J.B. Spins

Jazz, film, and improvised culture.

Friday, July 24, 2015

Fantasia ’15: The Ninja War of Torakage

Ever found yourself wondering if you might enjoy a film more if a Portuguese ninja scholar was available to explain the cultural significance of the action on-screen? Well, a kitchen sink filmmaker like Yoshihiro Nishimura understands exactly where you’re coming from. By his lunatic standards, this foray into ninja skullduggery is pretty grounded, whereas for the rest of us mere mortals, it is total madness. Ninja clans will clash while Francisco the talking head elucidates the finer points in Nishimura’s The Ninja War of Torakage (trailer here), which screens today during the 2015 Fantasia International Film Festival in Montreal.

Torakage and his wife Tsukikage were ninjas serving their ruthless mistress, Gensai, but they fell in love and quit to raise a family. Of course, you do not resign from Gensai’s service so easily—not that they considered the torture they endured so very easy. She had temporarily allowed them a false sense of security, but that is over now that she needs them again. Kidnapping their young son Kogetsu, she demands they steal a certain Silver Scroll from the despised Rikuri clan. Once they deliver it to her, she will marry it up with the Golden Scroll that just came into her possession, to determine the location of an ancient treasure.

Inconveniently, Torakage and Tsukikage find themselves out of the frying pan and into the fire when they are captured by the human-sacrificing Rikuri clan. Somehow, the competing clan fell under the sway of a charismatic cult leader, who offers Torakage a similar deal. If he steals the Golden Scroll from Gensai, he can exchange it for Tsukikage.

That all might not sound so far removed from the Jidaigeki mainstream, but Nishimura tosses in a bamboo Iron Man-like battle suit, dizzying “human shuriken” action, drug addiction, a mercenary angel with a death’s head, Francisco’s color commentary, a bunch of conversations about going poo, and Eihi Shiina from Takashi Miike’s Audition doing her thing. However, even amid all the lunacy, Torakage’s chief rival still scrupulously observes his code of honor.

Together with Tokyo Tribe and Nowhere Girl, Nana Seino scores a heck of a one-two-three punch in a trio of films beyond category. Each one is an overpowering ecosystem unto itself, but she never wilts in any of the three. Once again, she also shows some convincing action chops. As Torakage and his nemesis, Takumi Saitô and Kanji Tsuda also flash plenty of moves and manage to maintain a stiff-as-a-board sense of dignity while navigating the all-encompassing bedlam. Of course, Eihi Shiina is creepy well past the point of comfort as the sadistic Gensai.

Overly sensitive viewers should be warned—Ninja War is a fantastically bloody, unabashedly subversive, and mildly scatological film. In short, it has everything growing kids need for their healthy development. Recommended for those who enjoy boldly over-the-top cult cinema, The Ninja War of Torakage screens tonight (7/24), as part of this year’s Fantasia.

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