Why We Still Love Ninjas

This week, the gents of Junkfood Cinema, as part of their ongoing Summer of 1987 series, discuss the action trash-terpiece American Ninja 2: The Confrontation.
By  · Published on May 20th, 2017

This week, the gents of Junkfood Cinema, as part of their ongoing Summer of 1987 series, discuss the action trash-terpiece American Ninja 2: The Confrontation.

Without being too confrontational myself, allow me to remind you all that ninja movies are a lie. Ironically, that expert-level deception is the most ninja-accurate thing about them. However, any film that portrays ninjas as the heroes–be they children, surfers, or teenage mutant turtles–is akin to painting a cute little teddy bear on a tomahawk missile.

In feudal Japan, ninjas were covert agents recruited from the lower class to carry out missions of espionage, sabotage, and assassination. They were guerrilla fighters whose tactics were looked upon as totally dishonorable by, say, the samurai. In the 1980s, it was b-movie custom to feature villains with an army of lethal ninja henchmen at their beck and call…this is accurate. However, these same movies would frequently feature heroes also classified as ninjas, and often these would be the titular characters…this is the lie.

Having any hero in a movie referred to, or refer to themselves even, as a ninja is like rooting for the stormtrooopers in Star Wars. Ok, fine. Yes, Finn in Force Awakens makes this analogy shaky, but consider the fact that Finn had a crisis of conscience that lead to his defection from his armor-clad death squad; only after which did he win the audience’s allegiance.

This type of defection proves to be too-little-too-late for Danny, the redheaded (literally) miscreant from the first TMNT film whose association with The Foot Clan aides them in beating Ralph half to death and burning down April’s home.

So was it a systemic ignorance of feudal Japanese caste systems that propelled us to turn a blind eye to this paradox and consume ninja movies like candy during the 80s and early 90s? Not at all. It was instead the rise of a specific sect of shinobi. This clan emerged during the Reagan Dynasty, and for all their contributions to culture, they are immortalized on no elaborately painted scroll. I speak of course, of the legendary mall ninja.

What is a mall ninja? A mall ninja is a villain, therefore historically accurate. They are hired by character actors and other greasy baddies to protect their illicit empires that are not always, but definitely always, funded by the distribution of narcotics. The mall ninjas have their own code, the tenets of which are thus:

That code of dishonor is exactly why American Ninja 2: The Confrontation is wildly enjoyable, and in fact why we would, at any time, sit down and watch any installment of the American Ninja franchise starring (at various points, dependent upon the particular sequel) Michael Dudikoff and/or Steve James; both of whom are much a ninja as they are Japanese.

Want to hear more not-so-clandestine thoughts about American Ninja 2? Including why it should have been secondarily titled Super Ninjas, why we want to see Michael Dudikoff in La La Land, and the Ninjaland theme park we are constructing, listen to this week’s Junkfood Cinema!

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As a special treat, anyone who backs JFC on Patreon will have access to weekly bonus episodes covering an additional cult movie, a new movie in theaters, or a mailbag episode devoted to your submitted questions! During Summer of 87, there will be an entirely separate Summer of 77 miniseries just for Patrons! Have a couple bucks to throw in the hat, we’ll reward you!

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Longtime FSR columnist, current host of FSR’s Junkfood Cinema podcast. President of the Austin Film Critics Association.