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Ninjas Descend on Pasadena! FOG! Meets With The Legendary Sho Kosugi

Guest writer Jason McNeil (left), with the legendary Sho Kosugi

On an unusually muggy Saturday afternoon in mid-August, Pasadena, California – perhaps best-known for being the sleepy, affluent Los Angeles suburb that gifted the world Van Halen – played host to a veritable flood of ninja movie fans, who packed the sidewalks as well as a store and screening room, all in anticipation of the arrival of the “most famous ninja” of all time, SHO KOSUGI!

If you’re a fan of martial arts action films and, specifically, 80s ninja movies (and – seriously – who isn’t?), then you already know who Sho Kosugi is! Which saves us a bit of introduction but, just on the off-chance that there might be one of two ninja movie neophytes out there amongst the readers, here’s the short version:

In the 80’s ninjas were seemingly EVERYWHERE! On the big screen, small screens, magazines, martial arts catalogs and dojos – the media dubbed the phenomenon “NINJAMANIA” and it was as much an omnipresent theme of 80s pop culture as acid washed denim and hair  metal!

In the midst of all this stood actor, martial artist, stuntman and “sudden celebrity” Sho Kosugi, who launched the “shinobi tidal wave” playing the “bad guy” ninja opposite Franco Nero in Cannon Films 1981 groundbreaking Enter the Ninja, followed by stepping into the “good guy ninja” split toed tabi shoes in the 1983 follow-up Revenge of the Ninja; then as the sort of Ninja Obi-Wan Kenobi to Lucinda Dickey’s “aerobics instructor hottie who is possessed by an evil ninja, sort of Linda Blair/Exorcist style, but with spandex and leg warmers” in the 1984 cult classic Ninja 3: The Domination.

Riding his wave of new-found shadow warrior superstardom, Sho Kosugi decided to stretch as an actor and action star, playing a secret agent opposite Jean Claude Van Damme in Black Eagle, as a ninja James Bond fighting the drug war in Rage of Honor, as TV series bad guy ninja, Okasa, stalking Lee Van Cleef every week in The Master and numerous other cinematic outings – including Pray for Death, which the massive crowd of Pasadenans lined up outside to see, with Sho, himself, attending the screening and doing a Q&A, afterward!

But first, the raison d’etre: THE NINJA STORE!

Partnering up with Pasadena’s “Republic of Lucha,” Sho Kosugi has opened SHO KOSUGI’S REPUBLIC OF NINJA, an awesome store packed to the gills with all the things a ninja movie fan might want to buy, covet or even just look at! In addition to both new and some vintage Ninja movie merchandise – heavy on T-shirts, posters, magazines and the odd ninja gadgetry, the store also boasts a HUGE display of movie-used props, weapons and costumes from Kosugi’s personal collection, as well as more than a dozen original theatrical posters (also from Sho’s personal collection.)

Note: While the awesome ninja merch will abide, the prop weapons and posters will rotate in and out. If you can’t rush over and see them right now, them just give the store a call or drop them a note – they’re all over social media – and find out what’s the best when to plan your visit/shopping trip.

Following the “store opening event,” which lasted from noon until roughly 3 PM and during which Sho told lots of amazing stories, took fan/audience questions and even gave an unexpected and goosebumps-inducing demonstration of the “Nine Levels of Power” finger knitting exercise combined with and empty hand kata, fans dispersed for a few hours, then reconvened for a “Special Screening” of Sho’s classic film, Pray for Death (1985.)

On the off chance that you haven’t seen Pray for Death…..

#1. Shame on you!

#2. Please enjoy the accompanying review

#3. Remedy that, immediately. There are new and used DVDs all over eBay, and its streaming on several platforms.

Pray for Death
Produced by Don Van Atta
Written by James Booth
Directed by Gordon Hessler
Starring Sho Kosugi, James Booth, Donna Kei Benz,
Norman Burton, Kane Kosugi, Shane Kosugi

Yes, this is a ninja movie, but it is also, clearly, Sho Kosugi taking the reins of his career and trying to stretch as an actor and action star. It keeps all the elements that Kosugi’s fans had come to love and expect, but throws them in a blender with more straightforward action hero fare.

The film starts out with exactly what the audience expects – Sho Kosugi clad in full black ninja gear, attacking a Japanese castle guarded by a couple of dozen  ninjas from what one presumes is a rival clan.” When Sho finally faces the bad guy, he’s wearing a Japanese “oni” demon mask and it feels like we’ve just stumbled into a cut scene from Revenge of the Ninja.

Then, victory achieved, baddie slain and sword sheathed, we pan back to see that the scene we just saw was, in fact, a TV show a couple of kids were watching. Nice bait and switch, Sho!

Ultimately, we discover that Kosugi’s character, while having been raised in a ninja clan (of course) chose to give up that life to get married, have a family and work a day job.

He takes an opportunity to move to America and open a restaurant – only to run afoul of some local mafia guys and crooked cops who mistakenly think Sho stole some of their stolen merchandise. So the American crooks threaten his family, kidnap his kid, put his family in the hospital, then go to the hospital to kill them……. Ultimately, Sho has no choice but to go “back into ninja mode” and take out all the bad guys that are threatening his family while the cops refuse to do anything about it.

Short version: This is Sho Kosugi as Liam Neeson in Taken, except it was in theaters a full two decades before Taken and Sho’s “very specific set of skills” involve a lot more swords, throwing stars and smoke bombs.   Overall, its a really good, very ambitious film that manages to be “ninja movie” at the beginning and end, book-ending a much more straightforward action movie in the middle.

A very cool mix of styles, and well worth watching.

FUN FACT: In Pray for Death, Sho’s two sons are played by… Sho’s two sons, Kane and Shane Kosugi.  Actually, in the pre-film Q&A,  Sho joked that he hates trying to put together fight choreography for famous actors, because they tend to be very difficult to please, and he added “That’s why I like to put my sons in movies, because they can’t tell me no!’ (laughs heartily…)

As the sun set, the shadows spread and the evening slid smoothly to its end like a sword slipping back into a shinobi scabbard, it was obvious that a great time was had by all, Sho answered more questions and signed more autographs, and a veritable tidal wave of ninja movie fans went home, smiling and recovering from a massive martial arts movie “geek out.”

Thanks, Kosugi-Sensei, thanks Sho Kosugi’s Republic of Ninja store and thanks as well to the city of Pasadena – though I’d be willing to bet the City Fathers has no idea of the black masked martial arts madness they had allowed to be unleashed! Perhaps its for the best.

Ninjas triumph when they stick to the shadows……

For more information about Sho Kosugi’s Republic of Ninja store, CLICK HERE, or call 626-460-6051

About the Author
Jason McNeil is an actor, writer and martial artist who has appeared in numerous movies and television shows, including as host of Stars-Stunts-Action! – taking you behind the scenes of action movies and martial arts entertainment! – now streaming on Tubi! You should totally watch it!

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