Gemma, where are you hiding? When I die, I'll take you to Hell with me. — Jubei
Title: Ninja Scroll
Director: Yoshiaki Kawajiri
Length: 94 minutes
Rating: Unrated. This movie is for mature audiences because of extreme violence, explicit sex, rape, and nudity.
Ninja Scroll is the classic bloody ninja action anime movie set in Edo period Japan. It takes us into a violent world of ninja with bizarre and inhuman abilities.
This review contains some material that might be considered spoilers, but I firmly believe that I am not spoiling this movie. For every one thing I give away in this review, there are two more surprises waiting for you in this movie. Even if I were to give away every twist of the plot, Ninja Scroll would still not be spoiled because this is an action movie at its heart, pure and exciting.
Despite that, this movie does have surprises. There are sudden twists and clever fighting moves that you would not see coming. There are possible spoilers which I will avoid, but the master plan of the villains is not one of them. You will not care about the details, only what our hero does to take the villains down.
Ninja Scroll has a large quantity of very mature content. It is mindlessly violent, including the slaughter of countless people in graphic detail for little reason. It has sex and nudity, including one sex scene that is completely gratuitous where a chamberlain hears the report of a ninja and has a completely normal conversation while in the middle of sex.
However, do not mistake this movie for pornography. It shoves the sex, violence, and nudity in your face just as if to show you that it does not care about decency or boundaries, and then it goes on to become an outstanding action movie. The director is telling us that he could have made a sex movie or a bloody death film, but he is choosing to tell this story instead because it is even better.
Our hero is Jubei, a honorable wandering ninja who helps people in need. He is so skilled with his sword that he seems to be able to cut things from any distance and he can effortlessly slaughter dozens of armed men. He just slashes his katana at something and it falls apart, even if the blade was nowhere near.
He tries to stay out of trouble, but when he has to save the Kouga ninja Kagero from being raped by a giant stone ninja, Jubei finds that he has become the center of attention. Kagero is falling in love with him, the government ninja Dakuan wants Jubei for his ability to kill powerful ninja, and the Eight Devils of Kimon just want him dead.
Forced to fight eight ninja with freakish abilities equal to his own, Jubei still manages to come up with a witty remark whenever the situation calls for it. He is calm and cool and likable, the perfect action hero while scheming old Dakuan supplies the comic relief, manipulating events and using Jubei for muscle.
Kagero is a poison-taster who is so full of poison that any man who has sex with her will die. There is a man who has a huge wasp's nest built into his body. There is a beautiful woman who controls snakes and can shed her skin in an instant to escape, and another who packs living bodies with explosives so she can use them as walking bombs. Another ninja can sink into a shadow like it was a pool of ink while a blind ninja can fight with a sword as skillfully as Jubei. They all come close to killing Jubei in their own unique ways, but the eight devils are so busy bickering that they kill each other just as often as Jubei kills them.
When the Eight Devils of Kimon poison a town to spread a rumor of a plague and hide a shipment of gold from a secret mine, Kagero joins the Kouga ninja team sent to investigate, but mere human ninja are no match for these devils and just one of them turns the team into a shower of blood before they know what has happened. It is one of the most bloody scenes you will see anywhere and beautifully animated.
Dakuan tells Jubei and Kagero that the gold is going to be used to overthrow the Tokugawa government. The three of them must fight to avenge the dead and save all of Japan from the ultimate devil: the immortal Gemma who heals any wound by controlling every tiny bit of flesh and bone in his body. Gemma is the devil who won't stay in hell no matter how many times Jubei sends him there.
At only 90 minutes long, Ninja Scroll does not waste a moment. It is as fast paced as possible, only slowing down for a precious few scenes so Jubei can banter with his two teammates and discover the villain's devious plot, but only for moments at a time before the devils launch another attack. This movie is an action roller coaster, hurtling up and down between bizarre, brutal violence and clever dialogue.
This movie is a true classic and it rushes along at such a pace that it will be over before you know it. Even thought it moves so fast, it is skillfully constructed in ways that you might not expect. There is no need for its dialogue to be so thoughtful and flow so smoothly since the action would easily carry this movie. This movie goes beyond its genre in fast and subtle character development for our three heroes. No part of this movie feels wrong or awkward; it never stumbles. If you have never seen Ninja Scroll, even if you are not interested in ninja anime, you owe it to yourself to watch it at least once because this movie is an unforgettable experience.
Not quite the right direction. The way to Hell is right here! — Tessai