I was going through my closet yesterday and stumbled upon an old tape I'd bought at a video store years ago. It's called Cyber Ninja, and I had initially picked it up because it had Namco's logo on it, for some reason. I never investigated why, until today. Turns out the Japanese is title is Mirai Ninja (literally: Future Ninja), which was a 1988 arcade title developed by Namco. I could be wrong, but I think this might be officially the first live action motion picture based on a video game. (If you don't count Cloak and Dagger, anyway - I don't.) I guess you could say that the game could possibly be based on the movie, but Namco is listed as a producer for the film, so they must've been involved in it in some way. This seems to be corroborated on this Manadarake blog which states that the game began development first, but the movie was actually released before it came to market.
I still need to hook up a VCR to check it out, but this review claims it's about what you'd expect - cheesy special effects, mad dubbing and a ludicrous plot, something ripely cut out for MST3k. This Japanese page also shows some cool designs. Until then, I gave the game a run through in MAME to check it out. It's sorta like the evolutionary step between Taito's The Legend of Kage and Irem's Ninja Spirit. You're a shuriken tossing ninja running through long stages with plenty of vertical height, and impressive jumping skills to boot. Unlike the other ninja games mentioned, at least you have a life meter, displayed at the top of the screen in numerical kanji. It does have a cool melding of futuristic technology with traditional Japanese architecture, similar to later games like MUSHA and Sengoku Blade. Instead of riding on an airplane, one level is one top of a gigantic flying palace which crashes into the side of the enemy fortress. There's some SNES-style rotation effects too, including a boss battle where the whole room rotates every few seconds while fighting the central core. All of this a few years before Super Castlevania IV.
That's not to trump it up and say it's a classic or anything. The biggest downside is that you can't aim the direction of your shurikens, and like most arcade games, the enemy attacks are too relentless to be much fun for more than a few levels. Plus, level themes are reused a couple of times, and you'll refight a few of the same bosses over and over.
It's weird that there was a movie made of this game though. It's remarkably obscure, having never been ported or even mentioned in any of Namco's many, many collections. And it was never released outside of Japan, while the movie was. What an oddity.
This all reminds me of a media project I wanted start awhile ago. There's a lot of video game-related TV shows and movies that are impossible to find on the internet, and are only sold on old VHS, if at all. I wanted to start transferring them to digital format and distributing freely on the internet. Not exactly legal, but the stuff I'm thinking about isn't available commercially anyway. I already stuck up the old Bubsy cartoons a few years ago, as well as an episode of the Salamander anime. I want to do all six domestic tapes of Zillion, and I just ordered the sole Maniac Mansion (an obscure Canadian production) tape off Amazon. One day I want to stick up older anime OVAs like Fire Emblem and Panzer Dragoon, since they're not on DVD. Now I just need to find a decent video editing program that isn't VirtualDub and clean up some HD space...