Ishikawa Goemon, a talented young ninja becomes embedded in a twisted scheme to assassinate ODA Nobunaga, an evil warlord bent on ruling feudal Japan with an iron fist. Deceit, treachery and loads of ninjas lurk around ev... more »ery corner as Goemon travels the countryside to complete his task of winning back his honor, and ultimately his life.« less
Ernest Jagger | Culver City, California | 11/22/2007
(5 out of 5 stars)
"My review of "Shinobi No Mono" will not only be about the film itself, but the entire series. A friend of mine who is from Japan, but lives here in the USA now, lent me these films, and I will have to state right up front, these are the most realistic films of the ninja that I have ever seen. If you know of any other ones, I'd like to know their titles. These films are ALL in black and white, and were released in the early to mid 1960s. How realistic are these films? Glad you asked. Well, for starters from what I understand, the technical and historical adviser to these films was none other than Toshitsugu Takamatsu, who was a Grandmaster of the Togakure-Ryu Ninjutsu Ryu [School]. Moreover, the fight directions were supervised by the ninjitsu master Hatasumi Masaki. How's that for a ninja film? Sure, there are some pretty cool films depicting ninjas, "Azumi" for one is a great and fun film that entertains. However, if you want realism in your films, then these are the ones.
Forget about the ninjas jumping up to a 100 foot cliff, or jumping down a 500 foot mountain battling 150 adversaries while dodging 100 shurikens thrown at him--this is the real deal here. And while there are some fun ninja films around, none of them packs the excitement that this series does. There are 8 films in all which compromise the entire series. [I understand that there was a 9th film, but without actor Raizo Ichikawa--I wouldn't know however, as I did not see this one] The films main character in this first film, and the rest to follow is portrayed by the late actor Raizo Ichikawa as the protagonist Ishikawa Goemon, who belongs to the Fujibayashi clan of Shinobi, and Yohachi of the Momichi clan. A little background is necessary: First, the warlord Oda is waging war against all the Shinobi, and as such, they are at war with him. These clans however are trying to vie to be the ones to kill the tyrannical Lord Nobunaga Oda (Tomisaburo Wakayama) [of "Lone Wolf and Cub" fame]. This first film is complicated and much attention must be paid to it. Also, the second one in the series is even more complicated. However, if you stick with them they are well worth the time spent.
Lord Nobunaga Oda is waging war against ALL the Shinobi. I cannot tell you too much about Goemon's character as it will give too much away, so I will tell you that he does something which incurs the wrath of his clan leader, and in order to redeem himself he must kill Lord Nobunaga Oda. The film is pretty complicated as the clan leader or Goemon portrays several characters and you have a difficult time on first viewing to understand a lot of what is going on. There is confusion with his character, and you will notice this when you watch the first episode, I do not wish to divulge it. However, it can be a little complicated. Yet, as you get into the further episodes, things really come together. There are some really cool and realistic scenes however, where Goemon tries to kill Lord Oda, like the poison on a string while he is up in the rafters while the Lord is asleep. And since the Lord will be around for the upcoming films, well you get the point. From what I understand, the actors actually had to go through some sort of training in the film in order to give credence to the fight scenes. Plus, there are some great scenes with the ninja and their weapons of choice--complete with smoke bombs, disguises, decoy animals, Shurikens, and many other weapons.
As you watch the entire series unfold on the TV screen, YOU JUST KNOW that the director Satsuo Yamamoto wanted this to be the BEST ninja film ever. The films narrative is done with class, and the films themselves deal with the real life warlord Oda Nobunaga who was an historical figure in Japanese history. And the films narrative is revolved around him. Therefore, there is SOME truth in the films. However, there is a lot of fiction as well. But it's great to see a film where the director tries to employ historical themes to go along with the narrative. Now, I will be the first to admit that the film lacks cohesion in many parts, especially those concerning Goemons character, but as you get further into the series, you find that this is a really good series.
I have not seen any ninja films depicted like these 8 episodes, and quite honestly I do not understand why not. These films are IMPORTANT, and they stand up extremely well into the present. Some will not like these films as there are many complicated plots, and not enough 'suspension of disbelief' that one finds in todays modern ninja films, and that's okay. However, for those who like their films with more authenticity, then I HIGHLY recommend the first film, and more importantly the entire series when they become available; which I am sure they are bound to be. Also, the films have some really terrific cinematography, even on the films I viewed which are in no way in the same caliber as the ones Animeigo produces. The first film is titled "Band of Assassins." My particular favorite ones were [the first--because it got me into the series] and the fourth episode "Mist Saizo." But they must ALL be seen in order to appreciate these films.
Do not let the first film discourage you from viewing the others. If you are not used to films in black and white, or earlier films of the Chambara genre, then give these a chance. Actually, I am quite amazed that it took so long for these films to become noticed here in the USA. These are really good films dealing with realistic depictions of the ninja. Anyway, suffice it to say that those who love samurai films, and Japanese films in general will like these films. If you like Kurosawa's samurai films, then your going to like these. I'm not kidding! Once again, there are eight films in all. They are as follows: #1.Band Of Assassins #2. Return Of The Band Of Assassins #3. Goemon Will Never Die #4. Mist Saizo #5. Return Of Mist Saizo #6. The Last Iga Spy #7. Mist Saizo Strikes Back #8. The Three Enemies. The VHS and DVD films that I viewed did not have very good subtitles according to my Japanese friend. However, knowing that Animeigo has a high standard in their sub-title transfers, I am sure that this series will get its proper respect. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED. [Stars: 5+]"
Great Ninja Series
msjr68 | 09/19/2007
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Great series this is the most realistic Ninja series that you will ever see. There are (8)movies in this series I just wish they would've released the whole series together in a box set. This is a most own for any fan of Ninja movies. Raizô Ichikawa who is the star of this series is one of my favorite Actors he is just awesome in this series."
What is a "Realistic" Ninja Movie Anyway?
F. Ironside | Brooklyn, NY | 10/28/2009
(4 out of 5 stars)
I too will adress the series - or at least the first four films. Will there ever be a serious critique of these films? Probably not. It ain't high art and so scholarly thinkers (snobs for the most part) shan't bother with them. That is a shame, because the series actually deserves some intelligent scrutiny. Some of this saga would merit more detailed explication. Animeigo gives some amount of this in their Extras, but it isn't great. They're good enough on the historical context; however "it is to be regretted" that they do not tell the amateur viewer more about the film's background &c. I realise Animeigo is not Criterion, but some amount of behind-the-scenes information would be helpful. Or as a for-instance, some notes about the various films' receptions? Why, particularly, does the GOEMON character recede into the mist at the end of the third film only to be replaced by the SAIZO character (notably, "Saizo of the Mists")? Are we to understand that they are in fact one and the same man or not? This clearly affects our reading of the film. Does Saizo have the same attitude to domesticity and women as Goemon, for instance? It is more confusing when the excellent Tomasiburo Wakayama returns in the fourth film, now in a heroic role. Is there authorial purpose behind this? Does the director deliberately and subtly double Wakayama's first chartacter, ODA NOBUNAGA, with his second character SANADA YUKIMURA? Nope I don't think so either. Was Wakayama drafted in again because he was so popular in the first two films and the third did less well at the box office? Probably. It'd be nice to know. (I must add that I am well pleased that he IS in the fourth film, however confusing his reappearance; any appearance he makes is to be applauded. He does the same, the inexplicable reappearance, in a couple of Zatoichi films.) Maybe this is simply a convention of Japanese cinema we are not familiar with, in which characters are more important than their actors. More confusing is the appearance and reappearance of one SUBARO DATE, who is in the second and third films as the pro-Ieyasu Hanzo Hatorri but appears in the fourth as an anti-Ieyasu ninja (duly crucified). I get the idea he returns again to the fifth movie as Hanzo again. WHA----- Not that all this chopping and changing is too confusing - it is actually quite enjoyable trying to discern sense in the flux of chaos - like trying to focus on a sock whirling in a washing machine - but I would like to know the reason for it; that is all. I must know the reasons for why things are. Now to another problem resulting from some of the above reviews; what exactly constitutes "realistic" ninja action anyway? Have any of the esteemed reviewers of these films actually seen ninjas going about their everyday activities, enough to pass this solemn judgment? What would William Dean Howells say were he to walk the earth today at this very hour and read these words? As for RAIZO, I like him, especially when he does his set-piece, the exaggerated laughter at inappropriate times, but let's not be carried away. He has two modes; the aforementioned hysterical nihilist laughter and then the brooding sulking pompadoured James Dean impersonator, troubled by overthinking. I say flatly that he is no Katsu Shintaro! It shouldn't seem eccentric for me to compare this series with Zatoichi or Lone Wolf and Vub, since they are each of a type (jidai geki popular serials), and the latter two are, let it be said candidly, far superior. (If you are interested in this subset of jidai geki, incidentally, I will here recommend the excellent WATER MARGIN Japanese TV series, filmed in the seventies, which was televised in Britain in the 1980s and so can be found on an adequate DVD reissue in Britain. Some familiar actors show up in this too. Particularly of note is the excellent KEI SATO.) But I see that I have taken up enough of your time and I fear that I am rambling."
Enter the Ninja
Zack Davisson | Seattle, WA, USA | 09/23/2008
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Ninja have so far escaped their origins that they are more often portrayed in the realm of fantasy, with astounding leaps, flashing swords and mystical skills as in the film Shinobi - Heart Under Blade, than in any historical context (see Ninja: The True Story of Japan's Secret Warrior Cult). They have become legendary figures of astounding prowess, joining the ranks of wizards, elves and dragons.
But long before the world knew of "ninja", long before the black-clad assassins became regular players in video games and parody websites, there was the film series Shinobi no Mono. This was the first production to popularize the mysterious figures, although done in an accurate and historical manner. With technical advisor Toshiitsugu Takamatsu and fight coordinator Hatsumi Masaaki (author of The Way of the Ninja), both Grandmasters of ninjitsu. This series of eight films remains unparalleled in the world of ninja fiction, although people may be surprised at just how human and non-"super powered" the ninja are.
This is the first film in the series, and features famed actor Ichikawa Raizo (Sleepy Eyes of Death) as the ambitious and foolish ninja Ishikawa Goemon. Goemon wants to advance his career as a ninja, but soon finds himself being played by his master Sandayu. The more Goemon tries to make his own way, the more he finds himself a pawn in someone else's game. The other player in the game is Oda Nobunaga (played by legendary actor Wakayama Tomisaburo of Lone Wolf and Cub and The Wolves), who seeks to destroy the ninja clans as an untamed threat to his authority. A beautiful and brave prostitute named Maki (Fujimura Shiho from Zatoichi's Cane Sword), gives Goemon the strength he needs to escape his twisted path and try to regain control and honor.
"Shinobi no Mono" strikes an excellent balance between showing the historical ninja and still giving good drama within the context. It works both as a film and as a history lesson, and anyone seeing this first entry is going to find themselves hooked and demand to see more of Goemon's adventure as they continue in the series.
Animeigo has done its usual excellent job with this DVD, including their innovative subtitles. They plan to continue the "Shinobi no Mono" series, and I for one will be eagerly awaiting each new release. "
Shinobi No Mono review
Jonathan Mao | Canberra, ACT Australia | 10/02/2009
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Fantastic!! .. this movie inspired the Ninja film phenomena we know today.
The quality is great - although you might need to tweak the brightness / contrast if you're watching in a room with some light spill.
There is a lot of interesting information in the extras about the origins of Ninja's.
I was inspired to buy the other DVDs in this series."