Posts Tagged ‘Ninja Movie 2009’

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.


HIGH KICK GIRL [HAI KIKKU GARU! | ハイキック・ガール!]

2010/03/17

JAPAN 2009  Directed: Fuyuhiko Nishi  Produced by: Fuyuhiko Nishi, Ken Nakanishi Written by: Fuyuhiko Nishi, Yoshikatsu Kimura  Music: Tomoo Misato Cast: Rina Takeda, Tatsuya Naka, Sayaka Akimoto, Kyoji Amano, Mayu Gamou

We all love cute chicks kicking high and the shit out of the villains, but hardly any movie has captured the same sexy coolness of Hong Kong’s girls ’n guns and martial arts flicks from the 80’s and 90’s. Never ever since have fighting femme fatales looked better on-screen than then.

Occasionally there have been good efforts from various corners of the world, but most films feel constructed and fabricated just to fit the genre label. The best films of the genre didn’t even know they had a label or would get a label in the future when they were filmed, and hence were more authentic than anything ever since (even though not necessarily always great movies).

Last year’s HIGH KICK GIRL unfortunately continues the tradition of made-for-those-who-are-looking-for-fighting-femme-fatales films and tortures us with a tedious script, pointless dialogues and more clichés than you can imagine. Black dresses for the bad guys? Dear lord.

Therefore I am not sure if it is bad or actually good that HIGH KICK GIRL is wasting 50% of its 81 minutes running time on repeating every single action scene twice (sic!), once in slow-motion. They probably thought the action choreography is tops when in fact it is not – most of it is lame and lacks impact. Those who know martial arts will probably lol.

Some scenes are pretty funny though, but it’s hardly worth sitting through the film for two or three short highlights. HIGH KICK GIRL is neither satisfying as action movie, nor as martial arts or girls ‘n guns film, nor as comedy. So don’t believe the hype and rather get one of those old dusty VHS from the shelf that you bought in Hong Kong before ’97 or that you copied from a copy of a copy of a friend. No matter what’s on it, chances are good that it’s better than HIGH KICK GIRL.

J.


NINJA

2010/02/27

USA 2009  Directed by: Isaac Florentine Story: Boaz Davidson Written by: Michael Hurst, Zaki Rubenstein   Produced by: Boaz Davidson, Danny Lerner, Les Weldon   Cinematography: Ross W. Clarkson  Editing: Irit Raz  Music: Stephen Edwards  Cast: Scott Atkins, Tsuyoshi Ihara, Mika Hijii, Todd Jensen, Togo Igawa, Garrick Hagon

Here’s a good example of how to get a contemporary ninja movie right. Different from NINJA ASSASSIN that did an awful lot awfully wrong NINJA shows some tender love and care for its (anti) heroes in black armor. It’s probably true that only a bad ninja movie is a good ninja movie, however, NINJA is indeed also good good, not only bad good.

The story about the conflict between two ninjas who both want to become the successor of their master and his dojo and by the way compete for the only female around (the sensei’s daughter) is not exactly new, but the script works out a lot of details that help make the characters come to life far better than in most other films of its kind (let alone NINJA ASSASSIN); also the story reflects the efforts of the writers who obviously wouldn’t be happy with some basic patchwork that doesn’t do more than providing an excuse for action scenes. Overall the plot and dramaturgy are well done, despite lacking surprise.

NINJA is pretty much condensed intensity, utilizing what’s good about ninja films while improving the usual weaknesses as far as conditions allow. Amazing how much of everything NINJA compresses into its 90 minutes and how it manages to be much for many: genre extravaganza, thriller-drama, balls-to-the-walls action film, splatter fest. Combine all that and there’s very little left to wish for, also thanks to the actors who are doing a good job also beyond the fight sequences.

Finally NINJA features good choreography, bearable wire-fu, dedicated cinematography with some stunning visuals, solid editing and a thriving soundtrack. The film cannot hide its cheap locations at times, but as it keeps us interested in the story and characters we wouldn’t want to bash on this or other aspects of production value too much as it shouldn’t be that relevant for the audience.

Isaac Florentine delivers a fine movie with no seriously distracting flaws ranking somewhere on the very upper end of the B-scale. What’s irritating though is that the bad guy was featured in all marketing measures, not the hero, and that he indeed wears the cooler outfit and has the smarter moves. Never mind. NINJA may not transcend its genre, but it definitely makes for a worthy addition.

J.