Directed by Gordon Hessler
Produced by Don Van Atta
Written by James Booth
Sho Kosugi made PRAY FOR DEATH after the popular and successful “Ninja Trilogy” he did for Cannon Films: “Enter The Ninja” “Revenge of The Ninja” and “Ninja III: The Domination.” And if you don’t mind taking some advice, I’d suggest you also watch PRAY FOR DEATH after watching the “Ninja Trilogy.” Or better yet, watch it before the trilogy. Not because it’s a bad movie. It’s actually quite good, in fact. But the movies in the “Ninja Trilogy” are designed to be Saturday afternoon chop-socky action adventures with plenty of outrageous action and goofy plot twists. They’re light entertainment, nothing more. PRAY FOR DEATH is a much darker film, a movie about the dreams of an immigrant family turned into a nightmare. There’s a wide streak of sadism infesting the movie and except for one scene the violence isn’t played for fun. For the most part this is a bloody revenge story and the ending doesn’t shrug off the tragedy that befalls this Japanese family.
Akira Saito’s (Sho Kosugi) wife Aiko (Donna Kei Benz) desperately wants to return to America where she was born and raise their two sons Tekeshi (Kane Sosugi) and Tomoya (Shane Kosugi) there. Akira is somewhat reluctant but he’s just been told that he has to wait three years for a promotion that he really wanted and he doesn’t want to wait. He and his wife agree to start their own business in Los Angeles.
Akira has another reason for wanting to leave. His family doesn’t know that he’s a ninja and for years he’s been living with the guilt of killing his own brother who tried to steal gold from the ninja temple where they were trained. Akira wants to put his ninja life behind him and thinks that a fresh new life in a fresh new country will do the trick. The Saitos go to L.A. and purchase a restaurant from widower Sam Green (Parley Baer). The boys busy themselves acclimating themselves to American life while Akira and Aiko renovate the restaurant. They’re so busy that they have no idea that the abandoned cigar store next door is used by a pair of crooked cops for their dirty work. They’re supposed to hide the priceless Van Adda necklace there but one of the cops decides to double-cross his boss Mr. Newman (Michael Constantine) and keep the necklace for himself.
Newman’s viciously psychotic enforcer, Limehouse Willie (James Booth, who also wrote the script) goes to pick up the necklace and finding it gone, sees Sam Green and his packed up car and makes the incorrect assumption that Sam must have taken it. Now, it must be said that even though Limehouse Willie’s job all throughout this movie is to recover the necklace he honestly doesn’t seem all that interested in doing his job. He much would rather beat people to death and terrify them. Limehouse Willie, after killing Sam (hell, he just doesn’t kill the poor old bastard. He pounds him to death with a iron pipe, pours gasoline on him and sets him on fire) figures that the Saito family must know where the necklace is and proceeds to raise hell with them.
He kidnaps Tomoyo, breaks Takeshi’s nose, threatens to burn off Tomoyo’s face with a blowtorch, strings up Akira, tortures him by slashing him across the chest with a razor sharp knife and this son of a bitch is just getting started.
Of course the Saito family doesn’t know anything and of course Limehouse Willie steps up his game until he kills the one person he shouldn’t have killed. That’s when Akira decides it’s time to put an end to this bullshit and once again takes up the way of the ninja to enact his revenge.
If the events of PRAY FOR DEATH had happened to a Caucasian, native born American family I don’t think the movie would have the resonance that it does. Akira Saito and his family are immigrants who come to American with hopes, plans and dreams and almost from the time they set foot on American soil they’re ill used by almost everybody. Sam Green is virtually the only American who shows them any kindness and he’s killed off rather quickly for his kindness. Saito and his family can’t even walk down the street of their new neighborhood without being physical and verbally assaulted by street toughs. Akira can’t get help from the police to protect his family from Limehouse Willie. And while we know that Akira will eventually resort to using his ninja skills it comes far too late to keep his family whole.
Understand me that we’re not talking about High Art here. But what we are talking about is a movie where Sho Kosugi makes a sincere effort to tell a solid story about a dangerous man seeking to live a peaceful life according to the laws and values of a new country that holds promise for him and his family. He’s no Steve McQueen but he does a serviceable acting job as both family man and avenging angel of death. For pure fun and kick-ass entertainment check out Sho Kosugi’s “Nina Trilogy.” But if you want to see a decidedly darker side to him, watch PRAY FOR DEATH.