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I like my job. I get to play with expensive technology, there are lots of buttons to press, and as a side effect, everyone assumes I'm smart. My stock in trade is making shit work, and all things considered, that's pretty cool. However, I didn't plan on working in IT; in fact, it never even crossed my mind. Computers are helpful creatures, and we get along well, though I took for granted that our relationship was a marketable skill. Troubleshooting was just a thing I did for fun and necessity. It was something that came naturally to me. I have had no formal training, and I didn't put any effort into a career using my supposed aptitude. Despite all this, here I am, helping folks with their electronic counterparts and collecting a paycheck. It's just as well because I didn't have a plan at all. I thought of the future, of course (I like robots and spaceships) but never MY future.
Recently in a conversation with a coworker, I was asked what made me want to go into the field, and I told her the truth--I didn't have any inclination that this would be my career. A little surprised, she followed up by timidly asking what I would have become if I had a choice. Instantly, I said “a cyber ninja” and went back to poking the little hole under the disk drive with a paperclip. She paused to digest this in silence, and when I looked again, I saw a face skewed slightly in concern. Finally, there was a barely audible contemplative "hmm," and I was left in a powerful, awkward silence as she walked away. I assume my coworker exited thinking I had derailed the conversation with a random string of childish words to avoid answering. If so, she would be mostly right, but there is some precedent for this vocation.
In a confused, alternative timeline, man fights machine in an ongoing world war for supremacy. At some point in future-history, robots had taken up arms against humanity and developed an endless army of metal warriors in various shapes and sizes. Among the more deadly models, this included a highly capable group of bionic samurai (oh, I'm sorry, ninjas), made of human parts leftover from the construction of their morbid techno-castle (or something, don't quote me on that part). Later, to put an end to the human race once and for all using robo-magic, the evil head honcho has the Princess Saki (Eri Morishita) kidnapped for sacrifice. To avoid this and save the captured aristocrat, the fleshy resistance puts together a crack squad of soldiers for a rescue mission. With them, Akagi (Hanbei Kawai), who, besides wanting to help thwart his species extinction, joins the crew in an attempt to avenge the brother he lost in an epic battle a few years prior. The group also has a surprising ally in the form of a rogue "cyber ninja," Shiranui (Makoto Yokoyama).  After rebelling against the other robots, Shiranui has taken to fighting alongside humans. This is good because the humans need all the help they can get if they are going to lay siege to the electric-castle, save the princess, and avoid taking fatal laser blasts to the face.
 Cyber Ninja (1988) is a retro-futuristic, genre-bending concoction of swords, lasers, and potential action figures. The finely tuned madness forms a live-action, late-80s sci-fi film that thinks it's a fantasy cartoon or at least some combination of those words. It takes place in an alternative universe, flushed out with highlights from comics, toys, and Kung Fu movies, ramped up to a mostly child-friendly maximum. The mix of historical fiction and techno warfare would fit right in an 80s anime, but in the flesh, it is equal parts goofy, beautiful, and bizarre. The storytelling, look, and charm feel chronically familiar to me (even on the first watch) as if it came on between VR Troopers and G.I. Joe Extreme on a 90s Saturday morning. Neon samurai and moody sci-fi tropes are stuck together to form a fictional culture that's fleshed out more than the tale itself. It's short and has only two speeds, hyperactive battle, and overblown dramatic staging. Seamlessly, the content draws from several categories at once, creating a fever-dream of themes being pushed to colorful extremes. Earthly logic gets thrown to the side. In its place, there is an intense amount of detail in every aspect alluding to a complete comic book universe only reminiscent of our own. It's a place without bullets but with laser pistols and swords instead.  Each weapon or piece of armor has an exuberant style harking to medieval Japanese warfare, Power Ranger villains, or 70s space battles, sometimes all at once. 
The story makes sense enough, there is a war, robots, a princess that needs to be saved, but an explanation for the intense conflict is left out. It's like watching the last chapter in a series. In many ways, this works in its favor, giving it the swagger of a long-standing anime series with years of canon to play within its runtime. If Robot Jox (1989), Ultraman, and Samurai Reincarnation (1981) were combined into a single legend by an over-caffeinated storyteller, the tale would resemble this plot and setting. Even with the subtitles turned off, you could feel the heroic energy radiating off the goofy epic, like an extended video game cutscene made from rubber. Overall, the film taps into my eleven-year-old self and makes me want to start jumping around my room, fighting off invisible robots. In fact, the film is like pouring all your toys on the ground for a big battle while making sound effects with your mouth. Is it stupid? Yes, very, but it's fucking fun, and I'm always happy to partake.
The film's technical aspects are a fruity mixed drink of techniques. Graphic effects range from the height of technology ten years before to the same practical work from low budget 90s kids shows. Like the story, the contrasting elements make an eccentric, unrealistic overall showcase that is played straight, like the robot wars actually happened. This may be a little divisive, but you will know early on if it's going to be for you. I feel pretty safe in saying you’ll be okay if you can get down with some Heisei era Godzilla and early 90s Full Moon. Matted backgrounds create an always epic time of day for battle and provide emotional coloring for the noble Samurai contemplative in moody lighting. With the plastic-clad characters, this can look like an anime-kid painted their favorite hero onto a classic painting, but that's all part of its vibe.  As a primary motivation, the movie seems to be going for the grand extravagant moments and tries to squeeze one in whenever it can. During the close combat, the placement and angles are straight out of a Manga and execute the exaggerated choices with precision. Costumes come in two flavors--historical Asia and Super Sentai character. A weapon can appear from anywhere, and each with a slightly different attitude to match. Their bold paired armor/weapon combos of bright colored plastic and rubber break apart purposely dreary desert scenery, giving a visual to the recurring clash of influences.  
From the array of varied effects utilized, some have aged better than others, but the film's distance from reality allows for the leeway. Deadly lasers, and whatever comes out of robots instead of blood, has been painted onto the movie like all lighting in the 80s.  If you cared to, you could probably pick out what is physically in the scene from the imposed backgrounds. When shot with a laser, targets seem to be made of fireworks. Real-life explosions will always be cool, but a few off-step stuntmen can make impacts more comical than exciting. I can't help but love the classic miniature work with its unique characteristics and painstaking detail as it brings life to things like the house-mechs. I'm a sucker for big-ass robots and such, and the inexplicable abode on top is a nice touch. Fifteen minutes into the film, it manages to follow sci-fi silliness in a desert landscape with a picturesque sword fight in a bamboo forest, and it keeps that pace throughout, stopping only in the perfect samurai reflection pose. 
Cyber Ninja or Mirai Ninja was co-produced by NAMCO as a part of the company's effort to extend past video games in the late 80s, along with financing Starlight Express for a Japanese audience. Outside of Hanna-Barbara using Pac-Man for a cartoon, it was the first venture into non-interactive media, and It would also be their only film work until a merger with Bandai in 2005. The film reportedly received negative reviews for its theatrical releases but found some love after being released to videocassette in Japanese, American, and Canadian (under the title Warlord) markets. Along with a tie-in video game, NAMCO released action figures for their main character Shiranui with plans for more, although I think that's pretty much law for tokusatsu movies in the 80s and 90s. The project serves as the first film role for Mizuho Yoshida, who would later become a celebrated Dude-in-a-monster-suit and mo-cap actor. He has brought a handful of Kaju to life, including Gojira in Godzilla, Mothra, and King Ghidorah: Giant Monsters All-Out Attack (2001), and provides the movement for Snake in several Metal Gear Solid games. After playing Jiromaru, Kunihiko Ida (as Hiroki Ida) dawns a Super Sentai suit in 2006 for GoGo Sentai Boukenger, which became Power Rangers Operation Overdrive here in the states. On the more mature side, he also had a small part in Violent Cop (1989), although after several watches of both films, I have never noticed him. Hanbei Kawai, who plays Akagi, appears in Ran (1985), which I almost want to recommend you watch first (if you haven't), because Cyber Ninja sometimes feels like the kids' version with robots, and the 1985 film is a fucking classic. He also has a recurring character in the caper-comedy A Taxing Woman (1987) film series. I have only seen the first, and while I probably didn’t understand all of the humor, it was enjoyable. Another veteran of the Ranger Force, Makoto Yokoyama, the movie's Shiranui, would go on to direct his own super ninja film Shadow Fury in 2001.
Short, ridiculously eclectic, and full of action, Cyber Ninja is  like a trip through a nine-year old's brain hopped up on Gundam and Sonny Chiba samurai films. There's a story in there somewhere, but It's not a thinking movie and isn’t trying to be. Sometimes beautiful but always silly, it's as if someone gave a 90s Saturday morning TV show too much money and thirty extra minutes. It rolls several previous era’s tropes, trends, and technical qualities together and deep-fries the result in plastic. As a plus, and from what I can gather, there is no age limit to becoming a Cyber Ninja; I just need to have all my valuable organs pulled out by machinery and  partially reassembled with some artificial filler like a dinosaur-nugget. So that's still on the table.
1h 11min | 1988
Director: Keita Amemiya
Writers: Satoshi Kitahara


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