If, in 1981, you had the chance to invest in throwing stars or something else, and you chose something else, Enter The Ninja is most likely the reason you lost everything and curse your life to this very day. The absolute obsession with ninjas that this film instilled in teenage boys lasted for years. Some would call it a craze while others just shook their heads and went on with their maskless and nunchuck-free lives; never to know the joys of spelling the word "assassin" without looking it up. Would moms worry? Maybe. But at least you weren't playing Dungeons & Dragons. Besides, running around with age-inappropriate Japanese weaponry kept you outside with your friends.
In exploitation terms, the cast of Enter The Ninja isn't royalty, but it's solid business. Franco Nero is probably most recognized by mainstream American audiences as one of the bad guys from Die Hard 2, or his cameo in Django Unchained, but if you step away from that impressive pedigree you'll find a career in genre films of the highest caliber: Django, Street Law, Keoma, The Fifth Cord, High Crime; Nero has worked with the who's who of Italian exploitation directors including the likes of Lucio Fulci, Sergio Corbucci, Tinto Brass, and Enzo G. Castellari (who directed the film The Inglorious Bastards which Quentin Tarantino riffed off of for his similarly titled film).
By 1981, Franco Nero had played a knight, a gunslinger, a detective, and even Jesus Christ. Only the great Menahem Golan and Yoram Globus would think to cast Nero in possibly the most unlikely role of his career: a Ninja assassin. Franco Nero's Italian you say? Don't matter. His accent is so thick that they're going to dub his dialogue? Yup. But he has a Freddie Mercury mustache, for Christ's sake! You're welcome.
Let's be clear about one thing: Franco Nero beats the shit out of everyone in this movie and about 40% of that is done while wearing business casual. What did you do today? Despite the title of the movie, you ain't entering this ninja, this ninja does the entering, y'dig? Machismo in Manilla.
I didn't mention that most of the movie takes place on a plantation of some sort in Manilla? Well it does. Quit being stupid.
If you absolutely feel the need to know before watching, the plot is your basic "white guy graduates ninja school where rival ninja guy refuses to acknowledge his ninjatude (because, 'white guy') then goes to old war buddy's farm that is trying to be bought by eccentric tycoon who then hires rival ninja guy to stop italian ninja guy from beating the shit out of his goons" story. Good guy in white, bad guy in black. Showdown. Throw in a "Hey, I totally nailed the wife of my best friend but everyone seems to be cool with it!" and you've got it in a nutshell. Simple, really. And it is awesome.
The proper introduction of Sho Kosugi also awesome. After a couple of uncredited appearances in a few movies, Enter The Ninja marks the launching pad of the man who would become the embodiment of all things ninjutsu. The performance of Sho Kosugi in this film launched an entire genre of copycat films, sequels, magazines, and even a television series pitting him against the legendary Lee Van Cleef. Ninjas became the bee's roundhousing knees and Sho Kosugi was (deservedly) The Man.
Is Enter The Ninja exploitation? Of course. Does it make sense? Mostly. Are the performances good? Better than you might think, though some stunt double moments are kind of funny. Is it fun? Hell yes it's fun.
This Blu-ray release from Kino Lorber is fantastic. The digital transfer retains the original film texture yet really makes the colors pop above and beyond the call. Expecting it to have a crisp quality was fair, but the ways in which this release actually enhances things were pleasantly surprising. It's letterboxed at 1.85:1 and the look and sound are probably the best we're ever going to get of this film. In fact, this is probably the best this film has ever looked.
The lack of any bonus materials was disappointing, though. I doubt there's much in the way of behind-the-scenes material that exists, but an interview or two would have been appreciated. Despite that, for fans of '80's action/exploitation/genre films, this disc is a must-have. You may wish to rethink the homemade nunchucks at the end of the day, but you won't be second guessing the fun of this disc.