NINJA: THE SHO KOSUGI STORY

Chapter VI: Return of the Ninja (2005-present)

On March 28, 2005, Variety.com posted an article entitled "Kosugi will kick up 'Return' to ninja role".  The article stated that a new Hollywood movie entitled RETURN OF THE NINJA was being scripted by Steven de Souza and would be produced by Kevin Foster of Amazing Grace Films.  This movie would be financed by a group of Japanese investors who would bankroll 60% of the project's $35 million budget.  Sho would play Ohara, the last ninja master, who travels to the U.S. to find the American heir to the stealth martial arts legacy.  A year later, an article entitled "Return of the Ninja!" appeared in the November 2006 issue of Black Belt magazine.  In it Sho confirmed that plans were underway to get the film to the screen.  Unfortunately things didn't work out, and the project was ultimately canceled.

 






A short time after doing the interview with Black Belt magazine, Sho started doing an instructional Japanese TV series called ITSUDEMO DOKODEMO! SHO KOSUGI NO TAORU EKUSASAIZU (いつでもどこでも!ショー・コスギのタオルエクササイズ Anytime Anywhere! Sho Kosugi's Towel Exercise), which aired on the NHK Educational TV channel from December 2006 to February 2007.  A book by the same name was also released around this time, and a follow-up video entitled SHO KOSUGI NO LET'S TAORUSAIZU (ショーコスギのLet'sタオルサイズ Sho Kosugi's Let's Towelcise) was released on DVD in March 2008.  This light-hearted high-spirited DVD featured Sho singing and dancing and appearing in some slapstick-style comedy bits.

 






Although Sho's RETURN OF THE NINJA film unfortunately never materialized, his two sons Kane and Shane both followed in their father's stealthy footsteps by appearing in some cool ninja projects of their own around this time.

 

Sho's eldest son Kane was the male lead, portraying the ninja Ryu Hayabusa, in DOA: Dead or Alive (2006), a film version of the Tecmo/Team Ninja video game of the same name, adapted by J.F. Lawton.  Directed by Cory Yuen (元奎 Yuen Kwai), the film starred Jaime Pressly, Devon Aoki, Holly Valance, Sarah Carter, and Natassia Malthe.

Kane also appeared in War (2007) starring Jet Li (
李連杰 Li Lian-Jie), Jason Statham, John Lone, Devon Aoki, Luis Guzman, Saul Rubinek, and Ryō Ishibashi (石橋凌), a film that revolved around rival Japanese Yakuza and Chinese Triad gangs and which also featured a short ninja scene.

 

In War, written by Lee Anthony Smith & Gregory J. Bradley, and directed by Philip G. AtwelKane played a yakuza identified simply as Temple Garden Warrior in the credits, who sword fights his oyabun (yakuza boss) played by Ryō Ishibashi, and has another fantastic unarmed fight, choreographed by Cory Yuen, against martial arts movie legend Jet Li

 

 

Sho's youngest son Shane also continued the Kosugi legacy by appearing as one of the samurai warriors being trained by martial arts movie legend Hiroyuki Sanada (真田広之) in the big screen blockbuster The Last Samurai (2003), directed by Edward Zwick and starring Tom Cruise, Ken Watanabe (渡辺健), Timothy Spall, Billy Connolly, Tony Goldwyn, Hiroyuki Sanada, Masato Harada (原田真人), Koyuki (小雪), and William Atherton.  While working on the film, which also featured a memorable ninja sequence, Shane befriended another member of the samurai ensemble, actor/martial artist Takeshi Maya (真矢武), who went on to write, produce, direct and star opposite Shane in the awesome KAGE (2007), a period ninja short film featuring a nod to Sho Kosugi Production in the closing credits.

 

Although it's unclear how much of a role Sho Kosugi Production had in the making of KAGE, a closer look at the Kanji (Japanese characters) used in the credits indicate that what was translated as simply "Special Thanks" is actually more accurately "Produced in Cooperation with" (制作協力).  The short film also starred Chisa Yokoyama (横山智佐), Takeshi Ishida (石田武), Hiroki Noguchi (野口尋生), Airi Yoshihama (吉浜愛梨), and Shinya Shimokawa (下川真矢), and featured special appearances by Junichi Haruta (春田純一) and Kenji Oba (大葉健二), two alumni from Shinichi "Sonny" Chiba's legendary JAC (Japan Action Club), who appeared in numerous Japanese period ninja TV series.

 






Just when it looked like Sho would not be returning to his ninja roots in a big budget big screen ninja movie, there came word in early 2008 that mega producer Joel Silver and the Wachowski brothers were co-producing a new big budget ninja film in conjunction with Warner Bros. and that a certain legend of the genre might be involved.  This was confirmed in the Warner Bros. press release on May 29, 2008Sho was indeed a part of the new film NINJA ASSASSIN playing the ruthless leader of the Ozunu ninja clan hunting for a renegade former member played by the film's lead, Korean pop star, dancer, and actor Rain.  And best of all, this production was already well underway with filming having started a month earlier on April 28.  Shot on location in Berlin, the shoot wrapped up principle photography at the end of June.

 

 

Director James McTeigue ("V For Vendetta"), stars Rain and Naomie Harris, and producer Joel Silver attended the 2008 Comic-Con in San Diego in late July 2008 to talk about the film and were asked numerous times about Sho's involvement.  Director McTeigue revealed that he'd been a ninja movie fan growing up in Australia and thought it would be cool to have Sho in the film as an homage to him and his great ninja movies.  The film's stunt coordinators / second unit directors Chad Stahelski and David Leitch also stated in interviews that they were big Sho Kosugi fans and were thrilled to have him in the movie, referring to Sho as a master martial artist who's still in fantastic shape.

 

 

In NINJA ASSASSIN, Sho delivers perhaps his most powerful and intense performance as the ruthless and cold-blooded Ozunu.  A fact that was unanimously recognized and applauded, with many viewers saying that he stole the film.  Along with Rain as Raizo, Naomie Harris as Mika Coretti, and Sho as Ozunu, the film also co-starred Ben Miles as Ryan Maslow and Rick Yune as Takeshi, all of whom delivered excellent performances.  The same was true of the supporting cast, particularly Joon Lee who played Raizo as a teenager, and the wonderful Anna Sawai who delivered a heart wrenching performance as the pivotal character Kiriko.

 

 

From its dark tone, to its stunning Japanese anime-like visuals, to its visceral action scenes, to its serious portrayal of the ninja, to its deeply introspective and moving flashbacks, NINJA ASSASSIN is to its great credit a much deeper, much more serious ninja movie than is usual for the often disrespected ninja movie genre.  Skillfully written by Matthew Sand and J. Michael Straczynski, the story's structure allows viewers to immerse themselves into the subject matter by slowly giving them more and more pieces to the puzzle through the wonderfully placed and executed flashback scenes.  Also, the film's ninja mythology and its many nods to ninja history, traditions, and legends, such as the use of the infamous nightingale floors which were used to detect ninja intruders, the use of the Ozunu name (the name of a real ninja ancestor), the Raizo name in honor of the star of the classic 1960s Shinobi no Mono (忍びの者) film series, the use of the Kuji-no-in (九字之印) to heal wounds, and of course the inclusion of "The Ninja" himself Sho Kosugi in a truly fantastic role worthy of him and his legacy, all contributed in making NINJA ASSASSIN something extra special.  All of these elements help to explain why Sho was justifiably proud to be a part of this truly epic and fantastic ninja film.

 

 

On November 19, 2009, Sho attended the Hollywood premiere of NINJA ASSASSIN at the famed Grauman's Chinese Theatre before reportedly traveling to Hong Kong to attend his son Kane's wedding on November 21.  The celebrations continued when NINJA ASSASSIN opened 4 days later on November 25.  The $40 million budget film grossed over $13 million in its opening weekend in North America and went on to gross $61.6 million worldwide ($38+ million domestically and $23+ million internationally), making it an unquestionable box-office success.

 

 

Ironically enough, NINJA ASSASSIN wasn't the only ninja movie to be released in November 2009.  Another much less impressive film, simply titled "Ninja", made its direct-to-DVD debut at almost the exact same time.  Produced by Nu Image, the same South-African company that had co-produced American Ninja 2, 3, and 4 with Cannon Films, and the equally abysmal Lethal Ninja on their own, "Ninja" was unfortunately not much better than those films, using the same lame premise and overall sillyness.  If that wasn't bad enough, the marketing for the film led many to incorrectly believe that "Ninja" was the film that featured Sho's return to ninja movies by using artwork that is nearly identical to a photo of Sho from REVENGE OF THE NINJA on its announcement poster, and then completely ripping off the NINJA ASSASSIN theatrical poster for its release.

 

 

Even with that deceptive marketing, this unrelated and uninspired film would not warrant being mentioned in relation to Sho were it not for the fact that 4 years later the same company (Nu Image), same director (Isaac Florentine), and same stars (Scott Adkins and Mika Hijii), did a full 180 and made a completely different, much more serious, and infinitely better sequel entitled Ninja: Shadow of a Tear that co-starred Sho's eldest son Kane as a mysterious ninja named Nakabara.  Gone were the silly cartoony villainous cults, the bad acting, the awful ultra-modern and futuristic sci-fi ninja suits, and the fairytale-like magic potion hidden in a sword handle from the first film.  Unlike it's fantasy-based predecessor, Ninja: Shadow of a Tear is a film rooted in raw realism with a great ninja backstory based on true history.  This fantastic no-nonsense old-school action-packed martial arts revenge film, in the tradition of Sho's 2 best 80's ninja films, REVENGE OF THE NINJA and PRAY FOR DEATH, is a great addition to the Kosugi ninja film legacy.

 

 

And speaking of legacies, on a much more personal and meaningful level, Sho's daughter Ayeesha has made her own wonderful contribution to the Kosugi Family Legacy by making Sho a grandfather to a girl named Kylee in 2015, and a boy in 2016.  Though Ayeesha never appeared in any of Sho's films like her elder brothers, she definitely shared their athletic abilities.  Ayeesha was a two-year letter winner in golf in High School, where she played on the boys varsity.  She also lettered for three years in basketball, helping her team to a couple of league titles.  In College, Ayeesha was also a four-year letter winner for the UNLV Rebels Women's Golf Team.  Might we someday see Kylee or her brother follow in their grandpa's footsteps? Time will tell.






For his part, Sho has also continued to add to his incredible ninja legacy with some recent projects.  The first to be released is a sensational 5-part DVD series entitled THE ART OF HOLLYWOOD NINJA ACTION FILM MAKING, available exclusively from MastersMag.com as of April 2017.  Produced and directed by Sho and Val Mijailovic, it features Sho giving instructions, with the assistance of his youngest son Shane, in basic acting, camera awareness, camera transitions, expressions, stances, hand-to-hand choreography, hand & feet choreography, and sword fighting choreography.  The DVD set, a Sho Kosugi Production in Association with MASTERS Magazine, also includes an excellent one-on-one interview with Sho on Volume 5.

 






In early 2017, Sho's son Shane also started working as a teacher at KYS Studio in Minato-ku, Tokyo.  In connection with this, Shane was the Action Director and one of the ninja on a cool promotional video entitled The Heroes (英雄伝).  This short KYS Studio / Angel Film (Hong Kong) co-production written, photographed, and directed by Jimmy Ming Shum and starring Kansuke Yokoi (横井寬典), was published on Youtube on June 15, 2017.  It's unclear whether this Digital Asia Entertainment teaser will become a short film or full-length feature or merely exist as a promo, but ironically on the same day that it was released, Sho gave a special class alongside his son Shane and Kansuke Yokoi (who was also one of Sho's main assistants on THE ART OF HOLLYWOOD NINJA ACTION FILM MAKING) at KYS Studio in Tokyo...

 






Another new project that Sho has recently released is something that he actually started working on in 1998 when he began doing research on the 88 Temples of Shikoku Island, Japan, visiting each of them on numerous occasions and reading many books about the temples and Kūkai (空海) 774-835 (known posthumously as Kōbō-Daishi 弘法大師), a Japanese Buddhist monk, scholar, martial artist, poet, and calligrapher who founded the Shingon or "True Word" school of Buddhism. From this extensive research, Sho began to create characters and formulate a story and mythology revolving around the legend of Kūkai and the 88 temples of Shikoku Island, that would incorporate Japanese mysticism, a mysterious scroll, and a modern day treasure hunt.

 

A little over 10 years ago, this all culminated into a screenplay co-written by Sho, his son Shane, and Gordon Hessler.  With screenplay in hand, Sho travelled to Japan in hopes of turning it into a movie, but unfortunately he was unable to secure the necessary financing.  Switching gears, Sho then decided to turn the screenplay into a novel written in Japanese.  Unfortunately, this also proved to be a dead end as he was unable to find a publishing company willing to publish it.  Undeterred, Sho persevered and about 3 years ago he decided to try and revive the project by releasing it as a novel written in English.  Sho travelled to Houston where he met with Warren Chaney, whom he had known since ALOHA SUMMER (1984), a film in which Mr.  Chaney had been the executive producer on.  And so it was that after nearly 2 decades Sho's saga would finally become a reality in the form of a story spanning 2 novels.

 

 

The first book, entitled YIN-YANG CODE: THE DRUMS OF TENKAI-BO, released on September 15, 2017, tells the story of a multi-cultural group of friends, all UCLA students, who, after having traveled to Japan as part of a class trip for their history course and tragically losing their professor and one of their friends in a horrible car "accident", find an ancient document written by the legendary Japanese monk, scholar, and adventurer Kukai.  The friends determine that if they can crack the code they may be able to find a lost treasure, if they stay alive long enough that is... At the heart of the story is the strained relationship between Daiki (modeled after Sho's son Shane), a young Japanese student attending UCLA, and his mysterious grandfather Daichi (modeled after Sho), who had sent him to the U.S. after the tragic and mysterious deaths of his parents.  The book also features many beautiful illustrations by Shinobu Ohno and co-author Warren Chaney, and is dedicated to Sho's late friend and frequent collaborator Gordon Hessler.

 

 

The second book, entitled YIN-YANG CODE: SHADOW OF TENKAI-BO, released on January 13, 2018, picks up where the first book left off and delivers even more action, drama, mystery, and excitement, culminating in an epic battle between good and evil.  Racing against time to rescue his beloved girlfriend Jun who has been abducted by the evil Tenkai-Bo and his army of shugenja warriors, Daiki, with the help of his friends and his grandfather Daichi, continues his quest to find the lost treasure of the legendary Japanese monk Kukai, by searching for pieces of a centuries-old puzzle at the 88 temples of Shikoku. As was the case with the first book, the second book features wonderful illustrations by Shinobu Ohno and Mr. Chaney that help bring to life the characters and events being described.






On March 14, 2018, just a couple months after the release of his second YIN-YANG CODE book, a special event entitled AN EVENING WITH LEGENDARY JAPANESE MARTIAL ARTIST AND ACTOR SHO KOSUGI was held in the Hilton 100 auditorium at the Hilton Center for Business on the Loyola Marymount University Campus in Los Angeles, California. As part of the D.K. Kim Foundation Lecture Series offered by The Center for Asian Business at Loyola Marymount University, this wonderfully engaging lecture had Sho recounting his life story, his early ambitions of becoming a Hollywood action star after seeing Bruce Lee portraying Kato in THE GREEN HORNET, his stuggles along the way, and his personal philosophy of "No pain, no gain... No dream, no life."

 

 

This was followed by a brief discussion of Sho by Timothy Saito, one of his students and a Loyola Marymount University parent, who told those in attendance how humble and down to earth Sho is and how Sho had stayed for over two hours after the premiere of NINJA ASSASSIN to make sure that the last person that was waiting for an autograph would get to meet him. Timothy then touched on the codes of conduct in the martial arts and introduced the "9 Levels of Power" (Kuji-no-in) which was featured so memorably in Sho's first ninja film ENTER THE NINJA and which was then demonstrated by Sho while the meaning of each of these was spoken aloud by Timothy's son Michael Saito, who'd been one of the participants in Sho's THE ART OF HOLLYWOOD NINJA ACTION FILM MAKING DVD series.

 

 

An informative discussion on the ninja sword vs the standard Japanese sword followed, with Sho demonstrating how to hide the shorter ninja sword from an opponent and using it with a reverse grip. Sho then performed an impressive sword duel demonstration between himself and Timothy, before ending the night with a Q&A session and a chance for fans to meet Sho, get his autograph, and purchase his YIN-YANG CODE books.

 


 

Sho hopes to eventually bring his YIN-YANG CODE saga to the big screen in what he has said would likely be his last movie, and which would co-star him and his son Shane.


Regardless of what the future holds, Sho Kosugi's place in film history is assured and his name will forever be synonymous with the word Ninja.