Ninja Scroll remains a deeply fucked up movie. A fact that I find almost heart warming. As I get older and older I find that shock value alone no longer has much appeal to me in and of itself. When I hear about something like Bad Biology I don’t rush out to see it the way I know I would have if I was seventeen. So it was with a feeling of Nostalgia that I found oddly heartwarming that as I watched Ninja Scroll I could only think “God these people are sick and I hope they never get well.”
Ninja Scroll was one of the first anime to cross over as “anime”. While it never had the mainstream name recognition that Akira and Ghost In The Shell had, for fans of the form before it crossed over, Ninja Scroll was just as important a touchstone. A gateway title that far from being watered down delivered all the transgressive kick that anime was capable of giving in one shot gun blast.
No matter how “safe” and mainstream anime gets, Ninja Scroll will always carries that enticing whiff of the forbidden and the depraved. What everyone with a negative bias view towards anime told you anime was, Ninja Scroll actually was. Filled with lovingly rendered ultra violence, and even more lovingly rendered sexual perversion, Ninja Scroll remains the work of the deeply fucked up.
Ninja Scroll follows the wandering Samurai Jubei, who is pressed into service by a shady monk to take on “The Eight Devil’s Of Kimon” a group of demonically powered super Ninja, led by an immortal asshole who Jubei previously “killed” in a non quickening inspired decapitation. Part of the movie’s enduring charm is thanks to how Jubei is played. He’s written to have a “Kurt Russel in a John Carpenter movie” attitude to the ongoing. Getting through the challenges of the supernatural with a wry sense of detachment, occasionally feigned incompetence, and legitimately badassery.
They are joined by Kaigero, a female ninja, whose graphically depicted molestation, at the hands of the Rock Gobbler from The Never Ending Story can only be described as “Deeply unsettling”.
They spend the rest of the film battling the eight devils in some jaw droppingly beautiful, ingeniously choreographed, surpassingly brutal duels, that have earned the film’s legendary status among Eastern Action fans. Its basically the apex of the certain kind of villain gimmick based action filmmaking that dominated in the eighties and early nineties.
And yet even these fights are not free of the faint air of “Ick”. There’s a weird unhealthily erotic feel to almost all the fights. Almost all of the villains explicitly get sexual pleasure from their violence. Snakes come out of vaginas, everyone is feeling rapey, there’s weird orgasmic “I’m being electrocuted” screams. It’s all very John Waters. In all fairness this does give the action a more intense feeling then the usual “Fire Hose O’ Blood” anime violence. But it may also inspire the need to take a shower.
Ninja Scroll is a joyously unhinged freakfest of a movie. That might not be an endorsement from some. But it certainly is from me.
(PS. I'm heading down to the ole Whales Vagina this weekend (San Diego) so there won't be any posting until Monday. Have a good weekend all)