Shinobi no mono – DVD Review

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Directed by
Satsuo Yamamoto

Raizô Ichikawa … Ishikawa Goemon
Yûnosuke Itô … Sandayû Momochi
Shiho Fujimura … Maki
Saburo Date
Katsuhiko Kobayashi … Nobuo Oda
Kô Nishimura
Kyôko Kishida … Inone
Reiko Fujiwara … Hata
Chitose Maki … Tamo
Takeshi Katô
Tomisaburo Wakayama … Nobunaga Oda

The Movie:

Few things in popular culture could ever hope to be as universally accepted as being cool on the same level that ninjas are. Chronicled in all sorts of mediums from comic books to Saturday morning cartoons, the black garbed warriors are the stuff of legend, with mysterious origins and fantastic abilities. It is film, though, that has really elevated the notoriety of the ninja, as even a big budget American epics such as The Last Samurai have helped to further cultivate the esteem of the masked assassins. In Japanese cinema, ninja have often been given almost magical abilities even, as films such as Azumi and the Lone Wolf and Cub series have imbued them with nearly god-like powers. This is why it is interesting to watch a film such as Shinobi no mono, perhaps the first movie about ninjas, and one of the few pictures that have tried to take the subject as seriously as possible.

Experiencing the film, you really get the feeling that director Satsuo Yamamoto wanted this to be the definitive movie about ninjas. He treats the material with utter sincerity, and desperately wants this to be a great picture, constructing a plot around real life Japanese warlord Oda Nobunaga (1534—1582), who united Japan through force by killing all in his path. Concerning two rival ninja clans in a race to assassinate Nobunaga, Shinobi no mono is a movie with an epic grandeur, and great style, but unfortunately it’s not as fun as it should be.

This is not to say that the film shouldn’t completely take itself seriously, or go completely overboard in a Lone Wolf and Cub style, but the film would have greatly benefited from a more pulp-style approach, similar to that of the Zatoichi series. Focusing on a character named Ishikawa Goemon (Raizô Ichikawa), the movie centers too much attention on the story’s melodramatic aspects as Goemon is blackmailed into trying to assassinate Nobunaga for sleeping with his Master’s wife.

The film languishes too long on the inner conflict of Goemon, who wants desperately wants to abandon his duties as a ninja and be a simple farmer. It is inevitable that he will still make his attempt on the warlord, and if the movie had just gotten to the meat of the story fast, the enjoyment level would probably rise substantially. As a film of intrigue, Shinobi no mono is a stirring success, as other ninja clans send assassins to not only eliminate Nobunaga, but Goemon as well, in order to elevate their own troupes. These scenes are taut with energy and well put together, but wading through the emotional struggles of Goemon bring the film to a crawl at times.

Still the film is ripe with atmosphere, and director Satsuo Yamamoto and his cinematographer Yasukazu Takemura set up gorgeous settings for several confrontations. Also, there is still a lot of enjoyment to be found in the picture’s action and sequences of ninjitsu. We’re given plenty of sword- work, throwing stars, climbing claws, throwing knives, grappling hooks, caltrops, and poison strings to let your inner geek revel in the ninja coolness, especially one sequence, in which Ishikawa Goemon battles two ninjas. There is even a gigantic battle scene to end the picture, with ninja and samurai fighting to the death and our hero caught in the middle.

Shinobi no mono is a good film that should have been a great one. The movie has so much going for it, and yet tries too hard to be a serious costume drama to really be as effective as it needs to be. This film ended up being the launching pad for an entire series, but was the inspiration for several ninja-inspired tales that came after it, but many were actually able to capitalize on the general coolness of the ninja to create tales of real excitement, instead of looking at it as a curse.

The DVD:

The Video
While the print on this film seems to have been remastered and cleaned up nicely, the image is still too dark at times. There are portions of the film where its just a little too difficult to tell what’s going on, which gets to be annoying in a movie about ninjas who primary do their business The film is presented in Anamorphic Widescreen with an aspect ratio of 2.35:1

The Audio
The Audio track is presented in Dolby Digital 1.0 is a very nice. Soundtrack and action never overwhelm dialogue and the entire sound design of the film remains very dynamic.


Trailers – You get four trailers on this disc. One for this film, Shogun Assassin, the awesome Samurai Assassin, Kon Ichikawa’s 47 Ronin, and Ashura.

Photo Gallery

Program Notes

The DVD Lounge’s Ratings for Shinobi no mono
(OUT OF 10)