Wednesday, March 14, 2012

In short: Ninja Scroll (1993)

Original title: Jubei Ninpucho

A group of freakish, evil ninja known as the Eight Demons of Kimon wipes out a village, letting the deaths look as if they were caused by the plague. When the local potentate of the minor Michuzaki clan sends a group of Kouga clan ninja to investigate, the Demons slaughter them all quite easily - or rather, nearly all of them. Ninja poison tester Kagerou survives, but makes a rather too close acquaintance with the rock-skinned Demon Tessai. Just when Tessai's about to rape Kagerou (which, as we later learn, wouldn't have turned out too well for him), the honourable wandering sword for hire Jubei appears and saves her with his superior fighting skills.

Afterwards, Kagerou disappears from Jubei's life what should be for forever, but the paths of the two will cross again soon enough, for the elderly shogunate agent Dakuan decides to use them both as pawns in his own investigation of what really happened to the village, and why. As sure as Kagerou's open dislike for Jubei will turn out to be…LOVE, Jubei will have to face an enemy from his past.

Brothers and sisters, let us now again praise the utter awesomeness bundled in the body and mind of anime director and writer Yoshiaki Kawajiri.

While the Ninja Scroll movie isn't my absolute favourite of the man's glorious output, it still features everything loveable about his work. So there's a design sense at play that knows that there's no difference between the freakish and the awesome, and so fills the movie with a freaks-per-second rate that's overwhelming, in the process providing us with - among many other things - another one of Kawajiri's beloved vagina dentata variations (this time it's the snake oriented female ninja who doesn't just control snakes, and her snake tattoos, and sheds her skin like a snake, but also carries a snake in her vagina - Freudian film theory would have a field day with Kawajiri), a guy who can become one with the shadows and can control peoples' bodies as if they were marionettes, another guy whose hunchback moonlights as a wasp hive, and the main bad guy whose fighting technique is "reincarnation", which in practice means he can put his dead body back together again even if it's been hacked to pieces.

All this beautiful weirdness takes place in between classic exploitation and men's adventure tropes, buckets of geysering blood, a bit of nudity, and gender politics of the rather dubious sort (though they are nothing compared to the sort of thing Kazuo Koike would have been up to given the same basic story). All this is held together really well by Kawajiri's relentless sense of pacing and even a bit of actual humanity, possibly even humanism, for even though the director loves his exploitation, Ninja Scroll, like most of his other projects, also has a heart and the sort of ethics you don't always get with your breasts and blood fantasy action adventures.


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