This film is the latest to reach American shores from director Hiroyuki Nakano. His region 1 debut was Samurai Fiction. I came across it by accident the other day while browsing for nothing in particular. I came across the Martial Arts DVD section and this disk caught my eye, mainly because I don’t remember being there the last time had been to that particular store, plus I recognized Nakano’s name on the top of the cover. I picked it up, and saw that Nakano had also directed Samurai Fiction, that’s where I remembered his name from! I had bought that title a while back and really enjoyed it, so I bought this one too in the hopes that I would also like it, the cover made it appear interesting. I also figured, since it was a 2 disk set, somebody must thnk it’s worth something. That’s a thought I reserve for foreign films, as not many get all that special a treatment. I got the disk home, ripped off the plastic and popped it.
The film is a little schizophrenic as it shifts stories about 45 minutes or so in, and not in the direction that it appeared to be heading. The story follows Akakage, Aokage, and Asuka, three ninja’s in ancient Japan. They aren’t terribly adept at their craft yet, and are seen fooling around and screwing up a bit while on their missions. During their second mission, something goes wrong and the dynamic changes as does the direction. New characters are introduced, and it shifts from a more comedically based film to one about political intrigue as one of the clans faces trouble from within.
The thing about this film is that it is on the shallow end in terms of plot and character development. Everything is rather simple and easy to follow. The good thing about that is that it did not detract from my enjoyment of the movie. It falls under that banner of “fun movies,” you know the type, where you can just sit back and have fun without a heck of a lot of brain activity. At the same time, it has a unique look and is different than the films we usually get in that category here in America.
The characters are interesting and lively. Our three stars are Masanobu Ando as Akakage, Jun Murakami as Aokage, and Kumiko Aso as Asuka. They have excellent chemistry throughout the first portion of the film. But then tragedy strikes and the film shifts it’s focus to Akakge and new character Koto-Hime, played by Megumi Okina. The performances are fun, Masanobu Ando is a great presence on the screen.
I guess the biggest problem I had with it is with the plot changing event. It promises a turn towards a much darker film, but it never arrives. It seemed a dropped thread that would have led into a more serious movie. I have a hard time holding much against it as it was a lot of fun to watch.
The design was odd too, it portrays itself as a period piece, an early graphic gives us the time stamp of 585 AD. But the two male ninjas where these form fitting leather outfits, and Asuka, the lone female, is wearing a mini-skirt and fishnet stockings. But I let it go, it was clearly not going for historical accuracy, especially when the tank appears!
Overall it is a stylish movie that is a lot of fun without being much of a mindbender to understand. It fulfilled it’s purpose with this viewer providing an entertaining evening. The style manifested itself early with what appeared to be a crossover scene from Samurai Fiction, featuring a clash on a dirt path that is interrupted by some annoying pests.
Video. The image is anamorphically enhanced 1.85:1 which appears to be the correct ratio. Picture quality is excellent. Colors are sharp and vibrant. There was a lot of use of filters coloring entire scenes blue, red, a few different, everything remained clear and easy to see, even in the darker scenes, of which there are many. Nothing to complain about here.
Audio. Presented in Dolby Digital 5.1 and 2.0 in the original language, Japanese. Also a very good track, not necessarily demo material, but does a good job with what it has here.
Extras. This is a two disk set with most of the extras residing on the second disk.
-A commentary track with actor Fumiyama Fujii and director Hiroyuki Nakano. The track is in Japanese, but thankfully a subtitle track is provided. I did not sample this yet.
-Tokyo Shock previews for Samurai Fiction, Versus, Ichii the Killer, and one more I can’t remember.
-3 Television spots are included.
-2 Theatrical trailers.
-Character profiles. More like behind the scenes and interviews with 5 of the primary cast members.
-Director’s Video Diary. This is the meat of the extra’s, with a running time of 90 minutes, it is a feature unto itself. It covers many aspects of the production including stunts, casting, effects, promotion. It includes interviews, stills, deleted scenes. I watched some of the film and enjoyed it much.
The best thing, all of the extras include English subtitles!
Bottomline. A fun movie, interesting take on the ninja/samurai film. Not as deep as I would have hoped, but it made up for that with a great visual style, fun performances, and basically something different from what we usually get here. If you are interested in Asian cinema, or are just looking for something different with some good action, this may just fit the bill.
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