Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Japanese demons run wild in 'Ninja Wars'

Ninja Wars (aka "Death of a Ninja", "Iga Magic Story" and "Black Magic Story") (1982)
Starring: Hiroyuki Sanada, Noriko Watanabe, Akira Nakao, Jun Miho, Mikio Narita, Noboru Matsuhashi, and Sonny Chiba
Director: Mitsumasa Saito
Rating: Seven of Ten Stars

A feudal warlord (Nakao) allies with a demon (Narita) and the five monks in his service after it is prophesied that if he wins the heart of a beautiful princess (Watanabe), he will someday rule the world. To ensure their success, the demon monks kidnap the princess's virginal twin sister (also Watanabe) who was being secretly raised as a ninja, and from whose tears they hope to brew a love potion. But they didn't take her fellow ninja and sweetheart Jotaro (Sanada) into account, nor the ferocity with which he would attempt to rescue his love.

"Ninja Wars" is a big-budget, epic fantasy movie set during the Warring States period of Japan's history. It's got a wild, twisting and turning plot that the above-summary only touches on part of, because to say more would ruin some of the film's surprises. It's got romance, spectacular battles, and black magic applied in bizarre ways. It's got pure-hearted virgins, brave ninjas, honorless nobles, and Samurai who are more than what they seem. It's a film that will surprise you, because scene after scene will have you saying, "No... they didn't just do THAT, did they?!"

The version I watched (which was titled "Death of a Ninja") featured some dodgy dubbing--with weak acting and clearly mistranslated dialogues--but the superior quality of the film still shined through that hobbling. It's nearly perfectly paced, and it keeps the viewers attention through fast action and a steady stream of unexpected developments. The only two things that annoyed me about the film was a flashback sequence that flashed back to things we had just seen on screen some ten minutes earlier, and the somewhat unsatisfying ending. (It's a fitting end, but it wasn't strong enough for my tastes.)

Fans of tales set in 15th through 17th century Japan, fans of Samurai epics, and fans of quirky martial arts and fantasy movies should find much to enjoy here. And horror fans will certainly enjoy the bizarre demonic machinations and certain shocking scenes I don't want to detail, because I will spoil their impact.

The deadliest of blogathons....

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