Imagine a fifteen year old Frank Inglese walking into a local film retailer and seeing “Ninja Scroll” for the very first time. Back then I had an unjustified love for everything Ninja; I was into “Naruto”, I had just watched “Basilisk” and I was looking for just about anything Shinobi-related to indulge in but I couldn’t get my hands on this film.
It was, and in fact still is, rated a hefty R18+ and I couldn’t find a single person to do me a solid and purchase this film for me. A little while later, on a school night, I received a text message from a friend alerting me to the fact that “Ninja Scroll” was being played on late night television.
As you may have already guessed; I stayed up very late to finish what I immediately thought was one of the greatest Ninja movies of all time. It’s been about five years since then and it’s been just over twenty years since the movie was first developed and released. Now we’re in 2014; the age of low attention spans and those who are almost always too quick to complain. To re-release “Ninja Scroll” now would be lunacy, some people may say. I’m here to explain why that’s not the case. In fact, I think maybe “Ninja Scroll” has come at a perfect time.
Feudal Japan – a time of danger, intrigue and deception. After an entire village is decimated by a mysterious plague, a master swordsman named Jubei undertakes a desperate quest to find The Shogun of the Dark, an evil autocrat who plans to overthrow the Japanese government. But in order to capture him, Jubei must face The 8 Devils of Kimon, the Shogun’s fearsome force of demonic henchmen, each possessing awesome superhuman powers. Joined on his journey by the beautiful and deadly female ninja Kagero, they must together defeat the dominion that rule in terror and restore order to the land.- Madman Entertainment
“Ninja Scroll” is just great. As you can tell, from the quotation box above, the story behind “Ninja Scroll” isn’t exactly that of an in-depth one. Yes, it has a great deal of backstory that is somewhat told through the “present” story but, on the surface, it’s just your average Samurai/Ninja Anime flick. In 2014, I think it’s safe to say that we’ve seen a LOT this type of thing but “Ninja Scroll” was not made in 2014, making it a trailblazer of the sub-genre. I wouldn’t go as far to say it was the very first Anime film to portray a Samurai-type fighter going up against a band of supernatural Shinobi but, to my knowledge, it’s probably the greatest and, without it, a lot of the stuff we’re seeing now just wouldn’t exist.
In saying that, it’s not like “Ninja Scroll” has aged badly. It still holds up despite the influx of Samurai/Ninja material we’ve seen over the past few decades and the advancements to the Anime-making world. It has a cast of interesting characters, each possessing their own different Ninja techniques and fighting styles, all of which eventually fail under the slicing power of Jubei’s blade. It also has a brilliant sense of pacing! At about an hour and a half long, “Ninja Scroll” is a pretty standard length movie which is perfectly fine with me because I’ve grown tired of Japanese cinema and the long running times of its movies.
Somehow, “Ninja Scroll” tells a fairly lengthy story in a fairly short time without giving off the impression that it is missing something. No battle is more than ten minutes away from the last and it features enough dialogue to tell you what you need to know without boring you. It also ends in quite a classic way which is so nice to see in the age of super story twists that work only for shock value, but sometimes the audience doesn’t want to be shocked. Sometimes the audience just wants to see the good guy beat the bad guy. That’s all. It makes that feeling all the more intense when you have a “humble hero” like Jubei leading the film. You want him to win!
Also aged like a fine wine is that of the films visuals. This kind of goes without saying but the general consensus is that older Anime titles play host to some pretty bad animation quality. This is not really the case for “Ninja Scroll”. It’s quite obvious that the animation techniques used in the film are that of some of the older ones, but that doesn’t necessarily make it a worse-looking film than anything that came out in 2014. It just makes it seem like a classic and that’s exactly what it is.
The development team used some amazing paintings as the backgrounds for each of the scenes and then animated on top of it which I don’t believe is something they do often anymore. It still works well and doesn’t really take away from the movie. Yes, some scenes make the movie seem a little, let’s say, “grainy” but they don’t come up often thanks to the fact that this is a remastered release. Even then, it doesn’t look TOO different to the original release but it just kind of brings it into the new age. Some of the more sloppy lines are fixed up, scenes are bolder and more colourful. It’s your standard remaster.
The same goes for the film’s audio experience. The soundtrack does seem a great deal crisper and so does the voice acting track. It being an older film, voice acting wasn’t quite at the level it is now and that’s very much noticeable. Only one or two of the actors perform perfectly but I’m just thankful one of them happens to do the voice of Jubei. There isn’t a great deal of talking in this movie but it’s still around and it could be a lot better. If it’s too hard to bear, there’s always the option to switch to the Japanese dub but I stuck with the English and, despite some of the more cheesy lines, still managed to love it.
The soundtrack, like any movie of this kind, was made up entirely of traditional sounds. The Shamisen, a Japanese guitar-like instrument, had the most predominant presence throughout the film and there’s nothing I would have replaced it with. It’s a traditional instrument that would have been around at the time the movie was set and it fit perfectly. No Samurai/Ninja flick is the same without it!
From the first minute all the way up until the last, I loved this movie! It brought back all the memories I had of it as a young teen and watching it through again just re-cemented it in my mind as one of my all time favorite movies. Despite the silly lines and the mostly sub-par voice action, the moment the movie finished I was ready to press play on it again.
It has a fantastic story progression and features such an exciting character cast of crazy Ninjas as well as a hero I’ll be looking up to for the rest of my days. There’s a few small things wrong with “Ninja Scroll”, that’s obvious, but it is such an old movie. I’m sure you can excuse the small things it lacks and just enjoy it as a whole. There’s a difference between a 1999 Daewoo Lanos and a 69 Chevy Impala: One is an old car, the other is a classic car. Know the difference and this movie will be one you’ll be watching until the day you die.
Learn the Shinobi way by heading to Madman Entertainment’s official online store and grabbing “Ninja Scroll” now: Click Here