Posts Tagged ‘Japanese Ninja Movie’

KAMUI GAIDEN [KAMUI | カムイ 外伝]

2010/05/28

http://www.kamuigaiden.jp/

JAPAN 2009  Directed by: Yoichi Sai  Written by: Kankuro Kudo  Manga: Shirato Sanpei Produced by: Akira Morishige, Yui Tamae  Cinematography by: Tomoo Ezaki, Junichi Fujisawa  Editing: Isao Kawase  Music: Taro Iwashiro Cast: Kenichi Matsuyama, Koyuki, Hideaki Ito, Kaoru Kobayashi, Suzuka Ohgo, Ekin Cheng, Yuta Kanai, Sei Ashina, Anna Tsuchiya

KAMUI GAIDEN, based on the LEGEND OF KAMUI manga published in the 60’s, has little in common with most of the contemporary manga adaptations out of Japan, largely thanks to the original series: set in feudal Japan, KAMUI tells the story of Kamui, a young, low-born ninja who tries to flee his clan seeking freedom, resisting to follow the destined path. Very soon he is branded a traitor and the other ninjas are trying to hunt him down to make sure their secrets are safe and stay within the family. Kamui, determined to lead a life free from rules, hierarchies and orders very soon discovers that even freedom has a price – and the question is if he’s willing to pay it.

If it wasn’t for some gimmicky effects you couldn’t tell that KAMUI is based on a manga. Usually that’s a good thing and for half of its running time KAMUI is a real treat, lavish, elegant, beautifully filmed and choreographed, just like a dream. Then, the initial fascination starts to wear off and a lot of flaws get in its way.

First of all, Kamui has no personality whatsoever. He is a cold killer with no ties to anyone, no emotions, no remorse, driven by revenge and his will to stay independent. The bit of character development we can see later when he starts to have feelings for a girl and gets closer to some of the fishermen is not enough to speak of real character development. There’s no fire burning, just some twigs smoldering. There are no big emotions hidden underneath the surface and there’s very little conflict within him.

Secondly the story doesn’t go anywhere: it’s like playing catch for two hours, and we already know who’s going to win. Sure, some of its more intimate moments and dialogues are moving, some sequences and plot twists are interesting, but overall KAMUI is mostly beating around the bush. So we stop caring after a while and enjoy the visual bonbons.

Last but not least KAMUI has entirely lost the manga’s subtext: originally reflecting Shirato Sanpei’s leftist convictions KAMUI dealt with ideas like breaking away from the fate assigned by the elite, oppression and the rule of the upper class. Bearing in mind that KAMUI was most popular in the mid 60’s one can easily understand that it is not about individualism (the way it would be interpreted today), but about paradigm change.

Every work of art is influenced by its zeitgeist, and THE LEGEND OF KAMUI was no exception. Watching KAMUI today shows that the movie lacks relevance and as this is the 21st century has no more use for the ideals of the original. Consequently, all that’s left is the story of a loner, a killing machine in pursuit of something intangible, a story of shinobi, ronin, destiny and betrayal.

In its best moments KAMUI is captivating eye-candy, a poem of blood and death; what it fundamentally lacks is a reason to fight for. And so we see our hero battling hordes of enemies, but without love or affection Kamui could as well be dead. Maybe he will be. The ending is as pointless as the two hours preceding it. Quickly KAMUI is gone with the wind.

J.


Advertisements

NINJA ASSASSIN

2010/01/24

http://ninja-assassin-movie.warnerbros.com

USA/D 2009  Directed by: James McTeigue   Story: Matthew Sand   Script: Matthew Sand, J. Michael Straczynsk   Production: Joel Silver, Larry Wachowski, Andy Wachowski, Grant Hill  Cinematography: Karl Walter Lindenlaub   Editing: Gian Ganziano, Joseph Jett Sally   Music: Iian Eshkeri   Cast: Rain, Naomi Harris, Ben Miles, Sho Kosugi

And now for something completely different: the new, highly anticipated Wachowski brothers movie has arrived hot from the press. NINJA ASSASSIN, directed by James “V FOR VENDETTA” McTeigue continues the zigzag course of the MATRIX inventors and surprises us once more. Only this time not positively.

It would be a pure waste of time to describe the thin Plot in more than three sentences. For the sake of it thus sentence 1: a Ninja clan kidnaps children and turns them into Super-Ninjas. Sentence 2: One of the students develops his own opinion, turns against the “foster father” and everything escalates in an international guerilla war between Ninjas and police authorities. Sentence 3: Naturally, there’s also a love story.

NINJA ASSASSIN certainly wins the accolade for the worst script in recent years. I can’t imagine how such a lame story, which in addition is dreadfully written and unbelievably formulaic, featuring horrible dialogue and tremendous loopholes was ever greenlit. Any dialogue from any of the DIE HARD sequels seems like a work of Keats in comparison. NINJA ASSASSIN crosses the border to ridiculous terrain more than once and there are dozens of plain stupid scenes that leave us wondering what drugs they were on when shooting the movie. In addition the whole cast performs far below average and are a shame for anyone considering himself a serious actor. Mostly NINJA ASSASSIN is not much better than a school play.

The next problem is the aesthetics: the visual style of NINJA ASSASSIN is unbearable. The lighting must have been done by a blind person, whereas color and contrast are on Telenovela level (even the production stills look better than the film itself) and the framing and camerawork are extremely random, if not clumsy. It appears that McTeigue is simply the wrong man sitting on the director’s chair. V FOR VENDETTA already displayed his talent for wasting opportunities rather than seizing the possibilities the graphic novel offered. NINJA ASSASSIN now is no exception, but by comparison however it’s a genuine disaster. The editing more than once recalls “fond” memories of B-Horror movies and C-Ninja movies of the 70’s and 80’s, which often most inelegantly were cutting back and forth between static dialogues or badly choreographed action sequences. The hiring of Sho Kosugi, who’s mumbling his way through the film in a Brando-like tone and manner, should have been a warning sign. NINJA ASSASSIN was a great chance to pay homage to the Ninja movie subgenre, but McTeigue is not able to abstract, adapt and revitalize the genre in any appropriate way – or at all, that is. And no: NINJA ASSASSIN clearly is not that lousy on purpose, trying to be a smart B-movie satire or reminiscence.

So what’s good about NINJA ASSASSIN? If you subtract all the endless flashbacks and Rains training sequences (which make for a substantial part of the film) you can enjoy a splatterfest rarely ever seen in mainstream cinema. Once again the major studios get away with everything: NINJA ASSASSIN dwells endlessly in scenes of graphic violence. Separated limbs and divided bodies are displayed throughout the entire film and blood spurts without any sense out of everything the camera captures. NINJA ASSASSIN without a doubt contains some of the most brutal killing scenes of modern mainstream cinema, in case this alone is of any interest. However, ICHI THE KILLER was there first and did what it did earlier, better and with far less budget. And in a way it feels like FUDOH, another Miike film, was the blueprint for some of the choreographed violence now shown in NINJA ASSASSIN.

NINJA ASSASSIN will certainly not disappoint all those who expect a maximum of blood and gore. Thank god that nowadays we don’t have to sneak into some dodgy video rental store anymore to get this kind of fare, but instead are being served in the glossy multiplex cinema downtown. The marketing people should have really come up with the idea to produce NINJA ASSASSIN barf bags and hand it out to all those couples who ended up watching the film accidentally because of oh-so-cute Rain. Some will certainly need it. Hurray, isn’t that fun seeing nameless cannon fodder being turned into minced meat by the minute.

The bottom line: NINJA ASSASSIN is the worthy successor of AMERICAN NINJA and Rain is the Asian Michael Dudikoff. I guess congratulations are in order. In some twisted sense the film may have a certain charm (at least for those who indeed grew up with junk like AMERICAN NINJA), but the result is hardly what the Wachowskis had in mind and the audience is expecting. Let’s quickly summarize NINJA ASSASSIN: sorry effort.

J.