During the Warring States period the formerly powerful Momochi clan was eradicated, assisted by ninja spies over whom Shiranui (Shinichi Chiba) was commander. The young heir Takamaru Momochi survived & was raised safely in China, returning as a teenager to avenge his family.
Hiroyuki Sanada is the avenging teenager Takamaru, & Etsuko Shiumi is his young leading lady in Shogun's Ninja (Ninja Bugeicho Momochi Sandayu, 1980). These two were top performers from Shinichi Chiba's Japan Action Club & they were heavily promoted teenage stars from among that troop of young acrobatic stunt artists.
Hiroyuki would one day evolve into a great character actor, but as a young star he was no more easily taken seriously than, say, Fabian in an American beach party movie. This is not the sort of samurai film that attempts to create a credible past, but is teen action all the way.
Takamura returns to Japan from China, improbably enough, in a little rowboat. He dresses like & fights like a Hong Kong kung fu star, or a JAC close approximation thereof, & comes off as an unfortunate Bruce Lee wannabe. The rest of the JAC members pad out the cast with action movements belonging to a carnival act rather than ninjutsu or bushido. Between the corny acrobatics posing as ninja tricks, & Hiroyuki posturing as though in a Hong Kong chop socky, it can all be quite dazzling but never rises to anything the least bit artful or convincing.
There's a side-story about the ninja thief Goemon, a semi-historical figure who is the subject of a couple of episodes of Raizo Ichikawa's famous Shinobi no mono "band of assassins" series. This choice of subplot seems to boldly beg comparison to films that were truly convincing ninja stories with realism & suffering emotion. It's kind of like a brain damaged child begging to have his IQ compared to that of Einstein.
The matching shortswords that prove Takamaru's identity also hold the secret to a hidden Momochi treasure, providing an excuse for added action-motivation since everyone wants that treasure.
The film gets crummier & crummier as it progresses. The "high point" of the film will for many be the exploitation sequence with hunky young Hiroyuki tied up & tortured before finally getting even with everyone. Tetsura Tamba in his cameo as the white-haired old sensei lends a certain pictorial elegance to a couple of scenes, even though his character is comicbook goofy like everything else in this film.
Although Hiroyuki is cute as a button fighting Chinese style, cuteness isn't much to go on. The choreography for the fight scenes tends toward foolery, which was thought to be required for teen appeal. Some sequences made me want to say "Boing, Boing, Boing" as JAC members hop & fly in the background.
All the goofy mugging & posturing culminates in the grand finale of a one-on-one duel between Sanada & Chiba. This attempts to be a little more serious than most of the choreography, but it remains largely camp.
The soundtrack's recurring pop themesong by "Buster" is gratingly appropriate for a film that does not really want you to believe in the historical setting or anything that happens therein. When Buster isn't singing an horribly inappropriate song, there's a jazz score that sounds like it was copied off of old episodes of The Streets of San Francisco.
When this film was released Japanese cinema was in a steep decline. Toei studios was moving increasingly to television productions with bankruptcy in the wings. The last bankable star for a short while was Shinichi Chiba, who used his transient power to promote his Japan Action Club. Serious films largely gave way to this type of teeny-bopper epic wherein Chiba's silly acrobat-oriented martial arts students got leading roles as glamour-ninjas & real actors like Tetsuro Tamba were relegated to cameos.
I've reviewed the Japanese language version with English subtitles. There exists also a dubbed version I have no desire to see, but the story reportedly gets even more ridiculous with Chiba's character renamed Shogun as though an actual Shogun were personally running about trying to kill a teen idol, with other dub "adjustments" that increase the irrationality of the thing. Purists certainly won't go for a dubbed version, although sometimes a film is so moronic it probably doesn't matter which version is viewed.
Among the lousier films of the early 80s, Shogun's Ninja is one of the lousiest, though an opposite opinion might be sustained by anyone who prefers corn & camp to classic samurai gloom & tragedy.
copyright © by Paghat the Ratgirl