Tuesday, December 1, 2009

In short: Ninjutsu Gozen-jiai (1957)

aka Torawakamaru the Hoga Ninja

Being a magical ninja ain't easy. If you are Ishikawa Goemon (Nakajiro Tomita) of the (in this film) rather evil Iga clan, you might be able to ride clouds, teleport, jump really high, make yourself invisible and cut down trees via telekinesis, but your annoying son Goroichi (Motoharu Ueki) has missed every lesson in Being Evil School and your henchwomen like Sagiri (Hiroko Sakuramachi) are so fragile in their evilness that having one good deed inflicted upon them will turn them into do-gooders themselves.

Not that the rather good ninja of the Hoga clan (also known as the Koga clan) have it easy. First and foremost, there aren't exactly a lot of them left, and their youngest and brightest Torawakamaru (Sentaro Fushimi) might be able to do all those sexy things Goemon can plus turn into a big toad, but he also has the laughter of an especially ill-mannered goat. And, you know, who wants to turn into a big toad?

When the Iga decide to throw their lot in with Tokugawa, the Hoga obviously side with the Tokugawa's main enemy, the Toyotomi. The groups are fighting about the plans for new-fangled castle fortifications the Toyotomi are planning to build and use all the silly tricks a good ninja knows.

But not even the kidnapping of the adorable/annoying little Toyotomi daughter Nene is enough to end the difficulties. In the end, only a ninja duel between Torawakamaru and the Iga boss of bosses Momochi Sandayu (Ryunosuke Tsukitaga) can decide who will build a fortification and who will be (quite literally) cooked.

The short programmer Ninjutsu Gozen-jiai was conjured up in the same spirit of silliness that would later produce the best Japanese film of all times, The Magic Serpent. Obviously made for children, and containing the important moral lessons that evilness is not genetic, and that fire-breathing snakes look much cooler than big frogs, the film's naive charms are large enough to make it an excellent Sunday morning choice of film for people receptive to its charms, namely me.

There is probably not all that much technical merit to the film (although its director Tadashi Sawashima manages to smuggle in a very beautifully shot swordfight in the rain right at the start of the movie), but it runs along nicely, from time to time stopping for the nauseating children and some painful humor.

Fortunately, there is always some new magical ninja silliness waiting around the next corner - not as much of it as in, say, Taiwanese productions of the next two decades, yet enough to satisfy me.

The final duel (in the clouds, with people changing into various ugly animal suits) is especially satisfying and reminds of the best animal themed Halloween party that never happened in historical Japan.


No comments: