Shogun's Ninja

Reviewed By Chris Parry
Posted 12/31/03 12:49:55

"Melodrama, high camp, ridiculous stunts, 70's jazz & Sonny Chiba. It rules!"
2 stars (Pretty Bad)

Actually, no it doesn't. Shogun's Ninja is awful. Picture this: An evil Shogun wants a sword that has a map of a huge gold cache on the blade. So he gets his ninja to wipe out a buttload of people, only a kid gets away, trains himself up and comes back to avenge his clan. Sound familiar? Dude, you haven't seen familiar yet.

Ninjas are supposed to be all dressed in black so they're able to hide anywhere they want... right? So why are all the ninja in this thing dressed in blue? Except the big boss ninja who wears black, but with shiny sequins across the front? This is one brutal, campy, weirded out mess of 1980-vintage martial arts, 1971-vintage jazz muzak and dialogue-free acting. It's a mess, but the kind of mess that you just can't hit the stop button on.

So Sonny Chiba is the bad Shogun. He's a traitor and a bastard and he rules a clan of ninjas who do his evil bidding, killing everyone in sight - women, children, puppies, squirrels, whatever is going, really.

So little Takamaru (Hiroyuki Sonada, who is also known as Duke Sonada, Harry Sonada and Henry Sonada, depending on which producer was repackaging him) escapes, does the Jean-Claude Van Damme thing for a decade, then comes back to kick much butt. That's about as much story as I'm going to bother with, because it's not like the screenwriters bothered with much more beyond that themselves.

What really matters here is how much butt is kicked as the evil and good guys go at it, and the answer is... some. Japanese action hero Sonada does the unarmed combat thing quite nicely, evoking comparison with both Jackie Chan's and Bruce Lee's early work, but as the movie rolls on it tries to outdo itself with one outlandish stunt and set-up after another. If ninjas doing circus trapeze acts in the forest to grab each other out of harm's way isn't weird enough for you, a stunt involving a horse taking a tumble in full gallop will. We've all seen the plunging horse routine before, but here it's done with a relatively simple trick - there's a rope tied to the horse's leg, and as it gallops along the rope pulls the horse's legs out from under him. You've got to think the poor old horsie took a bullet to the head after that, because there ain't no way his leg wasn't hurt during the stunt.

But violence in the extreme is what Shogun's Ninja relishes most, something that becomes very apparent once you've seen an old village woman's head sliced from her shoulders, only to bounce along the river's edge. Children are stabbed, blood flows like a torrential river, and every kind of ninja weapon you could think of is eventually rolled out of the woodwork. Even a fluro-orange set of nunchuku.

And then there's the music. Holy crap, the music. Imagine a 1973 porno, and that's basically the soundtrack on offer here. Then imagine it infused with 1980 Japanese pop, and the occasional piece of pan-flute, and you're talking a Grammy-worthy soundtrack of gargantuan proportions... or not.

In his post-Streetfighter years, Sonny Chiba's roles became more and more a case of bad guy after bad guy after bad guy, and his 'action scenes' became restricted to the occasional thrown spear or crashing sword. Shogun's Ninja is the beginning of that era, and while it's a neat bit of schmaltz to make fun of over a few beers, it's really not a great flick.

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