Written by: Michael Den Boer on February 26th, 2016
Theatrical Release Date: USA, 1985
Director: Gordon Hessler
Writer: James Booth
Cast: Shô Kosugi, James Booth, Donna Kei Benz, Norman Burton, Kane Kosugi, Shane Kosugi, Matthew Faison, Parley Baer, Robert Ito, Michael Constantine
BluRay released: February 16th, 2016
Approximate running time: 98 Minutes
Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1 Widescreen / 1080 Progressive / MPEG-4 AVC
Sound: LPCM Stereo English
Subtitles: English SDH
BluRay Release: Arrow Video USA
Region Coding: Region A
Retail Price: $29.95 (USA)
Synopsis: A Japanese businessman named Akira wants to provide a better life for his family. So he relocates his family to America. Unfortunately for them they have moved into a place that a crime syndicate has been using to store stolen merchandise. And when a necklace that was supposed to hidden there disappears. Akira and his family suddenly find themselves in the crosshairs of this ruthless crime syndicate. At first Akira tries to reason with those who are trying to harm his family and when they proceed to harm the ones he loves. This action forces Akira to return to his former life as a ninja and take the law into his own hands.
Pray for Death was directed by Gordon Hessler whose diverse filmography includes, The Oblong Box, The Golden Voyage of Sinbad and KISS Meets the Phantom of the Park. Key collaborators on Pray for Death include, cinematographer Roy H. Wagner (Return to Horror High, A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors) and screenwriter James Booth (Avenging Force).
Content wise, though this film follows a familiar path that has been traversed by countless other marital arts films. Ultimately it is not the path that one’s travels that determines if it fails or succeeds. Like some many marital arts films it is the other things that are brought to the table which drive the film. And in regards to this film one of its greatest strengths are its characters which populate the story at hand. Another one of this film’s strengths are its action set pieces which are all inventive and well executed.
When it comes to the performances everything starts with this film leading man Shô Kosugi in the role of Akira. This film is clearly a film tailored for its leading man and though it is a given that he is going to deliver the goods when it comes to the action oriented moments. It is the more dramatic moments where he actually far exceeds expectations.
Another stand out performance is James Booth (he also wrote the screenplay for this film) in the role of this film’s #1 villain a hitman named Limehouse Willie. He delivers a menacing performance that is utterly convincing. And without a doubt the thing that resonates most about this character is the enthusiasm he exhibits as he does the vilest things.
There was a time when Ninja’s ruled the world of action cinema. Throughout the 1980’s the ninja was a staple of many action film and though they have all but vanished from silver screen. Their enduring legacy has not been diminished or forgotten. With films like Pray for Death being a solid example of the Ninja phenomena of the 1980’s.
Pray for Death comes on a 50 GB dual layer BluRay. The film is presented in a 1080 progressive widescreen. This release comes with brand new digital transfer for the Unrated and R-Rated versions of the films. Details look sharp, colors and flesh tones look accurate and black levels look strong throughout. Also grain look natural and there are no issues with DNR or compression. It should be noted that the Unrated version of the film features footage taken from a different source that is not in as good of condition as the source used for the bulk of the transfer.
This release comes with one audio option, a Dolby Digital stereo mix in English and removable English SDH subtitles have also been included with this release. The audio sounds clean, clear, balanced and robust when it needs too.
Extras for this release include, trailers for Enter the Ninja (2 minutes 53 seconds), Revenge of the Ninja (1 minute 41 seconds), Pray for Death (2 minutes 11 seconds) and Rage of Honor (1 minute 35 seconds), an archive interview and Ninjutsu demonstration with Kosugi from the film’s New York premiere (18 minutes 57 seconds), an interview with actor Shô Kosugi titled ‘Sho and Tell Part One: Birth of a Ninja’ (19 minutes 5 seconds) and the R-Rated version of the film (95 minutes 31 seconds – 1080 Progressive Widescreen, in English).
The extra titled ‘Sho and Tell Part One: Birth of a Ninja’ is a career retrospective interview which covers the film’s that he made up to Pray for Death. Other topics discussed include, how it was his parents’ idea that he learns martial arts, why he left Japan and relocated to America and how difficult it was for him to find work as an actor before his big break Enter the Ninja.
Rounding out the extras is a reversible cover art option and a twenty-four-page booklet with cast & crew information, an essay titled ‘Back in Black: Cowboys and Ninjas in Pray for Death’ written by James Oliver, an excerpt from the forth coming book Ying-Yang Code: The Drums of Tenkai-Bo written by Warren Chaney and Shô Kosugi and information about the transfer. Overall Pray for Death gets a solid release from Arrow Video.