Ninja Bugei-cho is a very exciting film, and its excitement, for me, relies solely on its powerful story. It is also a very strange film because it consists of only still cartoon-drawings with voice-over and sound effects. Seeing this film is somehow similar to reading a fascinating comic book or storyboard. While the pictures on the screen are not moving, this film, similar to any comic book, gives freedom to our imagination to move the pictures in our mind.
I'm very impressed with its fast pace. The story is very dense. What is told in its 131-minute length can be told easily in 30-hour-long tv series. Imagine all the excitement in 30-hour-long tv series being compressed into 2-hour movie. There are many climaxes, and I think even the story of each member of the Kage family has the climax of its own.
But while the story is full of interesting characters, it lacks deep characterizations. Most characters are as flat as its material, but I don't think that is a flaw of this movie. It's just a style usually found in this type of story. For a story like this, the movie must last much longer than 2 hours so that each character can be given 'real flesh and blood' or 'real subtle feelings and emotions'. I think its excitement much more than compensates for its lack of 'real life'. What this movie really does best is giving each character different fighting skill, and explaining how each of them acquires that special skill. The story of each supporting character is so interesting that each of them should be expanded into a 2-hour movie.
The two main female characters impress me a lot with their expertise in fighting. I will never forget one fighting scene in this movie which involves one pregnant character. Even a small character such as the lady bandit is very fascinating. Oshima's female characters in this movie are as charming and charismatic as in his other movies. Oshima's female characters are not the type usually found in mainstream Japanese cinema. His female characters are as physically strong, determined, bold, and fatally alluring as Paul Verhoeven's female characters.
There's one scene in this film which is very scary. It's the scene of the 'running earth'. It frightens me so much and makes me feel as if I witnessed the real event and was running away from 'them'. If this movie is a live-action, this scene might cost a lot to make it look real. But this film proves that in order to scare the audience effectively, money is not as necessary as the audience's own imagination. There are also many brutal, gruesome, and gory scenes in this movie, and they make me feel very grateful that this movie is not a live-action. Sketches of blood are much more tolerable than real-looking blood.
The ultimate pleasure and excitement I gain from watching this film are somehow similar to the ones I get from watching 'X-Men' or 'Lord of the Rings'. Each of them has a story full of cartoon-style fighting and many interesting supporting characters. However, 'Ninja Bugei-cho' doesn't give you only excitement. It also lets you exercise your imaginative power. This film is highly recommended for those who don't care if there are 'moving pictures' on the screen as long as they can create their own 'moving pictures' in their mental projections.
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