Director/Writer: Yoshiaki Kawajiri
Based on: Makai Tensho by Futaro Yamada
Starring: Koichi Yamadera, Emi Shinohara, Daisuke Gori, Kareshi Aono. Japan. 1h 34m.
I can’t believe this is my first Manga installment on the blog, but I have to start somewhere and I would have believed it would be with Akira (1988) or something cyber as that was always my main attraction to Japanese animation and Akira literally blew my away for years I was sketching scenes, trading cards and obsessing over rebuilding Tokyo.. but eventually I got into some other genres and then left it all behind when it became tooooooo computerised and cute, and err popular.. Hipster am I yes.
After watching the wonderful and charismatic remake 13 Assassins (2011) by Takashi Miike, I was trying to work out what the film reminded me of, eventually I pinned it, Ninja Scroll!! It’s not precise, there are other Samurai based films out there which are closer for example Lone Wolf and Cub / Shogun Assassin but Ninja Scroll is such a delightful to watch. I’m pretty sure the pitch went like this “let’s make 13 assassins but instead of having uniquely talented good guys, lets have some bad guys with demonic skills” BOOM! movie made. It’s also quite funny, the lead character Jubei Kibagami gets pulled into an impossible situation but remains the cool guy throughout and a true hero.
Set in Feudal Japan and being based on Makai Tensho by Futaro Yamada, the film strangely doesn’t really go into detail about the beginning of the original story but don’t worry you’ll soo be caught up. An estranged lord Yamashiro decides to go alone and to fund his cause he steals gold from his lords gold mine, but as he’s so weak he cannot fight along so he hires out a group of ninja lead by Gemma Himuro to to kill the retainers, Jubei and Shinkuro are members of this ninja team and after the ordeal the ninjas are given the secret task of killing each other to eliminate everyone who knows about this undercover deal, Jubei realises what’s going on after killing his friend Shinkuro in self defense and managed to kill Gemma (who looks like Dolph Lundgren) by cutting off his head…
Now this is where the movie begins.. five years after all this has occurred, Jubei is a lone swordsman and there is a new threat called the Shogun of the Dark who are looking to take over politically with a large amount of gold at their disposal. They are being tracked by a secret government spy Tokugawa who enroles Jubei after seeing his potential after he kills Tessai who was trying to molest a chief poison taster Kagero who was part of he Mochizuki Koga Ninjas who were wiped out by Tessai and some of the other 8 Devils of Kimon. So the lone swordsman is poisonous by Tokugawa and therefore forced to work with him and the stunning Kagero and the three set out on a magical mystery tour trying to defeat the Devils of Kimon and ultimately save the country.
Now I know that seems complicated but trust me the film is pretty easy to follow and there is so much to enjoy. Once the “team” are together they head out to kick ass and take out the 8 Devils, each member has a unique supernatural ability from hoarding wasps in their backs to shedding skins like snakes, they really are the creatures of Midian a la japanese stylee. Obviously with a stunning girl and guy there is a bit of a romance that starts to bloom but amidst this hectic ass kicking environment it’s a difficult one and with all these highly tactical killers after them.
The animation is brilliant, typical of early late 80’s and 90’s manga, sleek and stylish, not as dynamic as other sci fi pieces like Cyber City Oedo 808 (1990-1991) but just similar enough with the style of artwork, it’s also worth mentioning that it’s not OTT like Fist of the Northstar (1995) either where the fighting is uber powerful, it actually plays like a Miike movie a little gore but some genuinely good action and drama, the story is really amazing and the character depth is outstanding, you want Jubei to win, he has his flaws but it’s also got a sterling set of balls on him.
If you’ve let this one slip by and you’re into anything like Princess Mononoke (1997) or something as customary and haunting as Twilight Samurai (2002) then it might be worth some attention.
R – 13 Assassins (2011), Afro Samurai (2007+)
L – Selected Japanese Movies, Selected Manga Movies, Selected Ninja Movies, Best Movie Beatdowns,
A – Trying to translate animation into film..
5S – Yoshiaki Kawajiri