The Curator of Schlock #98 by Jeff Shuster
(State of the Art Japanese Animation!)
Yeah, I know I keep subtitling “State of the art Japanese animation” whenever I review one these Japanese cartoons. It was the old moniker of Streamline Pictures, one of the first serious distributors of Japanese animation on this side of the pond. After Streamline Pictures came other distributors such as Manga Entertainment, most famous for bringing the Mamoru Oshi’s Ghost in the Shell stateside. But they were also known for another release: Ninja Scroll.
For tonight’s review we leave the comforts of those 80s Cannon Films ninja classics and head over into the world of gratuitous, ultra violent Japanese animation. Yes, Ninja Scroll is another one those “not for kids” deals. There’s one scene in particular where one of the eight devils of Kimon, a large ogre with the ability to turn his skin into stone, rips the arms off of this poor ninja and dangles the loose limbs over his mouth so he can drink his blood.
That was good old-fashioned nightmare fuel when I first saw this. I was 18 at the time.
Like most movies that shock me when I first watch them, I’ve revisited Ninja Scroll over and over again. What brings me back? It might be the villains. This is a gauntlet picture where the hero has to fight his way through a succession one on one fights with increasingly difficult opponents with varying abilities. Kind of like Rugter Hauer in Blind Fury. (Say, why haven’t I reviewed Blind Fury yet?) Anyway, the gauntlet in Ninja Scroll is comprised of the 8 Devils of Kimon. We have the stone ogre as previously mentioned, a snake woman who can shed her skin, a hunchback with a wasp’s nest on his back, a blind swordsman, a shadow assassin, a girl made out of gunpowder, a man who can kill people with invisible wires and shock them with electricity from his body, and their leader, Gemma, who can regenerate cells. Seriously, cut his arm off and he’ll just reattach it.
Our hero, Jubei Kibagami, is a wandering man-with-no-name type like the kind found in Clint Eastwood westerns, except substitute the old west for feudal Japan. Jubei gets poisoned by an old man who will only give him an antidote if he stops the 8 Devils of Kimon who have allied themselves with the Shogun of the Dark (more ninja bad guys) in an attempt to overthrow the government and rule Japan with an iron fist. Jubei is joined by a beautiful female ninja, Kagero, who is an expert at poison tasting due to the fact that she’s poisonous herself. Anyone who touches her will die.
Ninja Scroll was directed by Yoshiaki Kawajiri, famous for his Vampire Hunter D movies. Ninja Scroll was also adapted into a TV series that’s worth checking out. Kawajiri has also been trying to get a sequel to Ninja Scroll made with limited funding success. I’m sorry to say that it may be the end of an era for these traditionally animated features for adult audiences. I believe most animation studios in Japan are making more family friendly fare these days. Check out the teaser for Ninja Scroll 2 below. It’s like a demo reel for what could have been.