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Writer director Seiji Chiba gives fans of Asian exploitation cinema what they want with “Aliens vs. Ninja”, a film which pretty much delivers exactly as its title suggests, pitting monstrous extraterrestrials against ninjas back in feudal Japan. Having also been responsible for “Evil Ninja”, Chiba certainly knows his stuff, and the film has a fine pedigree, boasting action choreography by Yuji Shimomura (known for “Versus”, “Shinobi” and “Death Trance”) and Kensuke Sonomura (“The Machine Girl”, “Hard Revenge Milly: Bloody Battle”). Raising their swords against the ugly invaders are Masanori Mimoto, (“Evil Ninja”), Mika Hijii (also in recent Western martial arts outing “Ninja”), Shuuji Kashiwabara, (“The World Sinks Except Japan”), and Donpei Tsuchihira (“Memories of Matsuko”. Having whipped up a fair amount of fanboy furore on the festival circuit, including a highly successful screening at FrightFest in London, the film now arrives in a bare bones edition on region 2 DVD via Revolver Entertainment.
The film begins with Iga clan ninjas Yamata (Mimoto), Jinnai (Kashiwabara) and Nezumi (Tsuchihira) returning to their village after another deadly mission, when they see a fireball crashing from the sky into the forest nearby. Joining with gorgeous female Iga ninja Rin (Hijii) they decide to investigate, only to come face to face with a pack of particularly nasty and slimy, not to mention hungry, aliens.
A two line synopsis more than does justice to the plot of “Aliens vs. Ninja”, which really just boils down to the two titular groups having a go at each other in the woods. Although the film is simplistic to an extreme, this is actually a pretty smart move on the part of Seiji Chiba, as it avoids any unnecessary back story, character development, subplots, or indeed anything which might have slowed things down or gotten in the way of what the fans really want to see. This is a lesson which other exploitation film makers would do well to pay attention to, as the film zips along at a breathless pace and without some of the grating non-action scenes that have dragged down many of its peers. Certainly, its economy of narrative works well, and though the ninja protagonists are sketchily written at best, all are at least likeable enough to make the viewer root for them, and the story sticks to its strengths without pretensions, throwing in plenty of fun touches. With there being a fair amount of comic relief along the way, Chiba clearly wasn’t taking things too seriously, poking fun at the posturing of his heroes whilst stopping just short of spoofery.
Given the presence of Yuji Shimomura the film unsurprisingly has a very strong “Versus” feel, with the action choreography being very much in the same hyper kinetic style. Around twenty minutes in, once things really get started the fight scenes and over the top action comes thick and fast, barely giving the viewer time to blink. The film is incredibly creative and enjoyable, with countless scenes of splattery gore, imaginative clashes and demented silliness to make the jaw gape with wonder at its near genius levels of trash goodness. Although Chiba’s direction is basically Kitamura-lite, he does a good job of injecting similar levels of energy into the film, and makes excellent use of his resources, with the special effects and alien makeup being surprisingly good and never looking too cheap or distractingly tacky.
“Aliens vs. Ninja” is easily one of the most entertaining of the far out Japanese genre films from the last year or so, managing to really deliver the goods whilst avoiding the usual pitfalls of the form which might have dragged it down a few notches. Whilst unlikely to appeal to non-fans or anyone who doesn’t appreciate wild cinematic nonsense, aficionados can be assured that it makes good on all of its wacky promises, and more besides.
Seiji Chiba (director) / Seiji Chiba (screenplay)
CAST: Mika Hijii