Sunday, October 28, 2007

Capsule One: SHINOBI NO MONO Vol. 1

Work has been busy here and I have a lot of projects brewing, which have been keeping me away from the blog. In between all of this, I've been trying to catch up on the stack of films sitting in my apartment while also trying to get out and see some limited-run stuff out in the theaters.

So, in the interest of time and because I think that no one really wants to read one of my long-ass reviews, I've decided to turn in a number of capsule reviews on various films I've seen.

I don't know how long or how regularly I will be doing these, so consider this a trial run of sorts. Oh, and by all means, let me know what you think of these films that I've written about. As they say, "Opinions are like assholes..."

Here's the first one:

Vol. Ninja Band of Assassins
Dir. Yamamoto Satsuo
Ichikawa Raizo
Ito Yunosuke
Fujimura Shiho
Wakayama Tomisaburo (aka. Kenzaburou Joh)
Format Viewed: DVD

The kind folks at Animeigo have been hooking me up with their releases for a while now (thanks guys!) and writing reviews about them when I have the chance. (And if this capsule thing takes, then I will try and go back and post some write-ups on the stuff I've already watched.)

Part one of a slated eight disc series release (let's hope Animeigo is able to do them all), this series stars a young Ichikawa Raizo as Ishikawa Goemon a hot-headed young ninja whose aspirations of ninja glory is cynically manipulated by ninja group leader Momochi Sandayu who wants to kill power hungry Oda Nobunaga (played by a pre-LONE WOLF AND CUB Wakayama Tomisaburo who is credited as Joh Kenzaburo). Oda, it seems, wants to unite all Japan and views the ninja's as a stumbling block. Concurrent with this, Momochi learns that a competing clan, run by the wizened old Fujibayashi, also plans to assassinate Oda and this is intolerable, so far as he's concerned. Framed for a murder he didn't commit, Ishikawa goes on the run with Momochi's promise that if he assassinates Oda before the rival clan does, then all will be forgiven... But being the world of the ninja Goemon cannot believe what he sees or hears and he is forced to survive using all of his wit and skills.

Often credited as the series that turned the ninja from a laughable kids' superhero into something more historical accurate and reality based, director Yamamoto Satsuo (picture right) ** states that SHINOBI NO MONO is different because it was carefully researched and precisely shot. Gone are the ninjas who disappear in a puff of smoke and can fly, instead we are shown how ninja's work their 'magic', as illustrated by their guiding rule: 'Be devious!' Use a rat to distract a person and sneak by, use a long string and a eye-dropper of poison to kill a sleeping enemy etc. (This attention to 'realism' is particularly interesting considering that SHINOBI... was a Daiei production: home of the more lush and stagey jidai-geki productions.)

The fact that Animeigo has taken the initiative and started releasing SHINOBI NO MONO -- arguably the most famous ninja series in Japan -- should be applauded. What's more, it seems that slowly but surely Animeigo is heading back in the right direction in terms of quality production, which for a short time had taken a bit of a dip.

That said, my one itty-bitty grievance is that while I know it costs money to print booklets it would be great to get the old liner notes back on the page and off of the discs, while also, perhaps, publishing some new essays about the series. I'm just saying... (Keep in mind that this is one man's opinion, but I'm still holding onto -- and occasionally buying used -- the old Animeigo Laserdiscs because I loved their production quality, translations and liner notes.)

Most definitely recommended.

** Yamamoto's films are the retrospective centerpiece at this year's Tokyo FILMEX, which, regrettably I won't be able to attend as planned. They will be, incidentally, showing SHINOBI NO MONO on both November 18th and 20th. Ii ne.

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