Will Ninjas Replace Werewolves? Ninja Assassin and Kamui

Posted in Berlin, Crime, Cultural Mining, Drama, Japan, Korea, Movies, Ninjas, US, Vampires by CulturalMining.com on January 25, 2010

Japan and Japanese period movies, usually set in the mid-19th Century, like most westerns, are often reduced to the same clichéd elements: samurai, ronin, yakuza, corrupt nobles, scheming geisha… It’s the ever-changing stories that keep them interesting.

Hollywood westerns also have their stock characters — the black hats and white hats, the saloon keepers, the sheriffs –- that they wheel out before the camera when they need them.

And movies, like anything else, go through fads. We all know that pop movies have gradually shifted popular themes, from zombies to vampires. And lots of people predict that the werewolves are pushing out vampires now.

But what about the Ninjas? Where do they stand? Will they be the next big thing? Maybe.

Ninja Assassin, a mediocre action movie, notable mainly for its ultra-bloody red, black, and white colour scheme, stars a Korean non-actor, the pop star called “Rain” as – what else? – a Ninja Assassin.

Ninja Assassin (in English)
Dir: James McTeigue

The head of a ninja academy kidnaps small children all around the world and transports them to a Himalayan mountain top’s secret hideaway. They grow up as viciously trained ninjas, the almost invisible Japanese spies and killers who wear black, who throw stars and use their swords to chop up whoever they were ordered to kill. They creep in and out like the world’s best spies, nameless, faceless, deadly. But rather than keeping its Japanese theme, this movie universalizes it. The children are of every nationality and the action takes place mainly in Berlin of all places, complete with U-bahn and curry wurst – an unexpected juxtaposition of unrelated cultures.

So it’s only as Japanese as the sliding paper screens on the sets – Ninja’s have reached international status.

Kamui (in Japanese)
Dir: Koichi Sai

Much better than Ninja Assassin is the quite amazing movie Kamui, Directed by Koichi Sai. I hope it will be released in North America this year.

As an ex-shinobi on the run, Kamui, fights a female Ninja to the death when he is still just a little boy. You can never escape the clan. He is an outcast, a hinin, and teaches himself all the secret tricks and almost magical rules of self defense just to stay alive.

14 years later he witnesses a poor fisherman, for unknown reasons, cutting the leg off a corrupt nobleman’s prized horse. Kamui helps him escape and is pulled into the conflict. He has no choice but to follow the fisherman to his boat to escape the attacking troops.

The fisherman takes him to a quaint island where life is peaceful and almost idyllic, but he must always be alert to the Ninja ghosts of his past – the shinobi agents who are sworn to execute any ex-member; and the spoiled and cruel nobleman who wants to punish everyone associated with the death of his horse.

Kamui is an amazingly beautiful and moving adaptation of a Japanese comic and shares its long and complex melodramatic plot, countless faces, and the frequent revelation of characters’ hidden secrets and acts of betrayal.

Fights are done in that old Hongkong movie style where every battle has swordsman jumping high in the air to clash blades. Fighters swing from trees like Tarzan. Although it frequently uses CGIs (computer generated images), something I usually hate, they’re all excellently done.

Watch out for Kamui.

– Daniel Garber, January 10, 2010.

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