Based on an idea by low-budget filmmaker Charles Band, the fanciful Ghost Warrior is a spin on the timeless “fish out of water” tale — things that were later perfected (and subsequently hashed) by filmmakers in the ’90s. We begin with a noble 16th Century samurai warrior (Hiroshi Fujioka) receiving a seemingly fatal slice of death after a failed attempt at rescuing his wife. Falling into the icy water below, Yoshimitsu is discovered in the frozen wastes of Japan four centuries later and brought back to life by a experimental cryogenics lab that uses laser light show projectors to revive the ancient soldier.
For some unexplained reason, a young female journalist (Janet Julian) is brought in to cover the whole procedure since she has an academic background in “Oriental History.” Unfortunately, she speaks next to nary Nipponese, and the institute that brought him back from the dead never thinks to hire anyone that actually might understand his outdated dialect. But hey, this is a Southern California cryogenics organization we’re talking about: they can play Alice Cooper and Ragewar on a portable TV, bring in shoji screens, buy all kinds of funky DJ equipment and Radio Shack computers, but they can’t hire a frickin’ translator.
So, anyway, things go a bit haywire for our disoriented hero once a dipshit orderly tries to steal his swords, and the mighty samurai is set loose in the thug-riddled Los Angeles of the early-to-mid ’80s (or whereabouts: one scene reveals Hercules with Lou Ferrigno and Rocky III playing at the Orpheum, while the Rialto is closed for renovation). Dispatching bad guys in a manner that even Charles Bronson would be jealous of, the confused combatant saves the life and finds a friend in an elderly black man (veteran bit player Charles Lampkin), who takes him to a sushi parlor — where patrons mistake him for Toshiro Mifune.
Eighty-one minutes of silly fun, courtesy the boys in the Band family: producers Charles and Albert, and composer Richard (who provides us with one of his many moody and atmospheric scores here). The highpoint of the movie, naturally, is star Hiroshi Fujioka. Not only is he a trained swordsman, but he’s also a trained actor (and the film’s best, outside of the aforementioned Lampkin). He brings a certain amount of believability to this role — which isn’t easy for a movie that plays out like a corny supermarket tabloid headline come to life.
The rest of the cast is comprised of either obscure TV actors or complete nobodies (same difference, really). Their performances are about as awful as the script itself here (to say nothing of the dialogue!) — and only add to the amount of pleasure a fan of “bad” movies will derive from this forgotten flick, which was probably only produced as an attempt to cash in on the “ninja craze” of the early-to-mid ’80s (and that was all-but-dead by the time Ghost Warrior came out!).
Unavailable on home video for years, Ghost Warrior hits DVD-R via MGM’s Limited Edition Collection, which gives us an above-average presentation of this below-average snoozer with a Dolby Digital soundtrack and no extras. But then, who needs bonus materials when you can sit back, turn your brain off for the better portion of an hour and a half, and watch a 16th Century samurai chop off the hands of L.A. muggers?