Pray for Death is an encapsulation of the 1980’s American craze of all things Japanese and the ninja film boom in Hollywood. Made in 1985, the film stars Sho Kosugi, as Akira Saito, a wealthy business man from Japan that immigrates to America with his wife and two sons. His wife originally came from America and she convinces her husband to open up a restaurant in Houston. The building that they purchase though is secretly a hideout for stolen goods that is used by a local mob boss. A neckless gets stolen and the mob boss gets the Saito family involved. Little does the mob boss know that Akira happens to be a ninja master that goes after him, once his family is threatened. After being out of print for years, Pray for Death is available on DVD through the MGM Limited Edition Collection.
One of the main things that makes Pray for Death work is the stage presence that Sho Kosugi brings to the role. While he’s no Bruce Lee, he does a good job and slightly elevates the B-Movie to being enjoyable. His two sons in the film are played by Kosugi’s real life sons. Just like their father, both Kane and Shane Kosugi mirror him in not only looks, but stage presence as well. The martial arts and action choreography are well done for an 80’s film and can’t really compare to films like Ong Bak or even the hallway scene in Oldboy. Its full of jumps, back flips and somersaults than actual swordplay or hand to hand combat. There’s tons of graphic kills by shurikens to the face and other acts of violence that get edited prematurely that hinder the films level of violence that could have made it a classic.
Pray for Death is standard B-move fare for action junkies of the 80’s and fans of ninja films from that era. Since this film was made, we’ve been exposed to Asian cinema that does ninja and martial arts more justice than this film does in its entire running time. I would happily revisit Shinobi no Mono or Azumi faster than I would Pray for Death in a heartbeat. While its not terrible, there’s just nothing too memorable about Pray for Death but nostalgia for the 80’s. If you’re a fan of American Ninja, The Octagon or even know of that these films even exist, then Pray for Death should rightfully be in your collection.