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DVD SAVANT

Shinobi no mono 2:
Vengeance


Shinobi no mono 2: Vengeance
AnimEigo
1963 / B&W / 2:35 anamorphic widescreen / 93 min. / Zoku shinobi no mono / Street Date May 13, 2008 / 24.98
Starring Raizo Ichikawa, Shiho Fujimura, Saburo Date, Mikiko Tsubouchi, So Yamamura, Eijiro Tono, Shigeru Amachi, Tomisaburo Wakayama
Cinematography
Senkichiro Takeda
Art Direction Akira Naito
Original Music Michiaki Watanabe
Written by Hajime Takaiwa from a novel by Tomoyoshi Murayama
Produced by Takero Ito
Directed by Satsuo Yamamoto

Reviewed by Glenn Erickson

One of the more pleasant DVD surprises of 2007 was AnimEigo's release of the 1962 Shinobi no mono, a lively action / suspense film that popularized the notion of ninja in Japan. As it turns out, the show was to be the first of a series starring Raizo Ishikawa as Goemon Ishikawa, the prize pupil of a secret (of course) ninja school. Several of the characters are based on historical figures from the late 16th century. Our young hero happily contributes to his ninja master's intrigues, until it becomes obvious that not even his 'principled' mentor is an honorable man.

School is definitely out for the duration in this first sequel, Shinobi no mono 2: Vengeance. Goemon loans his ninja skills to a rebel clan but finds that the outcome of a civil war is impossible to predict. Unlike so many sequels that disappoint by recycling elements from the original, Shinobi no mono 2: Vengeance advances and enlarges the saga of Goemon Ichikawa. This reviewer left it eager to find out what happens in installment #3.

Synopsis:

After destroying the ninja schools, the evil despot Nobunaga Oda (Tomisaburo Yakayama) proceeds to track down and crucify the remaining ninja fighters. Goemon Ishikawa (Raizo Ichikawa) escapes with his new wife Maki (Shiho Fujimura) but is unable to remain neutral. He joins a rebel faction in a new province and sublimates his personal desire for vengeance to the will of its leader. Using stealth, false messages and other forms of trickery, Goemon plays three enemies off one another -- Oda, another high born feudal leader and a warrior lord (So Yamamura) cruelly mistreated by Oda. The payoff comes when the warrior lord is maneuvered into attacking Oda. Goemon sneaks into the battle to finally extract his personal revenge. But disaster soon follows. The new feudal leader steps aside to let two warring lords fight over who will attack the rebel fortress. Goemon and Maki elect to stay with the rebels, as a siege forces them into starvation.

Exceptional samurai movies abound but enough mediocre examples have been released on Region 1 DVD to take the edge off the genre. These Satsuo Yamamoto ninja films have refreshingly innovative storylines carried by clever strategy and subterfuge. The actual fighting is like icing on the cake. Even with a judicious helping of dismemberment and gore, the accent is on story, not swordplay set pieces. The ninja techniques seem like a magic act amid the usual mayhem. Flying shuriken (ninja throwing stars) leave trails of smoke, and Goemon penetrates a fortified castle by distracting the guards with various tricks. Of course, leaving a corridor's floorboards loose and squeaky is a simple trap that even a ninja can't evade. The Daiei studio must have had unlimited access to beautiful rural castles, for the film never lacks for convincing settings and large-scale action.

Goemon contains his rage for vengeance (I won't say what ignites it; it's pretty extreme) and instead inflames Oda's most loyal subordinate into turning traitor. So Yamamura shines as a good man finally swayed by injustice. A couple of carefully placed rumors are all that it takes for Oda to dish out intolerable insults to the noble warrior. We know the movie is working when Yamamura rebels. He can withstand having his own mother crucified by his superior, but snaps when Oda relieves him of official host duty at a formal reception!

Sword of Vengeance / Baby Cart fans will be amused to see Tomisaburo Wakayama as the sneering creep Nobunaga Oda, a baddie we can't wait to see fall before the fillet knife. Something about Wakayama's hair and makeup makes him look a bit like, of all people, American humorist Ernie Kovacs. I doubt that many Japanese fans would make that comparison. A second beauty, Mikiko Fujimura, plays a female ninja charged with infiltrating Oda's castle and seducing information from his number one retainer. Familiar face Eijiro Tono is a chortling enemy general eager to aim his Portuguese cannon on the starving siege victims.

If Shinobi no mono 2: Vengeance has a fault it's that it goes on for at least one climax too many. The finish sees Goemon in a real pickle, captured and facing a pretty horrible dee-mise. At that point a big "The End" Japanese pictogram fills the screen, and we all know we'll be back again to find out what happens, just like in a Republic serial. If only James Bond movies had this kind of continuity between installments, and an overarching drama that reached for a cumulative effect. Shinobi no mono 2: Vengeance is involving pulp entertainment.


AnimEigo's DVD of Shinobi no mono 2: Vengeance is a solid enhanced transfer of this expensive-looking Daiei production. As is their habit, AnimEigo's removable English subtitles don't paraphrase odd Japanese expressions or gloss over cultural details. The subs are instead augmented with helpful definitions and explanations for specific references in the dialogue, allowing us to appreciate the intricacies of the feudal politics. Even road signs are translated in detail. The packaging offers an unique disclaimer: "Warning: Contains Violence, Intrigue, and Skulking."

Prolific author Ric Meyers provides a lively and opinionated commentary. He wins us over immediately by praising the authors of other samurai books, even as he states his own qualifications. Also provided are AnimEigo's customary detailed program notes, some trailers, an image gallery and an Interactive map of 16th century Japan. It's obvious that one had to be a scholar just to find one's way around that feudal land!


On a scale of Excellent, Good, Fair, and Poor, Shinobi no mono 2: Vengeance rates:
Movie: Excellent
Video: Excellent
Sound: Excellent
Supplements: Commentary, stills, notes, trailers, interactive map of 16th century feudal Japan
Packaging: Keep case
Reviewed: June 9, 2008

Republished by permission of Turner Classic Movies.



DVD Savant Text © Copyright 2008 Glenn Erickson

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