dedicated to the cult hit cinematic series (1985-1993)
starring Michael Dudikoff, Steve James and David Bradley.
Joe Armstrong 米忍者
Mr. Firstenberg. Thank you very much for agreeing to answer these simple
questions about your pivotal and groundbreaking American Ninja movies. First of
all, big congrats for your astonishing film-making career, quite a big
achievement! Now, let’s talk about Joe Armstrong and his fictional universe…
Q: AN1. Is Joe supposed to be 22-24? I
assume he has been retrieved amnesiac when he was just 13 or so. Do you
remember you being given any interesting “inside” info about his origin from
the movie screenplayers, for instance why Joe’s biological parents were located
in the Philippines? I cannot find either the name or the bio of the actor who
played Joe as child anywhere…
S.F: In the script Joe is serving in the
military, usually here in the US young men go to the army after the graduate
from high school at age 18. Joe is already after basic training and is assigned
as a driver to an active unit so he is probably around 19 years old. Of course
Michael was older than 19 at the time that he played the part.
In the scene of the explosion
the little Joe Armstrong is about
10 years old and in the montage of him being trained by Shinyuki he is about 12
Joe’s biological parents
were stationed in the Philippines as
For some reason the boy that played
young Joe’s name does not
appear in the IMDB list, I just remember that he was a local boy actor in
Manila of Western descent.
You can set up the timeline any way you
see it but make Joe at least 21-22 years young because here in America to be 24
and still in military service is too old.
Is Joe T. Armstrong supposed to be a name
they gave him when they retrieved him?
S.F: The name Joe was given to him by
Shinyuki, the family name Armstrong
he adopted later in life.
Q: AN1. Is Shinyuki, Joe’s master, supposed
to be a former member of the Narajama clan or he belonged to some other ancient
and secret clan? It doesn’t seem like Black Star Ninja recognized him or his
(and Joe’s) techniques. How did Shinyuki end living on the Philippines anyway?
S.F: Shinyuki ended up living in the
Philippines as a gardener for Ortega we don’t know more, the rest is mystery.
It is destiny that brought him there to be in the right time at the right place
to serve justice.
Q: AN1. Is the exact name of the ninja
S.F: As far as
I know it is "Mystical
Warrior Magic". Things believed to be within the Kobudera contigent are
Genjutsu (art of illusions), Yojutsu (art of the supernatural
"tricks") and Onmyodo (The Way of Yin-Yang - rough translation, there
is really more to it).
Q: AN1. Was American Ninja financially successful? It
was a big, renowned
TV/video hit here in Italy. What can you tell us about the popularity and the
resonance of the movie all around the world? In Italy it was re-titled as Guerriero
Ninja was immediate success upon its release in theaters and later on a
huge success when it came out on the home video market. Since it was a low
budget movie eventually it was and still is a tremendous financial success
American Warrior instead of American Ninja
appears first in France
and later in Italy. Maybe the local distributors did not believe that their
audiences know what a “Ninja” is and therefore change the name to insure box
office success. In any case in France for two weeks the movie was at the top of
Q: AN1. In your view, apart Michael
Dudikoff (The James Dean of Ninjas), the ninja’s conceptual theme and the
impressive action scenes, what else is part of the big appeal of the American
Ninja story? In my view, the self-discovery of secret “special” origin and
skills which somehow underlines a similitude between Joe and Superman.
S.F: In my opinion the appeal of American Ninja is not
Dudikoff and the fact that he was the first “Western” Ninja, but also the
innocent love story between Joe and Patricia (Judie Aronson) and the body-body
storyline between Joe and Curtis Jackson (Steve James). Young movie viewers are
attracted to true friendship and first love.
Q: The final
fight of AN1 is iconic and thrilling, just a
marvellous set-piece. Why in AN2 are
Joe’s screentime as American Ninja and his final duels somewhat shorter?
S.F: No, it was not budgetary reasons
that Joe’s final fight is shorter; it was only the different structure of the
plot that is broader in scope. The first American
Ninja concentrated on the story of Joe Armstrong the second had more
narratives to follow.
Q: AN2. Was it successful?
Ninja 2 was successful as well since it had a build in enthusiastic
followers, fans of the first movie, but in the long run stretching over 30
years the first American Ninja is the
undisputed champion the most successful of all the other American Ninja movies
in the series.
Is it supposed to be fictionally set in the Carribean Islands? In my timeline,
now Joe is 29 and 5 years have passed by since the events of AN1.
S.F: Yes the story of American Ninja 2 is taking place
fictional Caribbean island and though we never timed it while writing the
script, you are probably assuming that it is few years later but not 5 probably
3 which will make Joe 22 or 23 years old.
Q: AN2 is a fan favourite and a cult
classic like the first one, but some complained about the ninjas being more
easy to defeat/kill… especially in the last fight, where some Marines just took
them down. What’s your say and perspective about this? My theory is that the
so-called “Super-Ninjas” were not yet fully developed and at that point their
“super” abilities just hadn’t kicked in like planned. This is also evident in
the beach fight sequence.
S.F: I did not fill that it was easier to
take down the Ninjas in one movie then the other but I must admit that I like
your theory very much, such an idea did not cross my mind but story-wise it
Q: Is Tojo Ken (Mike Stone) supposed to be Japanese? He is as much iconic
as Black Star Ninja, despite having a much shorter screentime.
S.F: Mike Stone is Hawaiian and has a
very unique look so we left it at that, there was no need to define him as
Japanese or anything else.
Q: Do you think
Joe used the American Ninja persona some more times in his life? It seems to me
AN1 is the start of his “career” as vigilante, and AN2 just
reinforced this concept. IMHO, in AN2 we got a more determined and
focused Joe Armstrong, and that is truly one of the best aspects of this
S.F: In the beginning of the first movie Joe Armstrong is
reluctant to get involved in any kind of mission or action - he even refrains
to join the game of the other soldiers in the first scene. At this point he is
also unaware of the special fighting abilities he possesses. As the plot
progresses, and catapulted by his basic set of moral values, he is being pulled
into getting involved in the events surrounding him, seeking justice. Along
this process he discovers the secret of who he is and the skills he possesses.
In all the sequels later on, Joe is in a mission
resolve an unjust problem and right the wrong, he is aware of his abilities and
therefore more determined and focused.
Ninja 3, 4, 5. Have you seen them? Which
one is your “fave”? We would love a
movie reunion, an American Ninja 6
featuring an older Joe and maybe even Sean Davidson (David Bradley) in some
S.F: I must admit that I did not see any
of the sequels to the first two American Ninja therefore I have no favorite or
unfavorite among them. If a sixth American Ninja will be made it will be a
miracle, I heard that Michael is involved in an attempt to produce an older Joe
Q: Is it true that you own the rights
of the “classic” image of the American Ninja persona, black ninja garb + red
belt? I’m asking this because Joe in #4
just wore a full black ninja garb.
S.F: I do not
own any right in the movies
that I directed, usually all the rights belong to the company that produces the
film, in this case it was Cannon Films and today all the rights of American Ninja
belong to MGM. In the
classical Hollywood system the director works for the producer or the
production company, he get paid (sometimes very well) and therefore he “seals”
his creative rights in the movie. Just in only few independent productions the
director retains any rights.
Q: Last question! Steve James. We fans just feel Curtis Jackson as being
cult icon along with Joe Armstrong. What’s your best memory of Steve?
S.F: Steve James was a great man, kind,
goodhearted, enthusiastic cinema lover, and iconic black American Hero. We all
loved working with him and we all miss him so much. I am sure he will be
remembered by many for a long time.
Thank you so much, Mr. Firstenberg...
SAM FIRSTENBERG, all rights reserved.