There was a rash of decently budgeted pulp fantasy Samurai/Ninja films produced in Japan in the late ‘70s & early ‘80s. These movies tend not to be great works of art, & are most certainly an acquired taste, but they can also be a lot of fun if you’re willing to accept them for what they are. “Ninja Wars” is certainly not the finest example of such films, but if you’ve got the taste for a bit of illogical black magic, ninjas, blood-geyser decapitations, sex, & wild fight scenes, there’s just about enough of all the above in “Ninja Wars” to keep you entertained.
The plot in this one goes something like this. The beautiful Princess Ukyo is the daughter of the Shogun, & whoever marries her will become ruler of the world. Obviously this is of great interest to Lord Donjo (Akira Nakao), who is infatuated with the Princess, & obviously wouldn’t mind a bit of the old world-leadership. He enlists the help of an evil sorcerer & his gang of five deadly Ninja/monks. The sorcerer decides to help by making a magic love potion, which will make Ukyo fall in love with Donjo. To do this they need the tears of a virgin, so the evil Monks abduct Kagaribi, who is in love with fellow ninja Jotaro (Hiroyuki Sanada). He tries to help, but is undone by one of the monks who projectile vomits a strange yellow liquid which solidifies on his face & almost suffocates him. Now, Kagaribi also happens to be the twin sister of Princess Ukyo, so when she learns of Donjo’s nefarious plot, she cuts her own head off. Not to be outdone, the monks cut the head off a servant girl, & proceed to magically swap their heads over, so that evil servant girl now has the face of Kagaribi (which, if you’re paying attention you’ll realise is also the same face as Princess Ukyo), & poor old Kagaribi is left with the face of the servant girl. Inevitably, this confuses & irritates Jotaro quite a bit, so he swears to take revenge for his love, & also protect her sister the Princess.
It’s a bit hard to know what to say about a movie like “Ninja Wars”. This isn’t a deep or complex film, & at times it’s horribly cheesy, nonsensical & barely competent technically. This really ought to make it utterly unwatchable, but not unlike the entertainingly outrageous giallo flicks, there’s something compulsively entertaining about it all, & it ought to be embraced for it’s more random elements & unhinged plotting. Like giallos, these samurai films fall into different categories of varying degrees of critical respectability – and sad to say, “Ninja Wars” falls straight into the pile marked ‘guilty pleasure’. There’s nothing really wrong with that of course, but it does mean that it’s only really one for genre fans who know what it is they’re getting – if you’re new to the genre you should probably try a movie like Kinji Fukasaku’s cracking “Legend of the Eight Samurai” first. Having said that, “Ninja Wars” has a decent bout of wire-fu work, some gleefully bloody decapitations, “Ringu”s Hiroyuki Sanada makes for a likeable & energetic lead & Sonny Chiba even pops in head in for a couple of minutes.
The UK R2/PAL DVD from Adness/Ventura is bizarrely released as part of the “Sonny Chiba Collection”, which will only disappoint those who buy it for his performance since his role is so brief. Still, the anamorphic widescreen picture looks great, the stereo Japanese audio is very clear (English subs are removable), & it’s completely uncut. The only extras are a couple of trailers & some liner notes that seemed to be missing from my review copy.