Stars: Shô Kosugi, James Booth, Donna Kei Benz, Norman Burton, Kane Kosugi, Shane Kosugi, Matthew Faison, Parley Baer, Robert Ito, Michael Constantine, Alan Amiel, Woody Watson | Written by James Booth | Directed by Gordon Hessler
Pray For Death was the second film – outside of the Ninja Trilogy – to feature Sho Kosugi in a lead role and is easily one of, if not the, best film Kosugi has ever made. The film sees Shô Kosugi star as Akira, a Japanese businessman who, jaded by his job and looking for a better life for his family, moves to America. He opens a restaurant with his wife and kids but his world is shattered when he stumbles upon the headquarters of a sinister gang, led by crime lord Limehouse Willie. Wrongfully accused of stealing a precious necklace, the gangsters begin a rampage of murder that takes the life of Akira’s wife and threatens the lives of his two sons. Now Akira must step out of his quiet life and reveal his other identity; that of the most lethal and mysterious of all martial artists… a Ninja!
Now if the plot for Pray For Death seems all-too familiar it no doubt because it’s almost identical to Revenge of the Ninja, the first film to feature Sho Kosugi as the hero rather than antagonist – it even features one of Kosugi’s kids kicking arse again too! But who cares about plot when you have a film that out-does 99% of modern action movies in terms of fight choreography and sheer badassery? Remember, this is the era of people ACTUALLY DOING STUNTS. Gone are the CGI-enhanced, wire-fu moves and in are real-life, learnt-over-time martial arts moves.
Frankly, the fight choreography (especially between Kosugi and his master) which was put together by Kosugi himself, is astounding. Which isn’t a surprise given Kosugi’s aforementioned experience both on and off-screen. What is surprising, and something I didn’t realise till now, is that James Booth, who plays Pray For Death‘s villainous gangster/thug Limehouse Willie, actually wrote the film! British actor Booth – who starred in acclaimed movies such as Zulu, The Jazz Singer and Airport ’77 – will be a familiar face to those who grew up watching 80s action movies; having appeared in this film, Avenging Force and American Ninja 4. What I didn’t know was that besides appearing in those films, Booth also wrote them – along with American Ninja 2!
It may be the nostaglia for 80s movies, or a love of the action genre, but I can honestly say I’ve had more fun reviewing theses old Sho Kosugi ninja movies recently than I have experienced in doing regular movie reviews in some time. There’s just something about the inherent cheesiness – the innocence of the time combined with a less cynical outlook on film-making – that makes them so much fun. It’s just a shame that there isn’t a cult-movie label devoted to the action genre like there are horror labels (and belive me when I say I’ve looked in to starting one myself).
Thankfully 101 Films’ remit for their “Cult Movie Collection” extends to all cult titles, be they action, sci-fi or horror; and this release is very, VERY, welcome – especially given that the print is pristine and, best of all, uncut. Which makes this particular release of Pray For Death an essential purchase for fans of action cinema and cult movies alike.
Available for the first time on Blu-ray here in the UK, Pray For Death is released by 101 Films on February 29th. Now if we could just get a HD master of Sho Kosugi’s 9 Deaths of the Ninja here in the UK too (hint, hint) I’d be a super-happy bunny..!