Pray For Death, 1985.
Directed by Gordon Hessler.
Starring Shô Kosugi, James Booth, Donna Kei Benz, Robert Ito, Norman Burton, Kane Kosugi, Shane Kosugi, Charles Greuber, Matthew Faison and Parley Baer.
A peaceful Japanese family move to the US but fall foul of a crime syndicate, forcing the father to unleash his inner ninja.
“You should learn karate one day, Dad. You may need it” say the two young Saito boys Takeshi and Tomoya (Kane and Shane Kosugi respectively) to their father Akira (Shô Kosugi) during a play fight. However, the two children aren’t aware that their father isn’t just their boring businessman dad but really a highly skilled ninja warrior who carries around a lot of guilt after the death of his brother during a fight at the temple of his sensei Kaga (Robert Ito). Akira and his American-born wife Aiko (Donna Kei Benz) decide to move from Japan to America and open a restaurant but find themselves the victims of a criminal gang who believe that the Saito’s have taken a valuable necklace hidden in the storeroom of their restaurant by crooked cop Joe Trumble (Charles Greuber). After Aiko and Tomoya are knocked down by one of the gang Akira returns to his old ways and takes on the thugs that are threatening his family, including ruthless enforcer Limehouse Willie (James Booth).
The trouble with films like Pray For Death is that it is nostalgia that is going to sell it to a Blu-ray buying public rather than it being a great film. Which may sound damning but in all honesty Pray For Death isn’t the best ninja film in the world – hell, it’s not even the best ninja film from 1985 (American Ninja, since you’re asking) – but it is a fun action movie that fits right in with the low-rent Cannon Films titles of the era, although anybody not attuned with how martial arts films were back then may find it a little to cheesy.
Shô Kosugi may not be able to deliver a line of dialogue very convincingly but the man is an absolute joy to watch as he leaps, kicks and shurikens his way through the generic suit-and-sunglasses villains queueing up to give him and his family a good hiding, despite the fact that he’s wearing a helmet that wouldn’t look out-of-place on a LEGO figure and generally fighting out of shape and over the hill extras. James Booth is an odd choice for the main villain since he looks like a fifty-something British TV actor (which he was) trying to be menacing but being about as intimidating as Elmo from Sesame Street, although he did write the film so it was only natural to want to give himself one of the main roles. And anyway, have you ever written a ninja film and got it made? Thought not.
So if you saw Pray For Death back in the 1980s and want to see if it is still as much fun as you remember it then this Blu-ray from 101 Films is worth picking up because it is a highly enjoyable action romp full of flashy ninjitsu moves and one of the best suiting up montage synth-pop songs in any ‘80s film. If you’re discovering it for the first time then go easy, don’t go expecting The Raid levels of intensity and don’t look at those kicks to the head too closely as most of them miss by a mile. Do, however, enjoy it for being the naff, nonsensical and bordering-on-hilarious action romp that it is.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★
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