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Pray for Death
SPECIFICATIONS
  • 1.85:1 Widescreen
  • English PCM Stereo
  • English subtitles
  • 1 Disc
FEATURES
  • R-rated and Unrated Versions
  • Brand new interview with star Sho Kosugi
  • Archive interview and Ninjutsu demonstration with Kosugi from the film's New York premiere
  • Original Theatrical Trailer

Pray for Death

Blu-ray
Reviewed by: Chris Galloway

Directed By: Gordon Hessler
1985 | 92 Minutes

Release Information
Blu-ray | MSRP: $29.95 | Series: Arrow Video
MVD Visual

Release Date: February 16, 2016
Review Date: March 8, 2016

Purchase From:
amazon.com  amazon.ca

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SYNOPSIS

In Pray for Death, martial arts legend Sho Kosugi (Enter the Ninja, Ninja 3: The Domination) stars as a family man driven to exact vigilante justice - ninja style! Japanese Restauranteur Akira (Kosugi) has taken his wife and two boys to the United States in search of a better life. But their slice of the American Dream is quickly soured when they fall foul of a group of vicious jewellery thieves. Unfortunately for the bad guys, they didn't count on Akira being a secret black ninja. The samurai sword of vengeance falls swift and hard in this classic slice of '80s ninja action from director Gordon Hessler (Scream and Scream Again, The Golden Voyage of Sinbad), culminating in an action-packed showdown with a bodycount worthy of Commando.


PICTURE

Arrow brings arguably one of Sho Kosugi’s best films, Pray for Death, to Blu-ray, presenting both the R-rated and unrated cuts in the original aspect ratio of 2.35:1. Both also receive 1080p/24hz high-definition presentations, sourced from a 2K scan.

The main feature is the unrated version, with the R-rated version accessible from the special features (the two versions are actually two completely different files on the disc and are not presented via seamless branching). I was pleasantly surprised by what we get, though there are a couple of problems. On the whole it’s a very sharp image, very filmic in nature, and, for the most part, detail levels are impressive, delivering decent if not spectacular textures in the process. Colours are pretty good, not great, everything still looking a bit muted, but overall I found them to be nicely balanced and black levels are adequate if a bit crushed in places.

The materials are the iffy aspect to the both presentations. The R-rated cut looks great, the print looking to be in fairly pristine shape with slight marks scattered about. The unrated cut mostly looks good, as I assume the print sourced for the R-rated cut was used for most of the film’s running time. But when we jump to footage exclusive to the unrated version the quality degrades rather drastically: the print fades, contrast goes all wonky, colours become desaturated and darken, while blacks levels severely crush out details. The print also shows some more obvious damage. This all unfortunately stands out, with footage either lasting only a few frames or a few seconds. This is an unfortunate and somewhat disappointing aspect to the release, but I think many fans would rather have the footage like this than not at all. (Plus, I should mention, I believe this is the first time the uncut material has been presented in widescreen, a previous bootleg showing the material in full screen. The MGM on-demand DVD only presented the R-rated version.)

Still, even with that hindrance, I was still very impressed with the presentation, which still manages to look fairly film-like.

7/10

All Blu-ray screen captures come from the source disc and have been shrunk from 1920x1080 to 900x506 and slightly compressed to conserve space. While they are not exact representations they should offer a general idea of overall video quality.

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AUDIO

The disc features a lossless 2-channel stereo surround track for the film. Getting past the dated score, which is simply a product of its time, the track delivers nice range and fidelity, with fairly clear dialogue. It isn’t the most dynamic track and the mix is fairly limited, sticking primarily to the fronts. Music is about the only thing audible in the rears most of the time, but in the long run the track gets the job done.

7/10

SUPPLEMENTS

Arrow puts together a nice little special edition for the film, keeping it fairly priced in the end. First, as mentioned earlier, along with the unrated version of the film we get the original R-rated cut, which is presented as a supplement. The R version trims the more violent aspects to the film, a lot of quick cuts with more blood or stabbings, along with a more severe beating for one of the film’s characters. The most extensive cut is in the hospital when the film’s villain, Limehouse (played by James Booth, who also wrote the script and seems to delight in the role a little too much), murders one of the characters. In this R-rated cut we only get a glimpse and then the obvious suggestion he’s murdered this character, while the unrated cut gets a little more graphic, including a full-fledged sexual assault that I was pretty much okay with staying on the cutting room floor (though I know Booth’s character is a psychopath and the sequence is probably there just so his eventual comeuppance is more “satisfying,” it’s a rather nasty and unpleasant scene, even for a movie that really does relish in its revenge fantasy). The violence in the unrated version was otherwise pretty mundane by today’s standards so people expecting a gore fest will undoubtedly be disappointed and find having this version questionable, but for those that may actually prefer the R-rated version they have the option, and Arrow gives it a top-notch presentation as well.

The gem to this edition, though is the first part of a new interview with Sho Kosugi (there is a promise that Arrow’s release of Rage of Honor will feature the second part). In this 19-minute interview Kosugi talks about how he got into martial arts (a skinny kid, his parents forced him to join, which he wasn’t thrilled with to begin with) and the failures that followed. Apparently suicidal, Kosugi eventually rounded up enough money (thanks mostly to his sister) to move to Los Angeles, where his career began to take off. Where he failed martial arts exams in Japan he became a notable fighter in America, winning a number of tournaments and becoming well known in the process. He wanted to make the move into movies, starting out as an extra, when he eventually made it into a key role in Enter the Ninja. When Franco Nero declined to star in any of the sequels, the producers, impressed by Kosugi’s skills, cast him, and his career took off (though for a short time). This is a great interview, Kosugi talking about his early films, including Pray for Death, and sharing the fears he had to work through, including a real paranoia about being fired at any moment, while also addressing his limitations as an actor. I loved this and I love that the effort was put into get it. I can’t wait to go through the one on the Rage of Honor disc.

Arrow also digs up an old episode of a television program called Martial Arts Forms, which aired the week of Pray for Death’s release. The 19-minute segment features Kosugi being interviewed about the film while also sharing his knowledge on ninjitsu, talking about the various forms and the weapons that can be employed. He shares general advice on getting one’s children into the martial arts and talks a bit about Japanese cinema and how that influenced his career path. Mixed in are unfortunately a number of clips from the film (though the advantage here is that you can see how awfully framed the film was for VHS, where most people have probably seen the film prior to this Blu-ray or the previous MGM on-demand DVD) but we also get footage from Pray for Death’s premiere, where Kosugi gives a martial arts demonstration (to that awful title song in the film). Props to Arrow for digging up this wonderful segment.

The disc then closes with a great trailer gallery, featuring trailers for Enter the Ninja, Revenge of the Ninja (both of which have been released on Blu-ray by Kino Lorber), Pray for Death, and Rage of Honor (the latter of which will also be receiving an Arrow release). Sadly no other ones have been included, like Ninja III: The Domination (which was released by Shout! Factory).

First printings will also include a booklet featuring a couple of items. There is the inclusion of an excerpt from the book Yin-Yang Code: The Drums of Tenkai-Bo, written by Warren Chaney and Sho Kosugi, along with a wonderful little essay by James Oliver, giving a great history on this little sub-exploitation-genre, how the Cannon guys (who he calls “loveable hucksters”) molded it, and argues how Pray for Death may be the best representation of the genre. He never suggests the film is more than what it is (a piece of pop entertainment that in the end is still not very good) but does deliver a decent analysis on how it was molded by the political atmosphere and Reaganism at the time. I thought it was a great read, so if there are those thinking about getting this release I’d pick it up while the booklet is still available.

Finally, like most Arrow releases, the cover-art is reversible: you have the option of new artwork or artwork based on the original poster.

In the end this is certainly not one of Arrow’s more lavish releases but I was still impressed at the effort that went into it. I’m glad they include both cuts, and the two interviews with Kosugi are both terrific additions. I would have loved some bigger, more lavish edition admittedly (I understand the limited appeal so know that isn’t going to happen) but was still happy with what we got.

5/10

CLOSING

Arrow has put together a rather solid budget-release for the film (it retails for around $29.95, so I think that’s a great deal for an Arrow title). The presentation of the unrated version is certainly open to improvement but on the whole I was impressed by the transfer, and the supplements we do get are all terrific. For fans of the film or the genre I do give it a whole-hearted recommendation.




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