With film titles that leave little to the imagination, low-budget absurdity and a reliance on the audience’s inability to read one book on ninjas, Seiji Chiba has become one of the key names in Japanese schlock cinema. His previous film, Alien vs. Ninja, delivered daft action scenes of ropey shinobi taking on a rubbery and dopey looking bunch of extraterrestrials. As an action comedy it succeeded through its incompetence; the actual attempts at humour fell flat on their face, with laughs provided only by the unintentionally silly action scenes. It comes as no surprise then that his new attempt at serious storytelling, Ninja Girl, carries all his negative trademarks, and then some.
Four kidnapped village girls are being transported to the stronghold of their captors: two very scruffy looking ‘ninja’s. After a squabble and punch up they are freed with the help of a mysterious young man. Once chased after, the defiant girl, Kisaragi (Karate star Rine Takeda) reveals her true intent to stop the abductors, who in turn are revealed to be eunuchs tasked with bringing the women to their village (where females are in short supply) to be used by their superiors. Their saviour meanwhile has more sinister plans to infect the ‘supply of goods’ going to his enemies…
The very first seconds are abundant in the poor, documentary style cinematography that runs rampant throughout the running time. The ‘home-movie-with-a-budget’ look may have sufficed in a film as tongue in cheek as Alien Vs. Ninja, but now it raises questions over whether even this was an intentional flaw, or if Chiba really just doesn’t know how to a shoot a movie worth a shit. Backed up with poor acting round the board it seems the only note this guy can nail is near parody-like action, a far cry from the drama intended in this film.
Despite lasting little over an hour, the film decides to wait twenty minutes before following a story, instead filling it with skin crawlingly dull dialogue. The character’s are beyond uninteresting and those with some development are wholly repugnant. The premise itself could have been rather interesting, taking a new, far more gruesome angle on ninja espionage, but that would require a wholly better script than the one marred in shock value, where the only line worth remembering is a bit rapey.
Just like the previous movies in his oeuvre the only reason to watch is the martial arts. With dazzling intricacy and a weight of tension all its own, it’s a marvel to look at. However it’s once again limited to short bursts, and is attributable more to action choreographer Kensuke Sonomura who made his mark with Versus. In fact, the more I watch Chiba’s films the more I feel he’s trying to attain the cult status of Ryuhei Kitamura, who has now gone on to make films in the Japanese mainstream and even Hollywood. The problem is Kitamura had talent, just not the budget. Chiba meanwhile feels that the lack of a studio presence is somehow a merit, not an obstacle. Filming in the same wooded areas, stone tunnel and tourist attraction you used in your last movie doesn’t help much either.
Aside from all the above faults, the final nail in Ninja Girl’s coffin is the overt misogyny. You’d think a film with a strong female protagonist and tortured male villains would counteract the never ending physical and sexual abuse of women, but its final ‘twist’ undoes any objection that women, along with the viewers, are the only victims here.
Words > Graham Ashton