This week I followed an anonymous tip to take a look at an individual name Sho Kosugi. This guy starred in a series of ninja movies and was said to be a missing link in my badass studies to date. I looked him up and found that ENTER THE NINJA is also known as NINJA 1 because it begins a series, so I started with that.
The movie opens promisingly with the badass in question, Mr. Sho Kosugi, in full ninja uniform, standing in front of a black void, demonstrating every weapon he knows. Nunchakas, throwing stars, arrows, daggers, grappling hook, blow gun. You name it, he spins it around or shoots it. The guy is obviously good and it’s kind of cool how he is basically doing show and tell for you throughout the opening credits. It might as well be some Ninja How-To video. But then all the sudden a ninja in all white flies onto the screen and “kicks” him in the head (although it doesn’t look like he makes contact at all).
Then we go into the opening scene, where this White Ninja fights Sho Kosugi. I call him White Ninja because not only is he wearing all white, but you can tell by his eyes that he’s a white man. White Ninja faces Sho Kosugi and his men (red ninjas), who chase him through the woods, over a waterfall, into a temple where he bows to an old man and then chops off his head.
Up to this point there is no dialogue, no explanation. But I think it’s pretty clear what’s going on here. White Ninja is mad because everybody makes fun of him for being White Ninja. Nothing against us white men, but we are not the best ninjas, in my opinion. It’s just not one of the things we’re good at. So to shame him for his whiteness the other ninjas call him White Ninja and force him to wear an all white ninja outfit. This is clearly a mocking gesture because why the hell would you wear a white ninja outfit unless you were going to assassinate somebody in the snow, or in DMX’s all white apartment from BELLY? Otherwise you stick out like a sore thumb, as demonstrated when he runs through the trees. There’s a reason why polar bears live in the snow and brown bears live in the woods, but ninja logic doesn’t follow nature, I guess. It is anti-nature. My guess is they tricked him and told him that wearing all white means you’re the most powerful ninja. And he fell for it.
To be fair, an argument could be made for an all white ninja outfit being a “Just Don’t Give a Fuck” type of boastful ninja maneuver. As if to say I will wear an all white outfit and still disappear into the shadows. Maybe the rank of White Ninja is the second highest ninja honor behind Reflective Fluorescent Orange Ninja. Well, if so this White Ninja clearly didn’t earn that honor. He’s good for a white man, but as far as we can see he couldn’t even do 1/8 the shit Sho Kosugi did in his show and tell. This guy is a punk. Then he chops off an old man’s head.
Well don’t worry, turns out it’s all fake, it’s a trial for Ninja School. A final exam to prove that he’s a master of ninjitsu. Sho Kosugi’s character Hasegawa (namesake of former Seattle Mariner Shigatosi Hasegawa) though doesn’t agree that the white man should get this honor and he’s real pissed. And it’s no wonder, when White Ninja takes his mask off he turns out to be the Italian actor Franco Nero. Despite his ’70s white-karate style mustache, Franco Nero is not a martial artist or a master of ninjitsu, no matter what he may tell you. He knows less martial arts than Dolemite or Billy Jack in the first two BILLY JACK movies (including BORN LOSERS).
Now unmasked and openly mustached, White Civilian Ninja leaves Japan and goes to Manila. An old war buddy named Frank sent for help because some assholes are trying to squeeze him out of his property. So most of the movie is about Nero without his ninja outfit acting as a one man army warding off the various thugs that come after his buddy.
You can’t really take the movie very seriously because the casting is so phony. Why do so many movies take that route of wanting to show some culture, but only by having a white guy infiltrate that culture? Some day there will be AMERICAN SUMO starring James Gandolfini and THE LAST GEISHA starring Sandra Bullock. Anyway, at the end Nero has to face Sho Kosugi in a ninja duel and it’s just ridiculous. It’s like if Ben Affleck had to play a muay thai boxer who competes with Tony Jaa. And then not only would the plot call for Ben Affleck to win the duel, but Tony Jaa would announce that Affleck had beat him with honor and would ask him to cut off his head. I don’t buy that from Ben Affleck and I don’t buy it from Franco Nero. (Although Franco could take Ben, even now.)
That casting guarantees that the movie is mostly good for laughs, but director Menahem Golan (of the notorious Cannon Group, also directed DELTA FORCE) delivers all kinds of fun badass moments. There’s a good scene where Frank goes to talk with one of the guys who’s after his property. While he’s coming into the mansion White Ninja sneaks around (still not in ninja outfit) killing or knocking out all the security guys. Later, the bad guy signals for his security. Only six guys come out, he gets embarrassed and has to figure out what happened to the other 14. Then White Ninja and Frank only have to take on the remaining six.
After the big fight they go to the bar, where Frank reveals that lately he can’t get it up for his wife Mary Ann (Susan George). It’s kind of weird because okay, some guys are trying to steal your property, in that case you can call on the skills of a ninja. But now you’re telling him you can’t get it up? I don’t see how he can hel– oh. Wait a minute.
Indeed, Mary Ann uses her own amateur ninja skills to sneak into White Ninja’s bed. So you see, this really is a guy who travels around the world helping people.
Eventually the bad guys stop fucking around, they find out that White Ninja is a ninja so they hire their own, Hasegawa. Hasegawa kills Frank and kidnaps Mary Ann. White Ninja paces around the ranch yelling “Mary Ann! Mary Ann!” and then suddenly it cuts to him with the full ninja outfit armed with every sword, bow, blow gun, ninja star and smoke bomb he can carry. This is a hilarious cut because he hasn’t had the ninja outfit since the first scene in the movie. That’s the kind of badass momentum I like. Golan knows there is no need for the dramatic suiting up scene. You kidnap a woman, you gotta deal with a fuckin NINJA. In costume. That’s just what happens.
Now, on this particular mission of revenge, it turns out that the White Ninja costume really is useful. He sneaks into the villain’s building, which is lightly colored and lit naturally by sunlight. The white costume is more camouflaged than traditional black would’ve been. Plus, all the bad guys wear white suits, so if you saw White Ninja out of the corner of your eye you might think he works there. White Ninja needs that extra advantage because he is Nero, not a stunt double, and he’s not very graceful.
The bad guy isn’t there, but his right hand man tells White Ninja “Mr. Venarius has been expecting you.” They get in the car and drive to the cockfighting pit where, for some reason, Mr. Venarius is waiting. Even though everybody knows White Ninja’s name and what he looks like, he rides in the car wearing the full ninja costume and mask, which is awesome. Right hand man gets out of the car to tell Venarius they’ve arrived, and when he goes back to the car White Ninja is gone and all the security guys are piled up dead everywhere. Nero is not very convincing doing ninja moves on screen, but off screen – perfect. Good job, White Ninja.
It may be disrespectful for me to call this guy White Ninja (his name is actually Cole.) But Venarius knows his name too, and he just calls him “Ninja.” At least I specify which ninja I’m talking about. Later there are smoke bombs, the Right Hand Man gets an arrow through his right hand, and then White Ninja fights Hasegawa and wins way too easy.
The last scene is pretty funny. Nero (back in his civilian persona) is talking to somebody about what he’ll do next, and he implies that he might be doing some more ninja murders. Then he looks at the camera and actually winks, and it freezes. You always gotta appreciate a Wink and Freeze Ending, but this one’s especially funny since there is a whole series of NINJA movies, but Nero isn’t in the other ones. Sho Kosugi is.
ENTER THE NINJA is no ENTER THE DRAGON, and not a very good showcase for Sho Kosugi. He seems good but they don’t show enough to make a proper judgment of his level of badassness. Still, it’s a good time, I recommend it.
VERN has been reviewing movies since 1999 and is the author of the books SEAGALOGY: A STUDY OF THE ASS-KICKING FILMS OF STEVEN SEAGAL, YIPPEE KI-YAY MOVIEGOER!: WRITINGS ON BRUCE WILLIS, BADASS CINEMA AND OTHER IMPORTANT TOPICS and NIKETOWN: A NOVEL. His horror-action novel WORM ON A HOOK will arrive later this year.