Movie Review: Ninja Assassin
Ninja Assassin, perhaps a title that is a bit repetitive as a “Ninja” is pretty much always an “Assassin, but, title semantics aside (and play on words as you will see below) I liked this film. So, ith that said up front, lets talk a bit about the actual history of the Ninja, or as they are more properly called “Shinobi no mono” in Japan. The Shinobi were taught these skills in “Ryu” or schools of martial art forms that rely more on stealth and trickery than the standard forms of the Samurai period. This type of martial study or form is called “Ninjutsu” and much of its early history surrounded actually being spies for certain Daimyo’s. Some time after this, the ryu’s went underground in the Iga province around 1184.
With the history out of the way, I can now review the film and you may have a better understanding of the Shinobi. Now, I had kind of expected the usual bad ninja movie that I am accustomed to. You may indeed know the style I am talking about, the kind that comes from the likes of “American Ninja” or some of the other chop soki films that have been made over the years for teen boys looking to dose themselves in marital arts without actually walking into a dojo… And well, I did get some of that, but to my surprise there was a bit of a story to the film. Mind you, it was a thin one.. But still a story just the same.
The protagonist of the film is Raizo, a man who as a boy was taken by the ryu sensei and forced to become a ninja. Though Raizo is one of the best students the sensei has a very strict and brutal method to his teaching and abuses Raizo as well as kills a girl he likes. This, as is pretty predictable, makes Raizo hate the sensei, but he feels he cannot escape. That is until one day he attempts to kill the sensei and takes on his whole clan on a rooftop. Raizo escapes and turns the tables on the clan, hunting them as they assassinate people for 100 pounds of gold per hit.
Into this walks an INTERPOL librarian who improbably begins looking into the ninja clans as being a real thing. You see, no one really believes that they are still in business today, but she puts it together that if you are a world leader, and you want a hit carried out, you call the “Black Sand” clan… Oh, yeah, it’s kinda cheese-tastic… But hey, what can I say, I am a classic martial arts movie kind of guy.
Well, one thing leads to another and the hit is on for the INTERPOL librarian, but, Raizo saves her… And makes his stand. A series of improbable fights ensue and much of the mythos surrounding the ninja and their magic are brought to bear here. There are flights of shuriken as well as Kusari-gama scenes that are well choreographed. Much of the blood in these scenes is CG, but the actual fx for the wounds on Raizo and others look really really painful, so good job by the makeup artists.
In the final fight scene you have something akin to Darth Vader fighting Luke Skywalker in pathos, but the way the scene is set in a burning dojo is great. The effect that I liked the most was the slashing blood spatter patterns (CG) on the rice paper panels as the fight progresses. It was like watching a sumi-e painting being created in large swaths of blood on beautiful rice paper squares. It had a certain rough and austere bushido beauty to it.
I was also surprised to note that in the credits this was co written by J. Michael Straczynski who did Babylon 5 back in the day. I always liked the writing on that show if not the CG all of the time.. But back then CG was pretty darn new, so I give em props for what they did have in a weekly television show. I believe that it was Straczynski’s touches on the writing that made this more than just the usual bad Ninja romp.
Overall, I am glad I did not pay for the film at the theater as todays prices are the suck, however, if you have Netflix do rent it. Just be sure that you don’t eat as you watch, the blood and body parts that fly off of people here are a bit gory.