Why ‘Pray for Death’ (1985) is the Ultimate Ninja Movie
Sho Kosugi, Ultimate Ninja Warrior
As a child of the 80s, I grew up with a lot of awesome things. Saturday morning cartoons. Comic books. Wrestling. Stuff you can see and get nowadays, but they were a lot better in the 80s. Especially ninja movies. Ninja movies were a prime staple of the 80s. Godfrey Ho practically made his career churning those bad boys out. Yes, the ninja movie craze was one of the bright, shining action subgenres of the amazing 80s. And during that craze, one man was declared the chosen one. The alpha ninja.The real champion of the ninjas (Sorry, Richard Harrison). And that champion’s name… is Sho Kosugi.
Sho Kosugi: The Alpha Ninja
Born Shochi Kosugi, he came to America at 19 to seek a better education. He was also a champion martial artist, and it was with that expertise that saw him dabble in minor film work. Then, in 1981, he rose to prominence as the antagonist in the early Cannon Group cult classic Enter the Ninja, parlaying that into an epic movie career where he personified the badass Ninja for innumerous fans around the world in such films as Revenge of The Ninja, Ninja 3: The Domination (both also made by Cannon), and 9 Deaths of the Ninja, just to name a few. But one film sits above the rest as the most ultimate display of ninja awesomeness. His crowning achievement. Ladies and gentlemen, that film is… Pray for Death.
Kosugi plays Akira, an ex-ninja master who has given up his former life to start a family with his wife Aiko. Burdened by the guilt of his actions as a ninja, and wanting to give himself and his family a fresh start, he decides to move with his wife and 2 sons, Takeshi and Tomoya (played by Kosugi’s real life sons Kane and Shane, respectively) to America. But after running afoul of some mobsters, they become a constant target of torment. Pushed to his breaking point, Akira now has no choice but to resurrect the Ninja within…
Pray for Death marked the final ninja film for Kosugi. And in my opinion, he easily saved the best for last. Written by James Booth, who also wrote the Michael Dudikoff action classics American Ninja 2: The Confrontation and Avenging Force, as well as co-starring as one of the most reprehensible bastards in movie history, Limehouse Willie, this movie is a dark, nasty, violent piece of ninja action. Made in the vein of movies such as Walking Tall, it perfectly blends the vigilante genre with the Ninja genre. And Kosugi gives his best performance as a man who is trying his hardest not to resort to his old ways, but as push comes to shove, and his family’s lives are constantly endangered, he will do whatever it takes to protect the ones he loves.
Now, here are 3 reasons why Pray for Death is the ULTIMATE NINJA MOVIE.
1) Sho Kosugi at his best
Sho Kosugi seems to be underrated and under mentioned within action movie discussions, and that’s a shame, because he is a true pioneer in the 80s action genre. Where would Michael Dudikoff be if not for Sho Kosugi and his ninja movies?? David Bradley?? Pierre Kirby?? What would even Godfrey Ho have done without Kosugi?? Nothing. Nowhere. So you can thank Kosugi for that. And in Pray for Death, he fires on all cylinders.
He is the meanest, scariest hero to ever grace a movie screen. No joke. In the scene where he tells the investigating officer to not stand in his way, you are genuinely scared. You know he is completely pissed off now, and nothing’s gonna stop him from getting his revenge. Honestly, when was the last time a lead actor generated such a genuine moment of terror in an action movie?? Bruce Lee. Chuck Norris. Sho Kosugi deserves the same recognition as these titans of action cinema. At least in my opinion he does.
2) The Climax
After his glorious suit up, Akira locates the mob hideout and proceeds to dispense some of the most awesome ninja violence to ever be documented…
Have you ever wanted to know what would happen if you took the climax of Commando, and replaced Arnold Schwarzenegger with a very angry Sho Kosugi in badass Shredder cosplay? Well, look no further! This is without a doubt one of the greatest action sequences ever. The most ultimate ninja movie climax. Bar none. Seriously, I challenge anyone to find a better action scene in a ninja movie that is more epic than this one. Go ahead. I’ll be here waiting. But I know I’m going to be waiting forever, because you’re never going to find one. Not one. One that can even compare. Arrows through the heart, ninja stars to the face, samurai swords through the neck, just an incredible onslaught of raging ninja fury as one by one, the bad guys pay dearly for their vile indiscretions.
3) Back to the Shadows
I really don’t have to say anything. I could just leave this clip here and it alone will prove my point. For this is the best “Gear Up” scene in all of action movies. Better than the gear ups in Commando, Raw Deal, etc… I’m dead serious. That intensity. That song. It’s perfection. Simply badass perfection. This scene is so badass it’s scary. I mean, who can look at a really pissed off Sho Kosugi preparing to commit some badass ninja violence and not be terrified of the man?? Look at him! He’s terrifying!! He is so terrifying, Chuck Norris looks under his bed every night for Sho Kosugi!
And that song. That glorious, glorious song. Sung in a heavenly voice by Peggy Abernathy. Back to the Shadows is one of the top 5 action movie theme songs ever. A lot of action movies have great theme songs, but this one is pure magic. It ties in so perfectly to the moment, and the movie on a whole. It details a man’s descent back into the darkness of violence, but plays like a love song. Like how Akira must resort back to his ninja ways because of the love for his family. Perfect choice.
Pray for Death. The Ninja Movie equivalent to a Mic drop. I can see why Kosugi left the genre after this. There was nothing left to accomplish. He had done it all. He made an appearance in the 2009 movie Ninja Assassin, and while that was a real nice touch, the film itself just couldn’t compare to his previous work. And damn sure couldn’t compare to Pray for Death. It’s over, guys. Kosugi has got this game won.
Article by The Cinema Drunkie – a cinematic alcoholic from the mean streets of Brooklyn, New York who spends his all of his free time getting drunk off the beauty of all things movie related… and vodka. You can check out his blog here.
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