• Pray For Death

    Released by: Arrow Video
    Released on: February 16th, 2016.
    Director: Gordon Hessler
    Cast: Sho Kosugi, James Booth, Donna K. Benz, Norman Burton
    Year: 1985
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    The Movie:

    One of the last of the ‘big ninja’ movies that Sho Kosugi rose to superstardom for starring in during the eighties, Pray For Death was directed by Gordon Hessler who had worked with Kosugi on the TV series The Master (starring Lee Van Cleef!) and would work with him again two years later in Rage Of Honor. The film debuts on Blu-ray in North America for the first time, courtesy of Arrow Video, in its stronger unrated version.

    The film begins in Japan where we’re introduced to the ‘Black Ninja’ who is, of course, a complete and utter bad ass, taking out his foes left right and center. We meet him right as he’s in the midst of a battle, but soon realize what we’re seeing is a TV show being watched by two young Japanese kids, Takeshi Saito (Kane Kosugi) and his brother Tomoya Saito (Shane Kosugi), who both agree that the Black Ninja looks an awful lot like their dad, a peace loving business man named Akira Saito (Sho Kosugi). After discussing things with his lovely wife, Aiko (Donna K. Benz), they decide that it’s time for Akira to be his own boss and so the family soon moves to America where they puzzlingly buy a home in a horrible neighborhood in Houston and almost instantly run into trouble with some local bad guys who proceed to shatter his American dream!

    While Akira just wants to be left alone with his family to get his restaurant business on track, it turns out that a bunch of crooked cops are using the backroom of his joint to horde a bunch of stolen merchandise. One piece of said merchandise is the valuable Van Atta Necklace which a local mobster has got his eyes set on owning. When one of the cops swipes the jewels, the mobsters figure it was Akira and so they take out his wife and kids forcing him to put on his ninja suit and take deadly action against those who would harm his family.

    This one is a little bit slower than Enter The Ninja, Revenge Of The Ninja or Ninja III: The Domination but it’s still very much a worthy entry in Sho’s filmography and a pretty decent B-grade action film in its own right. If it takes a little while to get going at least it pays off in the end and you can’t fault the filmmakers for trying to build a decent revenge story and throw in some character development to give things more impact. They’re not always completely successful, but hey, they tried and that counts for something. Kosugi, who must have made a bulk buy on bad eyeliner, sort of meanders through the movie with as much emotion as he’s ever shown (which isn’t much) but he’s likeable enough in the lead and the fact that he does seem to care about his kids (played by his real life kids, which probably helps) and his wife makes his revenge in the later part of the movie all the more justified and righteous.

    The fight scenes are decent and appropriately violent and Kosugi’s fight choreography is nothing to sneeze at – Kane and Shane even get a few good licks in here and there. Some fun supporting performances from James Booth and Norman Burton round out ‘the cast quite well and the end result, well, if it’s not on the same level as what came before it’s, Pray For Death is still pretty bad ass – and if that’s not enough, it’s likely the only movie ever made featuring a ninja fighting a guy with a chainsaw surrounded by creepy mannequins.


    Pray For Death looks excellent in AVC encoded 1080p high definition framed at 2.35.1 widescreen. Colors are very nicely reproduced, black levels are rock solid and detail is typically very strong indeed. Some shots do looks a bit soft, past versions of the movie have shown this as well so it’s the way that those shots were filmed, but otherwise this is a very strong presentation that offers a very serious upgrade over the previous MOD/DVD-R release from the MGM Limited Edition line that came out in 2012. The inserts from the unrated version (more on that below) look darker and grainier but are still perfectly watchable and great to see.

    The English language LPCM 2.0 Stereo track sounds very good. The track provides clear dialogue without any noticeable background hiss or noise at all. The ridiculously eighties sounding score is remarkably robust with great depth. The levels are well balanced, and there are no problems with any hiss or distortion to note – the opening track, ‘Back To The Shadows,’ really benefits from the lossless treatment.

    That aforementioned MGM release was barebones, but Arrow’s disc makes up for past sins by presenting a host of extras to complement the feature, starting with the alternate R-rated cut of the movie which runs1:34:21 compared to the 1:38:27 running time of the uncut version. Presentation quality of the R version is comparable to the uncut presentation.

    From there, check out Sho And Tell Part 1: The Birth Of A Ninja, an interview with the man himself, Sho Kosugi (sixty-seven at the time this was shot), conducted in October of 2015. Here he spends nineteen minutes in front of the camera talking about how he got into martial arts at his parents’ insistence at the age of five. From there, we learn how he got into acting after running into trouble with his studies (at one point he notes that he was contemplating suicide!) but not before he wound up opening a studio where he taught martial arts. It’s interesting to hear how he got into film, how Enter The Ninja was such a huge break for him, what it was like working on that picture and how he felt about Franco Nero playing the lead. He goes on to talk a bit more about this era of his career, some of the pressure he felt in follow up films like Revenge Of The Ninja, working with his son Kane, and then, yes, the ridiculousness of Ninja III: The Domination, then Pray For Death. This is good stuff, it’s very cool to get to hear Sho’s story in his own words. His accent is thick (there are no subtitles here and they would have helped at times) but his English is good and he’s got some very unique insight into the pantheon of some of the eighties classics in which he clearly played a huge part.

    There’s also a second featurette included here, Sho Kosugi On Martial Arts Forms, which runs nineteen minutes. This is a vintage clip from a TV show called Martial Arts forms where Kosugi is interviewed, sword at his side, by a guy in a blue turtleneck about the various martial arts styles that Kosugi is trained in, different styles of movement that play a part in ninjitsu, karate and other styles, before talking about some of his background details and then his film work. Also included here is some footage from a demonstration he did at the 1985 premiere of Pray For Death.

    Additionally we get a Sho Kosugi Trailer Gallery (containing promo spots for Enter The Ninja, Revenge Of The Ninja, Pray For Death and Rage Of Honor), animated menus and chapter selection.

    The Final Word:

    Pray For Death isn’t Kosugi’s finest moment but it is a pretty bad ass ninja movie straight from the boom years of eighties ninja movie mania. Arrow’s Blu-ray release trumps the old MOD/DVD-R release in every way you’d want – we get it uncut, in great shape and with some fun extras too.

    Click on the images below for full sized Blu-ray screen caps!

    Comments 4 Comments
    1. Mark Tolch's Avatar
      Mark Tolch -
      I was reading the plot to this and realized that in my head, all of the Kosugi ninja flicks are indistinguishable from one another.
    1. Ian Jane's Avatar
      Ian Jane -
      Ha, sort of, but I still love them.
    1. Mark Tolch's Avatar
      Mark Tolch -
      Oh, I wasn't meaning that as a slight. I was just meaning that restaurant/back room/necklace and sculptures / glass display / heroin as well as little Kosugis all over the place causes my brain to stutter.
    1. Ian Jane's Avatar
      Ian Jane -
      I understand, it can be a lot to take in.