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It has to be said that although the idea of adapting a kids cartoon comedy set in Ninja Academy to a live-action feature appears to be a sound enough proposal, it's hard to imagine that the wayward talent of the bad-boy of Japanese underground cinema would be the first choice in mind when it comes to the handling of directing duties. But then again, perhaps not, since the only consistent and predictable feature of Takashi Miike's prodigious output is indeed its inconsistency and unpredictability.
It also has to be said that at first sight, the young students enrolled in the first year of Ninja Academy here don't look the kind of stuff that silent, deadly assassins are made of. Shinbei, for example, is a little overweight, has a tendency to fall asleep at inopportune moments, but he does have a surprisingly hard head, even if about 90% of it appears to be made of snot. Another student, Kirimaru, has to share baby-sitting duties with class time, and you probably can't execute too many elaborate manoeuvres with a baby on your back. As for Rantaro, the diminutive hero of the comedy, he has a lot of pressure placed on him by his poor farming family. Formerly ninja's themselves, Rantaro's parents have placed all their hopes on their son becoming the greatest ninja ever. That doesn't really look likely at the start.
Ninja Kids!!! does however look promisingly funny as a film, Miike entering fully into the spirit of the comic adventures with cartoony exaggeration, cheap-looking prosthetics, snooker-ball bumps on heads, explosive CGI action effects, pools of snot and inconvenient piles of dog poo lying around for the unwary ninja assassin to slip around in. If nothing else, the film is assured some measure of success for the idea alone, as the only thing cuter than Asian kids in movies is Asian kids doing comedy. Other than perhaps cute Asian kids doing ninja comedy. Set them lose on some mishaps involving shuriken and caltrop needles and it really doesn't get much better than that.
Which is why it's disappointing that Ninja Kids!!!, and the anarchic possibilities afforded by the combination of kiddie ninja adventures and Takashi Miike, never really lives up to its full potential. There's really not enough room in a feature-length film to include all the funny little incidents and wacky characters without it coming at the cost of sacrificing any unifying plot development and character progression. The attempt to build up a world of competing rival ninja groups based around an incident involving singing hairdressing ninjas is certainly off-the-scale in terms of colourful bizarreness, but the rivalry between one of the ninja groups and the first-year academy students is resolved by a ninja "Wacky Races" competition involving traps, pits and rolling boulders that never generates much excitement and feels a little bit anti-climatic.
Consequently, there's little solid character development - weird characters and egg-headed villains are only briefly introduced, and few of Rantaro's classmates make any kind of impression - with the result that the film feels a little bit episodic and the humour tends to be somewhat hit-and-miss. There are however enough laughs and cuteness guaranteed in the premise for Ninja Kids!!! to be more than a little divertingly entertaining.
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