Wow was this a confusing installment of the Shinobi series. In episodes 1-3, the main character was Goemon Ishikawa and he was played by Raizô Ichikawa. Starting in episode 4, the main character was Saizo Kirigakure and was ALSO played once again by Raizô Ichikawa! What makes this even more confusing (and a bit silly) is that Goemon and Saizo fought on opposite sides!! So, in the first three films, Goemon is trying to destroy the Toyotomi clan and in the subsequent ones, he's trying to save this doomed clan!! Talk about letting confusion reign supreme! Because this is such a confusing film, I strongly suggest you watch the program notes on the DVD BEFORE the film begins. This way you aren't quite as confused and the film makes sense.
As for the film, it goes quite a bit further than previous films in fictionalizing and glamorizing ninjas. While in some cases ninjas had some great skills, by this film they are practically superhuman (such as Saizo's ability to make himself appear dead) and they show a devotion to a cause which is decidedly un-ninja like! In other words, they were essentially mercenaries but in this one Saizo has a fanatical loyalty to the head of the clan--something which is a bit unrealistic, as ninjas really were not concerned with causes but money and power. But, it made for an interesting film and so I guess some of this can be forgiven. Additionally, the movie has some nice battle sequences and is interesting--even if it is very confusing and inaccurate.
Overall, this is well worth seeing if you are a die-hard fan of ninja films. As for me, I just can't enjoy and get into the Shinobi films as much as many other Japanese films (such as the Zatoichi series) but it is a decent time-passer.
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