaden and confusing plot has made it difficult to be too enthusiastic about his reappearance. The majority of the movie centers on a newly anointed American ninja, Cole (Franco Nero). Cole goes to the Philippines to see his friend Frank (Alex Courtney). Frank and his wife (a very unhappy looking Susan George) are embroiled in some sort of property rights battle with Charles Venarious (Christopher George), a greedy businessman.
Even though I’ve seen Enter the Ninja multiple times, I have a hard time following the poorly told story. Venarious has some sort of vested interest in Frank and his wife’s land, though the couple has no intentions of parting with it. The presence of Cole, what with his ninja training, makes it considerably harder for Venarious to strong-arm Frank. That’s where Hasegawa (Kosugi) comes in. Hasegawa was involved in Cole’s training at the beginning. Cole humiliated him during Cole’s final test. As a result, Hasegawa is happy to take on Cole when hired by Venarious. I like all the fight scenes involving Hasegawa, unfortunately these are less than one third of the movie’s running time.
It’s all nonsense really, but there is a certain amount of nostalgic charm in revisiting Enter the Ninja. Today’s young audiences will probably be too bored to even find it laughable. I recommend finding a copy of Revenge of the Ninja instead of Enter if you’re looking for a supremely entertaining piece of schlock. Even though it’s 1.33:1, Revenge carries a lower price and at least it’s a real DVD.