Ninja Scroll

January 4, 2017 at 3:51 am (9 Heads, Ninja Scroll) (, , , , , , )

Ninja Scroll – 1993 – Japan

Jubei is a wandering samurai. He is poisoned by a government spy and coerced into the spy’s service. To earn the antidote, Jubei must defeat the Eight Devils of Kimon, a clan of supernaturally powerful ninja. He teams up with Kagero, a ninja woman who is obsessed with revenge against the Eight Devils. The two develop a romantic relationship until Kagero is killed.

Ninja Scroll’s stylish animation depicts a dark world full of violence, sex, and magic. Jubei wanders the desolate wilderness of Japan, making snide remarks and killing the Eight Devils in gory combat. His relationship with Kagero is interesting. She is a bitter woman cursed with a body that poisons anyone she has sex with. However, Ninja Scroll rarely lets characterization break its flow of action scenes.

Each of The Eight Devils has their own imaginative weapons and supernatural powers. A woman has living snake tattoos and can shed her skin. A man wields an electrified garrote which he can loop around his victims’ throats from miles away. A woman can transform dead bodies into walking bombs. A man can turn into a pool of shadow and possess people, and he has a crossbow that fires a mechanical claw. Even the film’s secondary characters have memorable abilities. The government spy pole vaults around on a telescoping staff and can camouflage himself as a tree. Appearing briefly in one scene is a dwarf who masquerades as a normal-sized man by wearing a mechanical exoskeleton under his clothes.

The character Jubei is based on the samurai folk hero Yagyu Jubei Mitsuyoshi. Ninja Scroll borrows elements from period samurai films. In one scene, swordsmen duel in a bamboo forest, which is a cliché at this point. But Ninja Scroll’s weird characters, intense violence (including a man being headbutted until his skull caves in), and sex (including a slobbery rape scene) make the film consistently surprising.

Rating: 9/10 Shrunken Heads. Ninja Scroll features a hunchbacked character with a wasp nest in his hump. This is remarkably similar to a character in the anime film Vampire Hunter D (1983) who has a spider nest in his hump.

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