Ninja Wars : heads roll in riotous actioner

The second Kadokawa Region 3 DVD I acquired was Ninja Wars, a 1982 samurai / sorcery action movie headlined by a very young Hiroyuki Sanada. This is basically an exploitation ninja flick, with ludicrous action, loads of spraying blood, decapitations and nudity. Historical accuracy is thrown out the window, despite the presence of some well-known figures including warlord Donjo Matsunaga, enigmatic ninja master Kashin Koji and sword master Shinzaemon Yagyu (played by Sonny Chiba sporting a mustache).

The plot : Donjo Matsunaga enlists the evil but powerful Kashin Koji to help him become the most powerful warlord in the kingdom. Koji sends his proteges to kidnap the lord’s mistress – a woman who is supposed to marry the ultimate ruler of the land. Standing in his way is the righteous ninja Jotaro Fuefuki (Hiroyuki Sanada), who seeks vengeance for the death of his wife – who also happens to be the twin sister of the lord’s mistress!!

Adapted from a popular Japanese martial arts novel, Ninja Wars’ plot is convoluted but not really essential to enjoying the film. The numerous outrageous action scenes keeps the film moving at a decent pace, and the sheer outlandish weapons and tricks these ninjas conjure up never lets up. Watch out for the scene where the villains switch the heads of two girls!!

Sanada was known as a period action star and a protege of Sonny Chiba back in the 1980s. Of course, modern views are probably much more familiar with his recent movies like The Twilight Samurai, The Last Samurai, The Promise, and Ringu. Comparing Ninja Wars to these movies highlights how much Sanada has progressed as an actor.

Verdict : recommended for fans of cult samurai action movies.