Rogue Ninja (Cert 15)
1 Disc (Distributor: MVM Entertainment) Running time: 70 minutes
16th century feudal Japan and the Iga ninja clan is at war with Koga clan, under the threat of powerful warlord Nobunaga Oda, forcing them to rule over their people with an iron fist. Those in the upper echelon deal with even the slightest infraction from the lower classed ninja resulting in death while others are subject to a lockdown within their communities. Serving among the ranks of the lower tier ninja is feisty female Ukagami (Mika Hijii), a spirited young lass intent on continuing the traditional of ninja ways taught to her by her father despite the concerns of the men folk around her. When Ukagami disobeys an order from her bullying chief and leaves the village to hunt down a kidnapped friend, a death sentence placed upon her.
If my research is to be believed, this film doesn’t exist. Google the title Rogue Ninja or consult the many available filmographies of writer director Seiji Chiba or leading lady Mika Hijii and you’ll find no trace of this title anywhere on their résumés. Perhaps they are so embarrassed by it they’ve disowned it? Who knows? What we do know is that Chiba and Hijii reunited to make the more well known (and present on their CVs) Alien vs Ninja, which no doubt falls into the same low budget fare as this apparent phantom title.
Back to Rogue Ninja and the plot is given some extra meat with the mysterious assassinations of the lower level Iga ninja which Ukagami, her brother Kino and childhood friend Kamari are not convinced it is the work of the Koga ninja, who coincidentally are trying to recruit Ukagami to their side. The rather unpleasant Kamari also has his eye on Ukagami but clearly not as a ninja. In fact, being the apparent sole female ninja Ukagami has many admirers which naturally she ignores and kicks some butt to prove her worth as a fighter.
Kamari and Kino are merely being gallant, the leader is just being the lascivious pervert he is, as if his gross abuse of a naked woman at the start of the film wasn’t a blatant enough indicator. In between some nifty scenes of Ukagami showing off her impressive fighting skills she doesn’t so much stumble upon the answers to all the questions, rather she waits until the guilty parties needlessly spill the beans as every great protagonist does. And this is all wrapped up in under seventy minutes.
What we have here is a film that isn’t particularly original, with the Iga vs Koga feud having provided many a film, book, TV show and Anime with its backdrop along with the presence of the historical giant Nobunaga Oda – only on this occasion Oda isn’t physically represented here. Female ninjas are not exactly new either with Azumi having blazed a path a good few years ago and Rina Takeda’s High Kick Girl having brought female martial artists to the fore back in 2008, a clear inspiration on the character of Ukagami.
Incidentally, Takeda stars in Chiba’s latest project entitled – you guessed it – Ninja Girl!! While the ambitions are high the budget is anything but yet Chiba doesn’t appear fazed by this in the least. Any limb severing happens largely off camera with the detached appendage then seen thrown to the ground afterwards although the obligatory fountains of blood are unusually absent here.
Hampered by a clumsy script – which is full of obvious and occasionally needless exposition and some very poorly chosen dialogue which hopefully may have been down to the translation rather than the original wording (I doubt even the most disturbed film baddie would really instruct his men to “rape” a woman instead of using a more subtle phrase) – the acting on the whole ranges from the competent to the clueless. Despite possessing a certain presence, star Mika Hijii has little to do except look dour and blank for most of the film until the big reveal at the end where she breaks out some rather cute and emotive puppy dog eyes. Perhaps under better direction and given a more substantial role and script, Hijii-san may have some potential as an actress.
What is clear in this film is that she can handle her fight scenes well enough and while she is no Rina Takeda she is competent enough to not look foolish or need any gimmicks or post production help to shine. In fact the fights are the strongest aspect of this film, well choreographed and, aside from one or two hokey moments, neatly executed. Shame the often juddery camerwork is not comparable to fully showcase this is but anyone would be foolish to expect anything less from what is essentially a cheap and cheerful indie flick.
Rogue Ninja won’t be mistaken for Citizen Kane any time soon, even in the ranks of low budget Japanese action films. It is an earnest project with some impressive fight scenes although nothing that can’t see in outings with better scripts and dare I say, with bigger production values. Accept it for what it is and nothing more. Possibly worth a rent to pass the time for an hour but not recommended as an essential purchase.
Rating – **
Man In Black