Although they are billed as a trilogy, the three films in this set bear no relation to each other except for the continuing presence of martial artist Shô Kosugi, who made his screen debut in the first story (as the villain) but was quickly promoted to hero in the second and third entries.
Enter the Ninja, directed by Cannon’s own Menahem Golan himself, is a fast moving tale about a soldier-of-fortune called Cole (Nero) who enrages Kosugi’s character Hasegawa by being the first Westerner to achieve ninjahood (or something like that.) When Cole uses his freshly-minted martial arts skills to help an old army buddy and his wife (George) who are being intimidated by crime boss Charles Venarius (Christopher George – no relation), Venarius recruits Hasegawa to even up the score. After all, a ninja can only be killed by another ninja… apparently.
Revenge of the Ninja follows Cho Osaki (Shô Kosugi again) who, after most of his family are nastily murdered by rogue ninja (or ninjae? What’s the plural for ninja?), turns the other cheek and opens an art gallery, where he intends to show off his precious collection of Japanese dolls. When he discovers that some of the dolls are packed with heroin, his mother is murdered and his son is kidnapped, Cho decides it’s time to drop the mild-mannered doll-collecting routine and karate mayhem swiftly resumes. Martial arts weapons-fetishists should keep the Kleenex close to hand.
Ninja III: The Domination is by far the weirdest of the three films, but easily the most ridiculously entertaining. After assassinating a man and woman on a golf course for no reason we ever discover, a villainous ninja assassin is gunned down by a cavalcade of police, although not before single-handedly downing a police helicopter and leaving an impressive body count in his wake. Near death, he staggers into the path of beautiful telephone lineswoman Chris (Lucinda Dickey, Breakin’) who, when she’s not climbing telephone poles, is a part-time aerobics instructor and video games enthusiast (because those two interests fit so well together). Chris rushes to help the bad ninja and he, ungratefully, possesses her before he dies. But the good news is that she does inherit his very nice-looking ninja sword in the process.
All seems to be going well until the video game machine in Chris’s apartment goes wild and a possessed Chris leaps into full-blown ninja-terminator mode, mercilessly hacking and bow-and-arrowing her way through the various cops who shot holes through the villain. After a backstreet exorcism goes wrong, it becomes clear that the only person who can destroy the ninja possessing Chris is, you guessed it, another ninja. Enter Shô Kosugi, sporting a rather fetching eye patch – a keepsake from the last time he duked it out with the undead villain – and the roundhouse kicks and throwing stars fly.
The Blu-rays look and sound terrific and although the extras are fairly minimal the set does include a booklet containing a fascinating behind-the-scenes essay and some rare photographs. Eureka, best known for distributing more - let’s say - ‘legitimate’ cinema classics like Metropolis, Nosferatu and Shoah have given these films the kind of attention they probably don’t really deserve but it’s great to see them looking this good. Skip the dojo tonight and watch these instead. You won’t be disappointed.
THE NINJA TRILOGY / DIRECTORS: MANAHEM GOLAN, SAM FIRSTENBERG / SCREENPLAY: DICK DESMOND, JAMES R. SILKE / STARRING: FRANCO NERO, SHÔ KOSUGI, SUSAN GEORGE / RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW