What do you get when you combine a bunch of guys in ninja suits, gratuitous violence, Sonny Chiba, Sue Shiomi, Henry Sanada, the omni-present Tetsuro Tamba and a monkey and put them all in a movie directed by Norifumi Suzuki (the same man who helmed Convent Of The Sacred Beast and Sex & Fury)? Why, Shogun's Ninja, that's what!
Making use of a great ensemble cast, the film follows the story of Takamaru (Sanada), the last of the family in charge of leading the Momochi clan. You see, as a young boy Takamaru's family were all slaughtered by Shogen Shiranui (Sonny Chiba), who was hired by a rival leader named Hideyoshi Toyotomi to kill them all so that he could move in on their turf. Well, Takamaru is back, after spending his formative years in Hong Kong learning kung-fu, and he wants to set things right in his old stomping grounds and rebuild the Momochi empire and to recapture past glories. He also happens to be in a possession of a ceremonial dagger that contains half of a map that shows where the family cache of gold lays, which is something that Takamaru's foes would be only too happy to take off of his hands.
While the story really isn't much more than a simple tale of revenge, Suzuki fills his movie with enough carnage and chaos to keep the two hour running time moving along at a very brisk pace. Every few minutes someone is getting into a fight with someone else or samurai and ninja are running around doing their thing. The movie mixes up some nice humorous touches (the guys in the city with the monkey) alongside some deadly serious moments (when Takamaru's mother kills herself) which results in a slightly uneven film in terms of tone but there's so much going on that it really doesn't hurt things too much.
And then there's the score. Imagine if John Carpenter were hired to work alongside Jan Hammer to score an eighties porno movie and the results would probably fall somewhere close the music that this movie makes use of. Plenty of bad keyboard and drum machines accentuate the period action – and it's odd, to say the least. The combat scenes and the action scenes were all choreographed by Sonny Chiba and his Japan Action Club. As such, Sanada, Shiomi and Chiba himself play large roles in most of these scenes seeing as they were all involved in that organization. Thankfully, these scenes deliver. Some of the sword fights are fantastic as are the more epic battles scenes.
Performance wise, Chiba plays the villain and as such doesn't get as much screen time as Sanada does, but the movie isn't hurt by that. Sanada shows some good range here as well as some very admirable martial arts skills that make him an entertaining and likeable lead. While he would definitely play better and stronger roles later on down the road in more serious fare like The Twilight Samurai and Ring, he's more than capable of delivering everything that his role here calls for.
Looking miles above the Brentwood (and various other public domain) DVD releases of the film, Adness' release of Shogun's Ninja is presented in its original 2.35.1 anamorphic widescreen aspect ratio. The colors look very good and the source material used for this transfer looks to have been in very nice shape as there isn't any major print damage worth complaining about, save for the odd speck or scratch (most of which is present in the first five minutes of the film – after that, the image is very clean). While there is a bit of grain, it's very natural looking. Mpeg compression artifacts are not a problem and edge enhancement is kept to a minimum. Seeing this film in its proper aspect ratio and in its original language makes all the difference in the world – if you've only seen the movie by way of the crappy budget releases that are out there or by way of the old VHS tapes that are around, you haven't really seen the film at all.
The Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo soundtrack for the films is in its native Japanese (save for a couple of spots that are spoken in Chinese) with removable and typo free English subtitles. Dialogue is clean and clear and there are no problems with hiss or distortion except for a few seconds at the beginning of the movie where some background hiss is present. A surround mix would have been fun for the combat scenes or the more epic battle scenes but the original mix gets the job just fine.
Sadly, unlike previous releases in the line, no liner notes are included this time out but Adness has supplied trailers for the feature, The Executioner, The Executioner II, Karate Bearfighter, Karate Bullfighter, Karate For Life, and Shogun's Shadow.
Shogun's Ninja is a blast. It's got plenty of action, plenty of violence, a killer cast of recognizable Japanese actors, plenty of ninjas and even a monkey! While the lack of supplements is a disappointment, Adness delivers in terms of audio and video quality and for anyone interested in Samurai films or Sonny Chiba this one comes recommended.
Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.