With the release of Ninja II: Shadow of a Tear getting closer, we crept on through the night (while everyone else was sleeping) into the undergrowth continuing on our quest of the Ninja. Our earnest wanderings paid off when we were pleasantly surprised to discover another hidden member of the cast! We managed to disarm him for a few moments upon showing him our all-styles “KFK” insignia, as he relented to share something of his own story.
Kane Kosugi is the son of legendary Ninja actor, Sho Kosugi, who was huge influence in the Ninjitsu cinema craze of the 80’s. Kane’s first role saw him playing the son of his Ninja father, in Revenge of the Ninja (1983). Since then he has worked with the likes of Jackie Chan, Jet Li, Sammo Hung and many others both in the action movie industry and on various action-oriented projects. So what does this “son of a Ninja” have to say? Let’s find out from Kane Kosugi himself!
Hi Kane, nice to meet you!
Let’s first cover the basics. When were you born? Where are you from originally?
Hi Raj, good to meet you too! I was born on the 11th of October 1974, in Los Angeles, USA. My father was Japanese and my mother Chinese.
What is your height and weight?
I am 6ft (1.82m) tall and weigh 12.5st (79kg)
Was it from your father that you got your first taste of the martial arts?
Yes, it was from him! When I was born, my father hadn’t starred in the movies yet, he was working, teaching and had his own dojo. My parents noticed that I started walking at nine months old, I didn’t crawl. I had strong legs, so I was being taught at a year and a half old!
You’ve won an astonishing 175 martial arts trophies from the age of three until seven but what did your dad have you doing from just a year and a half old, what kind of moves would a baby be training then?!
(Laughs) Well, I don’t remember it totally, it was basic katas, punching, kicking and then Japanese Shotokan karate until ten or eleven years old! Later I went on to learn from different teachers. I went to Japan and learned taekwondo with its intense kicking. I learned about stunts, wu-shu and I also trained in gymnastics, judo and kendo. Whilst I was at school (I went to a normal private elementary school) I played football, basketball with martial arts training taking place after school.
Your brother Shane also started training at the same age, do you have a similar level of experience now?
He did karate when he was five years old. I was pushed more, probably because I enjoyed it more, so as a result, I trained a lot more.
Who were your other main influences, teachers and mentors? Who else inspired you?
I would have to say Jackie Chan! Meeting him was sheer luck, being in the right place at the same time. I was once playing basketball with Sammo Hung’s second son (Jimmy) when they were in Japan. We got by speaking in English then we explained to each other what our fathers did and I said I wanted to be an action star. Next minute I was introduced to Jackie! He’s really such a nice guy, he really acts the same way he does in his movies! Anyway, back then, Jackie was working on “Who Am I?” and he said “Kane, why not come learn and work with me on the set?”, so I went and helped out the stunt team and trained with them for six weeks. What Jackie helped me understand is it doesn’t matter how good you think you are, just go and study everything, from camera work, to angles, to editing, you’ve got to be conscious of the camera otherwise you won’t make good movies. I still meet with Jackie whenever he comes to Japan, I’m really grateful.
We’re moving towards Ninja II now, could you tell us in brief what ninjas were all about?
Ninjas were basically spies and they used their stealth and evasion techniques to escape detection, they weren’t really warriors as such but as they evolved in strategy and tactics they also developed weapons and would carry out assassinations and so on. This mystique further developed to the point where they became heroes in the 80’s movies.
So now to Ninja II: Shadow of a Tear, how did you get involved in the movie and the character you play Nakabara, what’s he about?
I was contacted by director Isaac Florentine, I had met him over ten years ago and never met a director so into the martial arts, so yes, I always wanted to work with him. When the opportunity came I did just that! My character, Nakabara, is a senior (senpai) and friend of Scott’s character Casey, an elder trained under the same teacher. When Casey loses his wife, Nakabara guides him through the hard times, but all is not as it seems…
What is your favourite scene in Ninja II?
My fight scene with Scott! I always wanted to work with Scott as I had seen him in Undisputed 2 and the first Ninja. He was really nice to me, very down to earth and accommodating. When we were running out of time for the scene, Scott would say, “maybe I won’t do my move, you can do your move instead”. You don’t get many people like Scott who are big, tall, muscular AND able to move and jump around as fast as he can, that’s pretty rare.
You’ve done many ninja movies in the past, many people are saying that this one is quite possibly the best DTV (Direct To Video) movie ever made. Can you describe in what way Ninja II is special for you?
Working with Isaac and Scott, it’s unusual these days to have a movie without computers, quick cuts and edits. It’s hard to find directors like that and hard for the actor to do the action. It’s really refreshing to see a movie like this, it’s been awhile since an action movie like this has come about with this many great exciting and energetic scenes! Isaac and Scott know what they’re doing and they are also sensitive about the characters too, this in combination with the stunt team makes it pretty special.
What kind of challenges and/or surprises did you encounter on set?
None really, everything went really smoothly and well. We enjoyed it so much, it wasn’t one of those shoots where we were working 28-hours straight for days at a time and the body getting messed-up!
You’re a martial artist and actor that can do his own stunts, which role do you consider the more important?
I love being a martial artist and it’s important for the actor to do his own stunts if he can. It helps the character to study things like high falls. Yet, the acting I’d say is the most important. I look for the story, action is like the spice, not the main thing.
Could you tell us a little about what it was like working with, the likes of Jet Li and Jean-Claude Van Damme and what memorable stories or insights you have?
Working with Jet Li on the movie War, was a great experience, albeit was a small part. The interesting contrast in approach for example between Jackie Chan and Jet Li is that Jackie is a perfectionist and I’ve seen him do a take fifty times, over and over again. Jet Li would practice a couple of times and then within two takes it was done! Jet is really quiet, calm and focussed whereas Jackie is so outgoing, busy, energetic, even cleaning stuff! I worked with Jean-Claude Van Damme when I was a teenager, I remember he was a hard worker, he was always training after filming in the park and stuff. Once, he offered to arm wrestle me for my cookies, oh well I had to give them to him in the end, haha!
What are the definitive top five Ninja movies ever made in your opinion?
- Revenge of The Ninja
- Enter The Ninja
- American Ninja
- Ninja Assassin
- Ninja II: Shadow of a Tear
I must point out that most of these just happen to feature my dad! (laughs)
You’ve also appeared in several Japanese Sentai series, such as “Ultraman: The Ultimate New Hero” and “Ninja Sentai Kakurenja”. How does the kind of action seen on Japanese television/movies differ from action in American movies, do you have a preference for one or the other?
Actually, it’s not that much different training or working with action directors, whether Power Rangers or hero shows, sometimes they can be over the top but they’re all performed with a plan. Wherever you go, even not speaking the language, through action you find the way to communicate. It is a kind of a spiritual thing, feeling each other out. Timing is also all about feel. The more experienced you are the more you can anticipate others’ movements right off the bat.
You did a long fight scene in: “Timeless” with Korean director Ryu Seung Wan, was that the single most arduous fight scene you’d undertaken so far prior to Ninja II?
That one was difficult and tiring! Basically I did that all day long and most of it was done, but by the end of the day with just an hour left, a filming glitch was noted and I had to do it all over again! Yes, it was tiring but I really enjoyed it too.
What are your top ten kung-fu movies?
- Enter The Dragon
- Drunken Master II
- Once upon a Time in China parts one and two
- Donnie Yen’s SPL
- Game of Death (awesome, going up the stairs, and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar!)
- Police Story
- Ong Bak (that was an eye opener for everybody!)
Can you name a few of your favourite on screen fights or battles, you know with scenes that really impressed your mind?
Let’s see: Jet Li, and Donnie Yen in Once Upon a Time in China part two. Drunken Master II (end fight where Jackie fights Kenny Lo, his real life bodyguard and best friend!). Van Damme in Bloodsport (end fight with Chong Li). Universal Soldier where Van Damme fought with Dolph Lundgren in the rain. The One, where Jet Li fights himself. Timeless (my scene!) My fight with Jet Li in War and Ninja II (my scene with Scott Adkins).
Who would you most like to work with next?
I’d really like to work with: John Woo, Yuen Woo-ping, Donnie Yen, Jackie Chan and Jaycee Chan (Jackie’s son).
We’ve noticed a trickle of action women gradually building-up and coming through these days. Who are some of the best martial arts and stunt women out there right now in your view?
Well, I’ll be completely honest, I’m always getting nervous when it comes to fighting with women. I’m always worried that I might hit or kick them! Some of the greats in my view are Michelle Yeoh, Ziyi Zhang (House of The Flying Daggers, The Grandmaster) and Jeeja Yanin (Chocolate, Raging Phoenix, The Kick).
What kind of training do you do nowadays?
I stretch for at least an hour everyday, and basically stay fit and build the body in such a way that it doesn’t get injured. Before a project I may well work out for a month, for five days a week.
My training includes running several kilometres, sprint training (four hundred metre dash) for endurance and speed, also hill running, weight training, core work, sometimes doing two things in combination. I used to do heavy lifting, now it’s more about getting cut. I sometimes have a personal trainer. These things put together help me do stunts like fifteen metre high falls, to get hit by cars, go through firewalls, and I also have a sky diving licence.
You have a vast array of moves at your command, your favourite moves if you please?
Well, they involve a lot of kicking: back spinning kick, helicopter kick, back split kick, and jump kicks.
Talking stunts now, can you describe the most impressive stunts you’ve seen?
I’d say high falls, jumping off helicopters, things that Jackie Chan does. Seeing stuntman, flip back and fall on their neck, seeing stuntman take hits like that which could cause paralysis. It looks simple, but the sad thing is that the audience can miss those moments where a stuntman puts his life on the line.
What’s the worst injury you’ve had and how did you work around it?
Knock on wood, I haven’t had anything too serious! I’ve had a dislocated shoulder, hurt my knees, that took a long time to heal, I wasn’t able to walk! I have a good trainer that works with athletes, I’ve also used the CO2 capsule which helps rejuvenate you, it works! I also use Chinese herbal oils.
Virtually every martial artist that we’ve ever interviewed has their own opinions on the foods they eat, what works for them and what doesn’t. Since you’re half Japanese and Chinese are there any ethnic secrets or special things you take?
Well, I take a lot of protein, lean meat, and keep away from too many carbs, I don’t drink or smoke. I eat a lot of vegetables and have vegetable and fruit juices and protein shakes, nothing really extraordinary. Other useful things I use are Chinese acupuncture, ultrasound that a lot of athletes use for muscle tightness, also stretching an hour a day can be really beneficial, as well as a hot bath, every day, that’s common for Japanese, to ease the body and improve circulation. You’ve just got to take care of your body, you want to do in life what you like, as long as you can. You need to be warmed-up like car or it’ll simply wear-out faster, eat well and sleep well.
We heard that you’ll be working on a new action movie based on a very popular video game, can you tell us which?
(Laughs) How did you know? Well, yes, it’s a movie based on Tekken.
Where do you see yourself in the next five years?
I want to continue working and getting better, create my own style so people can recognise it, hopefully I can make some more great action scenes and make people happy.
Which experiences have been the most meaningful to you so far?
So far, learning from Jackie Chan and working with a lot of great action stars, and looking forward to use all that I’ve learned from them in my craft.
We’ve heard that you do a fair bit of charity work and enjoy fulfilling the wishes of children via the Make a Wish Foundation in Japan -what’s your message to kids?
Basically, to be healthy, to eat and sleep well and some type of exercise. Do what you really love to do and don’t just take things for granted. Always be positive and never give up!
You were exposed to the martial arts from the start, what age would you suggest as ideal to get children into it these days?
As soon as they have some kind of interest in it! I would say before ten years old they should do gymnastics, it helps in so many other sports. Being able to do back flips for example, having that kind of confidence, not being afraid to flip helped me so many times in so many other sports too.
What advice would you give to a beginner who is considering taking up a martial art?
Don’t stick to just one style, they all help each other. For instance taekwondo has one way of kicking, use different styles to help you express the style you really like.
What’s one geeky thing about you that not many people know?
I love video games! Call of Duty, playing games like Street Fighter can also spark off ideas for various combinations of moves which I can adapt to make my own.
Kane, what is your favourite martial arts book?
Any of Bruce Lee’s with his notes, diary and philosophy.
Heavy Metal, AC/DC, Metallica, Eminem, high tempo stuff!
What are the main values you keep closest to heart, that you would inculcate in kids, what kind of warrior code do you live by?
Always respect others. If you’ve nothing good to say about others, then don’t say anything at all. Always be on time/punctual. Always work hard.
What special message do you have for readers of Kung-fu Kingdom and for your fans in the US, Japan and around the world?
Thank you all for your support! I’m glad I had a chance to talk about what we did on Ninja II! I hope that everyone who watches it will enjoy it, I’ve really done my best here, we all gave it our all! With each movie you see me in, I’ll be better and better.
What warrior-wisdom would you really like to share?
Always think positively no matter what! Everyone goes through both good and bad times: always try to get and do better. Have fun with what you do, you only live once so do the best you can!
What’s the best way for readers to find out more about you?
They’re welcome to visit: www.kanekosugi.com
How has your first interview with Kung-fu Kingdom (KFK) been for you?
It was great! I enjoyed it a lot, we covered many areas and it reminded me of a lot of things, so I’m really glad I did this interview with you.
Thanks so much for your kind participation in this interview. Kane, we wish you every success with Ninja II: Shadow of A Tear. In the meantime, have a truly wonderful holiday season and fantastic New Year 2014 filled with much success. Keep up the great work!
Thanks Raj, and I hope to be able to talk with you guys again, keep in touch!