Every so often I revisit films that I enjoyed when I was child. Some of the films do not hold up so well but then there are others that I still find pleasure in. The Last Ninja (1983) is one of those films. When I first saw this film I was nine and it was broadcast late one night on Central television. Being a lover of anything with the word ???ninja??? in the title I set the video recorder and eagerly looked forward to watching the film the next day. The Last Ninja starred Michael Beck, gang leader Swan in Walter Hill???s The Warriors (1980), as Ken Sakura, an antiques dealer who is suspected by Government Agent Cosmo (John McMartin) as being a vigilante ninja waging war against evil doers. Cosmo wants to enlist the help of this ninja to help save the lives of scientists trapped in a building taken over by terrorists. Naturally Sakura denies being the ninja referred to by Cosmo but still decides to help rescue the hostages. During this hostage attempt we see Sakura flashback to his childhood and the training his received from his Japanese grandfather to see how he became the last ninja.
The ninja became a pop culture phenomenon in the early eighties thanks mainly to the release of Enter the Ninja (1981) starring Franco Nero and Sho Kosugi, the man who personified the Western image of the ninja. The huge popularity of this film led to numerous imitations and two sequels one of them being one of my favourite guilty pleasures The Revenge of the Ninja (1983), again starring Kosugi, which also bears many similarities to The Last Ninja. The Last Ninja was intended to be the pilot for a television series where the title character would use his unique skills to help stop crime. Sadly, the television series was not commissioned and all we are left with is this forgotten rarity. Sakura does not rely on the famous ninja weapons but instead uses his martial arts skills and ninja magic instead. It would have been interesting to see how the show would have developed if it made it to a series as the initial premise is sound. A ninja television show did eventually emerge the following year. The Master (also known as The Master Ninja) starred a badly miscast Lee Van Cleef as ninja master travelling with his drifter friend Max, Timothy Van Patten from Class of 1984 (1984), to find his long lost daughter. During this search they are followed by ninja assassin and former pupil of the Master, Osaka, again Sho Kosugi. The show did not last long and, despite the amusing doubles for Cleef in the action scenes, has several good episodes. The stunt work and choreography, mainly by Kosugi, makes it worth the watch.
I have been searching for The Last Ninja for years but apart from the aforementioned television broadcast it has never been released on any home video format. Thanks to the new eBay rival iOffer I was able to locate a copy of the film. The picture quality is very poor looking to have come from a well watched television recording. Viewing it on my 10??? screen portable DVD player made it slightly more watchable. There is a better copy of the film available from another seller on iOffer but the asking price is almost ??20 which I refuse to pay for a bootleg. Some people really are greedy. Obviously a DVD release would be most welcome. Can anyone come to the rescue?