4 August 2015 | Quebec_Dragon
Not your usual ninja flick
I saw the world premiere at the Fantasia Film Festival. We're in Japan at the end of 18th century and ninjas, once commonly used, are being hunted down and executed. A princess must reach Edo to ask help from a lord there. She's escorted by a half-dozen soldiers and one bodyguard who's actually a ninja. They'll have to cross a dangerous forest where a strange watery creature lurks and kills people. So let's get this out of the way first: this is not the typical ninja you might be used to seeing with dark costume, hood and almost supernatural skills. It's closest to what ninjas were probably like: good fighters hired by lords to do covert missions. Also, if you're expecting fights between a monster and a ninja, you're gonna be disappointed. This movie subscribes to the "seeing-less-is-more" philosophy or, in this case, "hearing-more-is-better-than-seeing". It means that most often we see the hidden princess while the actual fight (or slaughter) is conveyed through sound effects and screams. Think of the black smoke creature in the first season of Lost. The sound might have been very loud in the theatre but I thought it did create excellent tension.
The few fights were mostly between humans and they were adequate although not very memorable. The darkness didn't help but didn't detract too much. The actor playing Denzo, the ninja, had an expressive face although his role of a reserved man did not demand much emoting. Choemon, the main bodyguard and samurai, was a bit more over the top but not overly so. The princess played a good damsel in distress. As for story, it was simple enough with a clear objective. It did add interest with the unclear motive of the ninja, although that wasn't explored enough in my mind. However, near the start, it did bug me how abruptly Choemon accused Denzo of being a ninja. That was so out of the blue that part of the audience laughed. I think the director might have wanted us to wonder if ninjas were really "monsters" or if so-called monsters were really monsters after all, but I'm speculating. I liked the special effects for the distinct gelatinous-water look of the creature, but I was disappointed by its final fate. It seemed too obscure and it was as if the protagonists' actions didn't really matter, i.e. the monster would have ended up the same with or without them. As a somewhat intimate suspense movie with a fantastical monster, it kind of works. For action and thrills, you might want to look elsewhere. At the end, the audience applauded politely.
Rating: 6 out of 10 (Good)