I’ve got a little confession to make: This film is the first of the Ninja series I’ve seen. Don’t ask me how I managed to miss the two preceding segments; I have no good excuses. All I know is, now that I’ve seen Ninja III: the Domination, I’ll never miss another one.
It’s just great. Well, maybe I should clarify my terms: “Great” is an overused word these days, as we all know, and I don’t mean to compare Ninja III with Citizen Kane or Birth of a Nation. In fact, cinematically, it’s abysmal.
But I don’t think I’ve seen another movie that was so weird in so many ways—and with such verve. For the first fifteen minutes, we watch this guy wipe out about two dozen people, destroy a helicopter, and crush a golf ball with one bare hand (this one-man ambush begins on a golf course). You never find out why any of this happens, but that doesn’t matter. You get used to that in this movie.
So, then, the cops pump him full of lead, but they can’t kill him (because, as we later find out, he can only be killed by another Ninja). So he drags his body to a girl (Lucinda Dickey) who works as a telephone lineman and gives her this sword.
The gag is, his spirit (which, as you’ve probably gathered, is none too chipper) enters her body. Okay. She can still lead a normal life as a telephone lineman and part-time aerobics instructor, but every once in a while, she gets the urge to crush a policeman’s noggin.
Perfectly normal, of course, but sometimes she—possessed by the bad Ninja, of course—carries through with it. Once she even crushes a billiard ball with her bare hand (this is clearly an important stylistic motif).
Sometimes at night, her closet starts to glow, and the sword gives lifts itself up and gives off some kind of heat. (This may be symbolic.) Also, the video game in her apartment comes alive and zaps her with a laser.
I could go on and on. She visits the doctor for a check-up, and the doctor says (this is the gospel truth): “Nothing very wrong with you, outside of your preoccupation with Japanese sculpture.” Gad! Maybe that’s not wrong, but it sure isn’t right.
To the rescue: a friendly cop (Jordan Bennett), who takes her to a backroom somewhere and pays an old Japanese gentleman to tie her up with chains and try to exorcise the demon out (it doesn’t work); and the nemesis of the bad Ninja, a fellow named Yamada (Sho Kosugi), apparently a familiar figure in the Ninja series.
He doesn’t really play a big role here, but he does come in at the end, in an unlikely Japanese temple nestled in the Arizona hills, to do final battle with the bad Ninja. This is a doozy—the bad one twirls himself down into the sand and starts an earthquake, so the actors get to move back and forth and wave their hands while the cinematographer jiggles the camera around.
Tremendous stuff. And I left out the massacre at the cemetery and the hot-tub murder. I just hope that, for Ninja IV, they make it even weirder. But how can you top a film that’s a cross between Enter the Dragon, Poltergeist, and Flashdance? My hope is that, if anyone can, it’s Kosugi & company.
First published in the Herald, 1984.
Sometimes sheer recitation of a plot, with appropriate annotation, is fitting, and obviously I thought that was the case with this movie. It conquered me. Lucinda Dickey had an abbreviated career, with this film and Breakin’ and its notoriously named sequel, Breakin’ 2: Electric Boogaloo her main credits. I have not revisited the world of Ninja III or its predecessors, but I’m fine with keeping it that way: one memory, kept pristine, untouched by time or age. And here it is.