SHO KOSUGI: SUPER NINJA (IN ACTION) by Dennis Bloshuk
Following Bruce Lee's death in 1973, the popularity of martial arts films seemed to wane. But such films have seen a renewed interest over the past several years, thanks to Sho Kosugi.
Kosugi, a world renowned karate champion and an expert on ninjitsu weapons and tactics, is someone who has parlayed his skills successfully to become the leading cinema and television star of his genre.
His films include, Enter the Ninja, Revenge of the Ninja, Ninja III: The Domination and 9 Deaths of the Ninja. In 1984, he appeared as an evil ninja who chased Lee Van Cleef and his student Timothy Van Patten in the television show, The Master. He also doubled for Van Cleef in the show and choreographed the fight scenes.
Kosugi's latest film is Pray for Death, in which he plays Akira, a Japanese fruit company executive who moves to the U.S. and buys a restaurant in Houston. Unknown to Akira, his wife, and two children (played by Kosugi's sons in real life, Kane and Shane), is that the restaurant is a hideout for a gang of jewel thieves. When the thieves kill his wife, Akira seeks to avenge her.
Although Kosugi's martial arts and acting skills seem to come easy, both actually took years to accomplish. His achievements did not come without discipline, something he learned from his sisters and martial arts instructors.
"I began karate lessons when I was five," said Kosugi who grew up in Japan. "If I didn't practice, my sisters wouldn't let me in the house. They said 'If you start something, then you should stick to it if you want to succeed.'"
At the same time, Kosugi took acting lessons at a school in Japan. But Kosugi's teacher threw him out of the class after six months and said he did not have the patience to become an actor.
Overtaken by a fascination for the old Japanese weapons of Ninjitsu. Seized by his new found curiosity, Kosugi read books and took instruction from one of the handful of Ninjitsu masters left in Japan. Kosugi also became proficient in his specialty, shindo-jinen ryu, and began to compete.
Kosugi, who is six-foot-one, eventually received a black belt in karate and judo and then moved to the U.S., where he continued his martial arts studies with renowned karateka Fumio Demura. He soon landed a job doing martial arts demonstrations at the Japanese Village and Deer Park, a Southern California amusement park.
After performing there for several years, he appeared in several low-budget Korean martial arts films. His first big break occurred when he worked as an extra in Enter the Ninja. Impressed with the film's success and Kosugi's performance, producers asked him to star in Revenge of the Ninja in which he breaks up a notorious drug ring and kills his enemies. Besides choreographing many fight scenes, Kosugi played many masked ninjas in the film.
Following Revenge's success, he immediately began his third film, Ninja III: The Domination, playing a ninja warrior who follows his archenemy to the U.S. When his enemy is shot by police, Kosugi searches for the man's sword, the source of his power. He then battles the evil ninja's soul who possesses a beautiful woman's body. Eventually Kosugi must perform an exorcism to save the woman. The filming of this movie was physically difficult for Kosugi who was filming The Master at the same time. He had to fly back and forth constantly from Phoenix and Los Angeles to film both.
Kosugi's mastery of martial arts and knowledge of the ancient Ninja was the synthesis for Revenge of the Ninja, which led to Ninja III: The Domination and Pray for Death.
Kosugi's experience was called on as fight choreographer. While locations were being fully picked, Kosugi would begin planning these sequences, fully utilizing the chosen spots. Sometimes, Kosugi had little more than a day to plan a major fight when the production crew had to scramble for a new location. Other times, he had the luxury of several weeks to think up some quirky new maneuvers that would keep the audience's eyes glued to the screen. Such a fight sequence was the amusing tussle between Kosugi and the muscle-bound thimble brains by the pool.
In order to make his encounters realistic, Kosugi did not hold back on the dynamics. The stuntmen had to keep on their toes because if their reactions were too slow, they would invariably get a trouncing.
Despite his busy schedule, Kosugi has not forgotten his loyal and devoted fans, many of whom are young. And he receives quite a bit of fan mail which he tries to answer personally.
While filming Ninja III in Phoenix, Kosugi was approached by a community center counselor and asked if he would speak to a group of young boys, ages 14 to 18. During a break in filming, Kosugi told the boys the importance of discipline, much like the one he learned while growing up in Japan.
"If you want something, don't give up," he said. "No matter how hard it seems, you've got to stick with it."
He was asked to give them a martial arts demonstration, but had a little trouble finding a volunteer. A 15-year-old boy finally did. Looking at his mock victim, Kosugi told him to stand still "or I'll kill you." While the others laughed, the volunteer did not out of respect for Kosugi's formidable skills. Kosugi demonstrated several kicks near his victim's face and the session ended. The next day, he autographed some photos.
So why does Kosugi spend so much time with young people?
"Young people all have dreams. I would like to help them," he said. "When you're young, if someone has a word of encouragement for you, it can make a world of difference."