Ninja Wars (1982)
Oh My God! What a screwed up movie. This is a story of honor and loyalty, of power and the quest for glory. It's also the story of bloody decapitations, projectile vomit, and perky naked boobies. I don't know what else to say to introduce this...this...whatever it is... This movie irritated me, and I've got a touch of the flu today anyway, so I probably won't fully detail it like I try to do my other reviews. Let's just get through this together and no one will get hurt, ok?
And now on to our show...
Like 1980's Shogun's Ninja, which I kinda liked, our movie takes place in sixteenth century Japan. This was a time of war and turmoil, as rival clans and shoguns waged bloody battle to control dirt-poor villages of peasant farmers and cities of vast treasure. There's an underlying thread of historical accuracy in Ninja Wars, but it's a very thin thread.
We open with some introductory stuff to get us acquainted with our cast. First we meet the rulers of the Miyoshi Clan, who are in control of this part of Japan. Just for the record, the Miyoshi Clan were historical players in the pointlessly bloody civil wars of the 1500s, though none of what happens in this movie is historical at all.
Lord Miyoshi is a middle-aged balding guy, who I will call "the King" for here on out.
He has a stunningly hot young wife named Ukyo, played by 18-year old Noriko Watanabe, an aspiring pop singer in her very first acting role. She's a very cute little girl, with finely defined facial features and a slim lithe body. More on the body later.
There is a nobleman named Donjo Matsunaga, played by 40-year old Akira Nakao, who've I've reviewed as Commander Aso in Godzilla vs Space Godzilla and Godzilla vs Destoroyah. Because of his role in this movie, I'll be calling him "the Prince". Like all princes he desires to be king above all (well, not Harry, he just wants to not get his ass shot off in Iraq).
We also meet a Shogun named Shinzaemon Yagyu who is in the employ of the Prince. The Shogun is played by 43-year old living-legend Sonny Chiba. Despite getting top billing, Chiba is only in about six minutes of this movie, which is a rip-off. If you paid good yen to see this in the theater expecting to see some Sonny action, you got jobbed.
We join now this intricate formal tea ceremony, certainly something important in Japanese diplomacy and culture but totally lost on a white boy from Indiana. Much ado is made of a "Spider Tea Kettle", the historical context of which is dubious but has something to do with the real life Matsunaga and his head exploding. Really. Look it up.
Ok, that evening, we join the Prince and the Shogun in the Prince's palace, in a shrine overlooking an open courtyard. They're chatting when a sudden and ominous thunderstorm brews up. Sensing something funky happening, the Shogun draws his swords and soft-shoes around, looking for something or someone to stab.
The thunderstorm heralds the arrival of a scary monk named Kashin Koji, played by ninja movie-vet Mikio Narita. Koji is a creepy, icky-looking dude with long straggly hair and a bent spine who looks like Grima Wormtongue from The Lord of the Rings, so I might as well call him that.
Wormtongue is known to them as an evil devil who brings nothing but pain. Wormtongue tells the Prince that he has prophesied that whoever ends up with Ukyo (the King's hot wife) will have the whole world in his hands. This excites the Prince, both because he already has the hot mojo lovin's for Ukyo and he desires power and wealth.
The Shogun is less enthusiastic and would love nothing more than to cleave Wormtongue in half with his sword. He's stopped from doing so by the Prince, who orders him to sheath that thing and step aside.
Just then, dropping down from seemingly out of nowhere (!) is another monk! Whipping out a pair of sickles, the monk approaches the Prince, who wisely backs away. But the ninja is not here to harm the Prince, and is in league with Wormtongue. The sickle-user steps out into the courtyard and tosses his sickle towards a nearby treetop. Spinning like a boomerang, the sickle slices through the tree and returns to the monk's hand. From out of the fluttering leaves falls the body of a dead ninja! Who this man was is never explained, and really has no point in our story. This whole movie is full of these meaningless plot points that come and go for no reason.
Wormtongue tells the Prince that five "Devil Monks" will come soon to assist him in making an aphrodisiac to lure Ukyo to him. The monk with the sickle is one of those five.
Ok, going to skip a bit ahead to talk about these five Devil Monks who will be helping the Prince. They are Fat-Monk, Vomit-Monk, Doctor-Monk, Hat-Monk and Flying-Monk. Hat-Monk needs some explaining as he always has this big wicker hat down over his face so no one can see him (an explanation later). Vomit-Monk does just that. The other Monks are just fodder for now. They are surly, obnoxious and antagonistic, and while they are helping the Prince, they make sure he knows that they are calling the shots.
We go now out to a wooded area some place far away where we meet a boy and a girl.
The boy is a young ninja warrior named Jotaro Fuefuki, a strapping lad with bulging muscles and Rick Springfield hair who will be our film's leading man. Jotaro is played by 22-year old Hiroyuki "Henry" Sanada, who I just reviewed in Shogun's Ninja.
The girl is a young ninja-in-training named Kagaribi, who will prove to be Ukyo's long lost twin sister! Imagine the odds! She, of course, is also played by Noriko Watanabe, just with a different hairstyle.
Kagaribi is running merrily through a bamboo forest, cutting down trees with what appears to be her bare hands (!), accentuated by some neat lightsaber-like CGI paint-overs. We will learn that this seemingly supernatural power (called the "crescent sword technique") is something that's taught in Jotaro's ninja school. For all it's amazing possibilities, this power is rarely seen again.
The two of them are in love (of course) and we see them do some playful banter, chasing and tackling and tickling and all that icky stuff young kids in love do (get a room). We learn, however, that Kagaribi is still a pure virgin (this will be important later) and that they have to keep their love on the low-down as the master of the ninja school would not be pleased. It seems that the master picks who gets to get married and to whom, which just seems pretty draconian, but that's why I'm not a ninja.
It's during this tickle-fest in the high grass that they're first attacked by the Devil Monks, who are here to kidnap Kagaribi. Jotaro puts up a pretty good fight (though oddly Kagaribi acts like a wimpy weakling girl, despite being in ninja training school) but is overmatched by the Devil Monks.
Jotaro is finally bested by Vomit-Monk who sprays him in the face (!) with his quick-hardening stream of barf! Jotaro falls to the ground, seemingly dead, and the Devil Monks haul Kagaribi off screaming.
Very soon after, who should ride up on a horse but the Shogun and some of his men! I assume that he was coming here to warn Kagaribi but got here too late. He finds Jotaro's body and cuts the gelatinous blob off his face with a well-delivered sword stroke. Ah, Jotaro is not dead after all!
The Shogun smiles and says that "he must be a ninja, he only pretended to be dead to deceive his enemies". Ok, but it seems pretty punk for a ninja to play dead like a possum, especially since his true love was in danger and all. Wouldn't see Chuck Norris playing dead. Wouldn't see Clint Eastwood playing dead. Glad Jotaro's not my boyfriend.
Ok, stay with me. Kagaribi is brought to Prince's castle, where she awakens surrounded by the Devil Monks. This is not going to end well for her. The Monks explain to the Prince that they have to rape her (though they call it "seducing") to make the aphrodesiac, which requires the tears of a raped virgin of the same blood as Ukyo (seriously). They also explain more about how Kagaribi and Ukyo are twin sisters, separated at birth. It seems their mother was a Christian and their father a Buddhist, and so Ukyo was adopted by a court noble and Kagaribi was abandoned in the wilderness to roam around and join ninja schools and fall in love and stuff.
Realizing that she's about to be raped and for a really bad purpose, Kagaribi makes the tough choice to kill herself rather than submit. She first tries to leap out a window to her death, but is snatched in flight by one of the Devil Monks and brought back inside. She then uses that Hand Magic Blade thing and cuts her own head off (!).
A second later, one of the Devil Monks whips out a blade and cuts one of the Prince's concubine's head off (!). This girl is named Isabiri, played by 21-year old Jun Miho.
As the Prince freaks out, the Monks then put Kagaribi's head on Isaribi's body and Isaribi's head on Kagaribi's body! Both bodies are then reanimated and are alive again! What the holy hell! If the Monks have the black magic power to do that, why the hell didn't they just put Kagaribi's head back on her own body? Oh, and for some reason they name Isabiri's Body/Kagaribi's Head girl "Lady Hellfire".
So now the plan is back on schedule. The Monks need to get those tears, so one of them rapes poor Kagaribi's Body (with Isabiri's head). I guess even though the tear ducts are Isabiri's it still works because the body being raped is Kagaribi's. Or something. Nobody really thought this script out, did they?
"Seduction", Japanese style.
Anyway, a tear thus forcibly collected, it's mixed with a ten-medicine concoction in the Spider Kettle (some special reason this kettle had to be used) and a whitish waxy liquid is made.
The aphrodisiac is then tested on a portly servant girl (in what I'm sure was her one and only acting role, her mom must be so proud). The first man she sees after drinking it is one of the Devil Monks, and she instantly falls into love. Well, lust really, as she strips to her waist, exposing a frighteningly huge set of flabby, sagging boobies and starts to slobber on the Monk, much to the delight of the rest of them.
"Oh, dear god, give me the strength to endure this..."
While they are off fornicating with the chubby girl, Kagaribi's Body/Isarbiri's Head (ignored now that her purpose is done) wakes from her stupor and steals the Spider Kettle and sneaks out of the castle. Why no one thought to guard her is beyond me, they were all blinded by the booty.
Kagaribi's Body/Isarbiri's Head dashes out into the darkness and mist, and most fortunately quickly runs into Jotaro! He has been out looking for his lost girlfriend all this time. There's some confusion and mistrust on both sides before Kagaribi's Body/Isarbiri's Head manages to explain everything that has happened to Jotaro. Jotaro is understandably shocked. He's even more shocked when a sickle comes arching in through the mist to stab Kagaribi's Body/Isarbiri's Head in the heart! The Devil Monks are closing in, having discovered the missing girl.
Lifting the dying girl in his arms, and somehow able to carry the Kettle as well, Jotaro flees further into the dark woods. Kagaribi's Body/Isarbiri's Head expires after a lengthy death scene filled with emotion and saline tears, and Jotaro swears vengeance against those vile Devil Monks.
"You know, Jotaro, I really prefer having Kagaribi's boobs..."
Who have now found him. And try and kick his ass. And do a pretty good job of it before Jotaro somehow manages to escape with the help of some nifty ninja smoke bombs, sharp editing cuts, and pepper spread on the ground (really).
Sometime later, Jotaro awakes back in the ninja school, fully recovered from his ordeal. He sees his master and attempts to tell him about the plot and the Spider Kettle. The master, however, will hear nothing of it. He's furious at Jotaro over his love for Kagaribi (is that really the most important thing right now?), and tells Jotaro to choose between the school and Kagaribi (well, isn't that really a moot point now, with heads switched and all?). Jotaro chooses love and leaves with the Kettle.
The ninja master, by the way, is named Hattori Hanzo, played by Hiroshi Tanaka, who was also Otaguro in The Return of the Street Fighter. In my recently-reviewed Shogun's Ninja, the character of Hattori Hanzo was played by a different actor and the roles were dissimilar.
Word travels fast in Japan and it's not long before the Prince hears of Jotaro's expulsion from the school. The Devil Monks think it was because the ninja master wanted to disassociate himself from Jotaro so the Devil Monks wouldn't come after him and his school. Again, pretty punk ass for a ninja master. Richard Roundtree wouldn't do that, and you can be darn sure that Charles Bronson wouldn't either.
Alright, stick with me, it's going to get confusing. Three days later, we go now to a big Buddhist Temple where the King and Ukyo (looking stunning here) are praying. The Prince is also here, along with about a hundred other assorted nobles, commoners, priests and soldiers. The ceremony is overly long and loud, and we see way too much of it. The original plan was to make Ukyo drink the potion here, but the Prince lost the Spider Kettle so the plan has to wait.
That's a big statue.
Also there, hiding up in the temple's rafters, is Jotaro. He spies Ukyo, who looks just like his love Kagaribi of course, and he's quite taken aback. He also notices that the Prince keeps casting lusty gazes at Ukyo behind the King's back.
Ok, the temple is now attacked by a large body of monks from another rival temple! We never learn who these monks are, or why they are attacking this temple, and I guess it doesn't really matter in the long run. About a hundred or so monks dressed in outfits that look like Catholic nun habits and armed with torches and swords, assault the temple in a furious frontal attack. The soldiers fight back, but the Sisters of Mary Margaret manage to set the temple on fire and slaughter a bunch of defenders.
Holy Cross avenging their first round loss in the NCAA tourney.
As the temple starts to be engulfed in flames, Jotaro takes the opportunity to leap in and grab Ukyo and run off with her. He has to fight the Devil Monks for a minute first, who have shown up for some unknown reason. Jotaro and Ukyo escape into the flaming ruins just before it collapses, and all are convinced that they are dead.
But they have survived, hiding down in the basement of the temple to escape the flames. Once the fire burns out, they come out and breath fresh air. Ukyo is burnt (though we don't see any obvious burns on her exposed skin) and can't travel right now. Jotaro sees that the large statue of Buddha is still intact, though the head is missing. They climb down inside the statue, which is a metal shell surrounding a hollow wooden frame.
Ukyo stays here while Jotaro runs into the nearest town to get some medicine for her burns and her fever. He returns with a "new remedy to reduce fever", and nurses her back to health. Ukyo tells him that she's pretty smitten with this dashing young ninja who saved her life. Aw, what girl wouldn't be swept off her feet by a stud with a sword?
Jotaro tells her everything he knows (which is far, far more than he should know) about the Prince's plot, the Spider Kettle, and her twin sister. It's surprising that Ukyo has a matching Christian cross necklace (damn unbelievable actually considering she's married to a Buddhist King and she herself was said to be raised a Buddhist). Ukyo now understands what's going on and she's none too happy about the Prince's plans.
The matching crosses are the proof.
But they can't hide forever, the Devil Monks have too much black magic mojo not to sense that they survived. And so, late at night, Jotaro and Ukyo have to flee the temple ruins, pursued by the Devil Monks. Trapped and in serious danger of being flayed, it looks bad.
Just then they're rescued by a band of mysterious black-masked horsemen! What the hell! They whisk them off and to safety. These "mountain men" are an enigma, they come and go throughout the rest of the movie, but at this point we don't know who they are or their motivations. They agree to take Ukyo and the Spider Kettle back to the King's palace so that Ukyo can tell her husband about the Prince's plot.
The Masked Rider.
With the girl and the kettle safely away, Jotaro can resume his revenge quest against the Devil Monks. Hey, someone explain to me why Jotaro just doesn't wash the kettle out with hot soapy water and be done with the whole potion plot? Anyone?
First on Jotaro's hit list are Vomit-Monk and Doctor-Monk, who are out in the woods somewhere presumably looking for Jotaro. Some dialogue here establishes that Doctor-Monk (whose looking a lot like David Carradine here) is the only one who can do the bringing-back-to-life trick. Jotaro is lurking nearby behind a tree, and using his super ninja hearing powers (I guess) he realizes that if he kills Doctor-Monk first, then the others are essentially mortal.
And so he comes swinging in on (yet another) vine to haul Doctor-Monk up in a tree where he kills him with his sword. He then attacks Vomit-Monk (whose looking a lot like Jack Black here) and the two of them fall over a waterfall (where the hell did that come from!). We get some neat underwater ninja action now, as Jotaro knifes and kills Vomit-Monk before struggling out of the water. That was actually a pretty inventive action sequence, even though we didn't see any of it, our imagination filled in the blanks.
Back now to the King's palace, where Ukyo's attempts to tell the King about the plot have turned sour. The King won't believe her, he has too much manly trust in the Prince. He's furious at her and orders her to stay put while he sends for the Prince so he can give him his Spider Kettle back. Ukyo is crushed and you can tell from here on out her heart is no longer with her husband the King, but with Jotaro.
Ok, following his fight in the water, Jotaro awakes in a lean-to outdoors somewhere with a hot nekkid chick on top of him! Lucky bastard! The girl is unknown to us but she sure has a tight butt. They snuggle and kiss a bit before Jotaro comes to his senses and pushes her away.
Just then the walls of the lean-to collapse! Jotaro is trapped by the Devil Monks, who have lured him into this trap. Ah, now I see, one of the five Devil Monks is really a girl! She's the one with the hat that always covers her head! Damn! Her name is Chidori (though I'll still call her Hat-Monk) and is played by 29-year old Yuki Kazamatsuri, who was recently seen as the restaurant owner in Kill Bill.
Chidori, the monk formerly known as Hat-Monk.
Jotaro is now captured and brought to the Prince's palace. He's tortured a bit, though we don't see much of that on screen thankfully, and left in a dark cell. In Shogun's Ninja this same actor was brutally tortured on screen, so I'm glad not to see the same sort of ickiness here.
Ukyo, learning where Jotaro is being held, comes to rescue him. To do so, she sneaks out of the palace in secret. Taking the guise of Lady Hellfire, she bribes the guard to let her into his cell, and she sets him loose.
Before he can leave the cell, however, a Devil Monk (Fat-Monk, who has metal darts that shoot out of his wrists and his eyeballs!) enters and a fight starts. Jotaro, unarmed save for his muscles and marketable hair, manages to bring down the Monk with his own darts by holding the Monk's hand against his own neck. But the Monk doesn't die until Jotaro pulls what looks like a key or some sort out of the back of his neck like the Nazi dude in Hellboy. What the heck was that?
Fat-Monk's amazing eye-dart shooter thingies.
Jotaro and Ukyo horsejack a horse and ride off. Before they get too far, however, they are pounced on by one of the two remaining Devil Monks (Flying-Monk, the one who looks like Vin Diesel). Jotaro manages to impale the monk on a tree stump after stabbing both his eyes out (seriously).
Word of Ukyo's leaving the palace gets back to the Prince (the King apparently doesn't know yet). This sucks, as the Prince needs Ukyo to be there when he visits the King so she can drink the potion. It's Lady Hellfire who suggests that she go to the King disguised as Ukyo and stir up trouble. The plot is complicated, but Lady Hellfire will act all slutty with the Prince when he arrives, thus making the King jealous (and maybe leave her or something that would allow the Prince to get power...or something, this is all so screwed up at this point I just don't care anymore).
Hmm...there's this strange disjointed scene here where it seems like Lady Hellfire (posing as Ukyo) sleeps with the King while some other girl watches. But then again, it might be Chidori the Devil Monk, or maybe Ukyo herself, or freakin' Britney Spears for all I can figure out. I don't like this movie.
Ok, let's forget that last scene happened. This next bit is a mess, so stay with me. The Prince comes to the King's palace to get his Spider Kettle back and to work his plot. He sits down with the King and Lady Hellfire (still posing as Ukyo) and they chat. The King seems a bit unstable here, perhaps that was the Devil Monk chick in that last scene and she warped his mind.
As they talk, who should walk in but Ukyo! The split-screen technique used to show both twins in the same shot is extremely well-done, certainly better composed than in many twin-movies I've see (like that crapfest Momento). Walking defiantly into the room, she challenges Lady Hellfire as an imposter!
Two twin hotties.
The King, understandably confused, rather quickly looses his mind. In fact, he goes so nuts that he takes a dagger and kills Lady Hellfire! He then plunges the blade into his own heart! Wow, who knew that the King had it in him?
With the King dead, the Prince stands up and proclaims himself leader of the kingdom effective immediately, Since he really has that right of succession, no one argues with him much.
Ok, now the Prince sits Ukyo down and forces her to drink the love potion. Just as she does so, however, who should come swinging in through the window on a rope but Jotaro! The guards rush to contain him and a furious battle erupts. Jotaro is in full enraged save-the-girl ninja mojo mode here, slicing and slashing through the paper-thin defenses put up by the palace guard.
The last surviving Devil Monk (Sickle-Thrower/Chidori/Hat-Monk) now arrives. She and Jotaro have a final man-to-woman fight in the courtyard while all watch. It's touch and go there for a bit, with Jotaro struggling to avoid the slicing boomerang sickle. Eventually, he pins the sickle against a tree trunk and then cuts the Devil Monk's (admittedly attractive) head clean off. All the Devil Monk's are now dead and accounted for.
The final fight.
What's this? Those mysterious mountain horsemen now appear, rushing to aid Jotaro. Where's the perimeter security at this castle? Don't they have gates? Walls? Something?
The leader of the horsemen (looking a bit like Lawrence of Arabia here) now pulls back his mask to show us that he's really the Shogun! Who knew? Well, really, we all saw that one coming. But why did he take on this masked rider disguise to begin with? Some more backstory on the Shogun would have been nice, especially since he plays such a pivotal role in our movie.
The Shogun and the Prince have a quick fight, ending with the Prince run through with a sword. That was a rather anti-climatic end to our villain.
Alright, the ending to this movie is just plain messed up. Right after the Prince dies, that ominous thunderstorm boils up, signaling the arrival of Wormtongue. The old evil monk uses his spooky jedi mind powers to transport Ukyo and Jotaro off to someplace. Where is not known, but the Hades motif is strong with fire and brimstone everywhere. Ukyo is nailed to a cross (!!!) which is soon to be consumed by flames. Jotaro chooses to die with her rather than live and jumps up to embrace her as the flames engulf them both.
What is this about?
The End. Seriously, that's how it ended. I know, I know, what the fuck was that all about? What happened to the prophesy that whoever had the girl had the world? And what's with all that Christian imagery? What are they trying to say? I don't know, and I'm not sure I care anymore. That's three hours of my life I'm not getting back.
Written in February 2007 by Nathan Decker.
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that's between you and the vengeful wrath of your personal god...