Kamui : The Lone Ninja (Cert 15)
1 Discs (Distributor: Manga Entertainment) Running time: 115 minutes
In 17th Century Japan a young ninja named Kamui (Ken’ichi Matsuyama) decides he no longer wishes to use his exceptional skills for killing people and yearns for liberation from this barbaric lifestyle. Unfortunately the Ninja code dictates that the only way to leave the fold is through death. Not the most appealing of options for our young hero he goes on the run with his erstwhile clan hot on his trail. After a fateful meeting with fisherman Hanbei (Kaoru Kobayashi), Kamui is taken to a small island where the respite is in danger of being short lived.
Based on the popular Manga Kamui Gaiden this live action adaptation sticks closely to the source material but sadly fails to match up to the earnest intentions behind this project. This is most telling by the narrative which feels more suited to an episodic drama and not a two hour film, robbing it of a sense of coherence. The over reliance on CGI to enhance the fight sequences and just about everything else begins to jar and become less credible as things progress as does the wire work, recalling some of Chinese Martial Arts director Tsui Hark’s more comical moments.
To flesh out the plot a little more the film opens with a flashback of a younger Kamui being party to the ambushing of a female ninja Sugara (Koyuki) also wishing to abandon her murderous lifestyle, resulting in her taking a plunge off the edge off a cliff into choppy waters below during the battle. Jump forward fourteen years and Kamui is now the renegade prey for his former ninja brethren. After some frantic but utterly ridiculous punch ups, we are introduced to the sadistic and capricious daimyo Lord Gunbei (Koichi Sato) whose sole purpose appears to be to act as a bizarre conduit for Kamui’s fateful meeting with Hanbei, who, in one of the more disturbing scenes in the film, cuts off the leg of Gunbei’s horse Lord Ichijiro for its hoof to make efficient claws for his fish bait. After a spot of mutual bacon saving Hanbei takes Kamui back to the island he calls home, discovering a familiar face, Hanbei’s wife Oshika – none other than fellow ninja deserter Sugara. And to complicate matters further their eldest daughter Sayaka (Suzuka Ohgo) has eyes for Kamui.
As involved as the story might sound by now very little actually comes of it, or at least with any real satisfaction, and don’t go looking for character development or a sense of attachment to the cast as that was seemingly low on the writers’ agenda. As mentioned before the deal with Lord Gunbei is nowhere near as important as it should be, and even after Kamui and Sugra stage a daring rescue of Hanbei from his public execution the deranged daimyo becomes bored with the whole thing and moves onto other pointless pleasures! The only constant aside from the ninjas closing in on Kamui is Sugara constantly on the offensive around Kamui in case he reveals the truth about her past. Even that only surfaces every now and then, including a brief underwater fight scene that takes place at night and is almost impossible to see without boosting the brightness on your TV. Kamui and Sayaka may share the odd moment skirting around the idea of hooking up but that is as far as it goes and is prematurely ended by the arrival of the shark hunting Watari gang, who claim to also be former ninjas. Their presence supplies the film with one of its more hilarious moments as they set out to catch a group of acrobatic sharks (no really) with leader captain Fudo (Ito Hideaki) slicing one up in mid air! We know about the Japanese relationships with whales but it seems they are less clued up about their predatory cousins; either that or they’ve mistaken sharks for dolphins!
The big draw to this film for many will be the casting of Ken’ichi Matsuyama in the title role. Known mostly for playing more quirky characters as the eccentric L in the Death Note trilogy or his work in other manga to film adaptations such the two Gantz films, Nana, Detroit Rock City, et al this is a huge departure from that comfort zone to take on an action role. While he handles the (albeit hugely assisted) physical side with aplomb Matsuyama just doesn’t posses enough of a rugged hero look and spends the majority of the film like a sullen and pouting child. The unadventurous dialogue doesn’t do him any favours either but he is not along there as everyone else suffers too. Kyouki (Blood: The Last Vampire) sheds her usual glamorous image for the role of Sugara and is arguably the film’s strongest performer while Anna Tsuchiya (Kamikaze Girls, Sakuran) is utterly wasted in her cameo as Gunbei’s twisted consultant.
The flaws present in Kamui: The Lone Ninja may be glaring but it is without question that there is audience out there who will lap this up regardless and enjoy the visceral, limb severing, claret spilling carnage in all its unfettered, ridiculous glory. For anyone with a more discerning palate when it comes to Asian cinema, this will be a disappointment to learn that the promises it makes are never fully delivered.
Special Event at Roppongi
“Cine Festa Shinjuku” Red Carpet
“Cine Festa Shinjuku” Cast & Crew Greetings
Ratings – Main feature ** ½ /5
Man In Black