NINJA ACTOR TO OPEN MOVIEMAKING ACADEMY FOR ASIANS
(Published in the April 14, 1997 edition of the Japan Weekly Monitor.)

Sho Kosugi, who starred in successful "Ninja" movies in America, is moving to realize his lifetime dream of producing a new crop of Bruce Lees and Jackie Chans by opening a Hollywood academy for Asians. Kosugi, a 48-year-old former karate champion who started his movie career as an extra in a 1973 film, said the Hollywood International Film Academy (HIFA) will open a junior school campus in Tokyo in April 1998 and a home campus in Castaic, north of Los Angeles, in September the same year. [Note: The name was eventually changed to SKI (Sho Kosugi Institute)]

The Tokyo school is expected to enroll 200 students, kindergarten through high school, while the California home campus will initially have some 280 students studying action acting, animation, directing and other courses, as well as "evergreen" courses for middle-aged and senior citizens.

"It's impossible for me to try to compete with Akira Kurosawa (the famed Japanese movie director)," Kosugi said when asked about the academy's objective. "I want to produce movies the ordinary folks love rather than movies aspiring to win prizes." With 14 U.S. movies such as Enter the Ninja (1981) and Pray for Death (1985) as well as Taiwanese and South Korean movies behind him, Kosugi said the academy is his lifetime dream. He said in unveiling the HIFA project that he is attaching importance to providing Asians with opportunities and challenges to pursue a successful career in the U.S. movie industry because "I am a Japanese." Despite many years in Hollywood, being an Asian there is still a handicap, the Tokyo native said. "But the 21st century is the Asian century and if an Asian like me cannot do (the HIFA project), who can?"

A postwar babyboomer, Kosugi at age 5 already dreamed of becoming a movie star while watching the immensely popular Kurama Tengu samurai swordsman series starring former kabuki actor Kanjuro Arashi. Physically weak, thin and tall, Kosugi drew such nicknames from classmates as "cucumber" and "electric pole." One of his elder sisters encouraged him to learn karate, and this eventually helped him become a famous martial arts actor in Hollywood. After failing to pass university entrance exams, he left at the age of 19 for the United States with only 120 dollars in his pocket and worked his way though Pasadena City College and California State University at Los Angeles doing various odd jobs. He collected 663 trophies in karate competitions in the U.S., Mexico and Canada over a four-year period but this did not bring fame to his doorstep as he had hoped. It did bring him a broken nose and a broken shoulder.

He served as an extra in various movies over eight years, including the 1974 movie The Godfather, Part II. Kosugi won his minor role in the movie about the Mafia partly because of his 184-centimeter frame. He played the role of a passerby by wearing a coat and pulling his cap deep over his eyes.

"I'm not handsome and am an ordinary human being," he recalled. At the same time, however, kung fu star Bruce Lee's success on the American screen kept his dream of "making it" in the U.S. alive. "He too was an Oriental."

Eight years ago, Kosugi toyed with the idea of setting up a film academy but said, "The idea evaporated with the bursting of the Japanese bubble economy."

One of his partners in the HIFA project is Hiromu Ikeda, chairman of We Net Co., a consulting and management company for 63 vocational schools across Japan with a total enrollment of 35,000 students, including 150 foreign students. Some of these vocational schools maintain tie-up agreements with schools in other Asian countries, Ikeda said. Kosugi said the HIFA is different from other existing schools for future movie stars, directors and other artists because students can directly participate in moviemaking and freely visit studios.

G. Michael Jackson, a lawyer for the HIFA project, cautioned, however, "It's not a promise that you are going to be a movie star, not a promise you are going to be a director." But he was quick to add that the new academy will offer "the best education possible," top of the line directors, actors and other artists to make it a "bridge" between East and West. Asked about criticism of violence in many U.S. movies, Kosugi said, "I am fully aware of that and keep that issue in mind."

"The status of action movies in Japan is somewhat low. It's impossible to distribute melodramas worldwide," he said, adding, "I want to convey the hearts of Japanese and other Asians through my films." Is a Japanese Bruce Lee or Jackie Chan likely anytime soon? "It's difficult in five years. I think 10 years," Kosugi said.