I reckon Sunday is now my favourite day of the week.
If Robert Rodriguez was Japanese…
A group of ninja are returning to their village after a successful raid when they see a fireball streaking through the sky. They go to investigate where it landed, only to find some vicious – and viciously strong – extra-terrestrials. It’s up to our ninja heroes to defeat the alien menace before it can destroy the village and spread through the whole country! I bet you’ll never guess what ensues.
Let me just get this out of the way: I love this film. Seiji Chiba (writer, director, editor, producer, tea-boy) knows exactly what kind of movie he’s making and he does it superbly. With that kind of humour based around ridiculously excessive violence like in Machine Girl or Vampire Girl Vs Frankenstein Girl, combined with the fantasy-level martial arts of Chinese flicks like The Stormriders, this is eighty minutes of awesome. Unfortunately, I will need to qualify that statement. I will admit this film will not be to everyone’s taste. The tone is very specific, and if you don’t buy in to that you will probably end up hating this.
The movie is set somewhere during the Edo period, but it is so anachronistic it’s ridiculous. The female ninja Rin for example – played by the gorgeous Mika Hijii – seems to be wearing an Underworld-style rubber catsuit with her high-heel boots. Not that I’m complaining of course. Then there’s the old, overweight ninja Nezumi (Donpei Tsuchihira) who is a total coward but happens to quite handy at designing new weapons, one of which is a collapsible machine pistol! There are a few redshirts among our ninja band, but the two main fighters are Yamata (Masanori Mimota) and pretty-boy Jinnai (Shuji Kashiwabara) who is always fixing his hair. The two have a friendly rivalry, and through some ingenious contrivance on Chiba’s part manage to end up fighting each other at the climax of the film. Of course there is lots of CG assistance in the action scenes, particularly with the aliens, but the fight between Yamata and Jinnai is exceptional stuff.
But let’s talk about the aliens for a while, shall we? Or, the guy in a rubber suit with a head like a bottle-nose dolphin. Whoever designed this concept (and that was probably Chiba as well) wears their influence proudly. And that influence is pretty much all Giger. Admit it though; wouldn’t it have been cool if the Xenomorphs got into a sword fight? These aliens (there are quite a few, but we only ever see one at a time) have all sorts of groovy talents such as the ability to re-attach severed limbs instantly, jumping through the trees like a pinball, and the prehensile tail from hell. All this fades in comparison to the little jelly-baby-looking things that come out of its blowholes and climb into a human host, leading to some weird mind-control shenanigans. Hilariously, these zombified people speak English instead of Japanese but only seem to know three words: fuck you motherfucker.
To be clear, the movie is not as flawless as the bulk of this review might have you believe. Seiji Chiba put this flick together apparently almost single-handed for not much more than half a million dollars, and the budget limitations do make themselves known. Most of the running time takes place in probably one 50-ft square patch of forest, in evening twilight. This means that some of the shots are quite murky, and when the camera moves it’s going to be all handheld and not very steady. Also, when Rin and the alien are fighting, there’s a very odd sexual undertone that is a little off-putting. When you combine this with the general sense of objectification throughout the film where Rin is concerned (lots of close-ups of her rear and her breasts) it shows up the cultural differences between Japan and the West. What sends someone in Leeds or Omaha running for the hills would be standard practice in Tokyo.
In terms of target audience, this film could have been made just for me. It hits almost all of my buttons* but I do acknowledge the fact that it will not be to all tastes. Give it a try though, ideally with booze and similarly-minded friends. I’ll come over and watch it with you if you want, as long you supply the booze.
*If the ninja had been driving a 1967 Camaro, this would be the perfect movie.