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SWORD OF THE NINJA (THE CHALLENGE) (director: John Frankenheimer; screenwriters: John Sayles/Marc Norman/Richard Maxwell; cinematographer: Kozo Okazaki; editor: Jack Wheeler ; music: Jerry Goldsmith; cast: Scott Glenn (Rick Murphy), Sab Shimono (Toshio Yoshida), Calvin Jung (Ando), Toshirô Mifune (Toru Yoshida), Donna Kel Benz (Akiko Yoshida), Atsuo Nakamura (Hideo Yoshida), Clyde Kusatsu (Go), Kiyoaki Nagai (Kubo); Runtime: 112; MPAA Rating: R; producers: Robert Rosen/Ron Beckman/Lyle Poncher; CBS Theatrical Films; 1982-in English and some Japanese)
“Hard-boiled, revolting, kung-fu friendly and ridiculous.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Martial arts action thriller set in Japan, as directed by the American filmmaker John Frankenheimer (“All Fall Down”/”Year of the Gun”/”The Horsemen”). It’s a culture clash pic which has the traditional samurai opposed to the new westernized Japanese Yakuza gangster style. Writers include John Sayles, Marc Norman and Richard Maxwell, who keep it hard-boiled, revolting, kung-fu friendly and ridiculous. It never gains more gravitas than being a bloody violent tale in a modern urban setting. The presence of Japan’s great actor Toshirô Mifune makes it that more watchable.

A preamble explains a fight in the ancient samurai Yoshida family over invaluable old swords. Two precious antique swords have been divided between two rival brothers, one (Atsuo Nakamura) is an evil gangster industrialist, the other (Toshiro Mifune) is a modern-day samurai. The businessman brother will do anything, however vicious, to steal the samurai’s sword. The washed-up American boxer drifter Rick Murphy (Scott Glenn) is in Tokyo to transport that sword to the Yoshida family and gets involved with this family feud.Rick, under disguise enrolls in the samurai’s training school in his Osaka forest hideaway camp and learns how to cut down trees with a graceful single blow of the sword and to survive on eating beetles. Rick takes to this noble way of life and regains his lost dignity, and eventually becomes the samurai’s disciple. Rick reveal himself and joins sides with his teacher. There is no message in this pointless film, where entertainment over fighting or watching a head split open is the thing. Frankenheimer does a credible job with the martial arts material. In the last 15-minutes Mifune gives the targeted audience what they came to see, as he takes down the Yakuza empire by himself. What is puzzling is why such a talented director and cast would invest their energy to create such a low-level Chuck Norris flick.

REVIEWED ON 12/28/2014 GRADE: C+

Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”