With the recent surge of Ninjas on celluloid marked by the upcoming releases of Ninja, Ninja Assassin and G.I. Joe (because of Snake Eyes of course…) I felt it was time to take a look back and pick out some of what I deem the best movies featuring the mysterious deadly assassin archetype. Following are my favorite 7 Ninja Flicks of all time (I’m sure there’ll be a bunch of you fanboys that’ll disagree, but I couldn’t care less). Why 7? Why the heck not?
7. Enter the Ninja (1981)
This flick is widely regarded as having started the whole 80s ninja craze. If you didn’t see it in its heyday then viewing it now may induce a couple of laughs at best and some groans at worst. Produced by Golan and Globus, Enter the Ninja is certainly something of an anomaly. Parts of it are cool as hell especially in regards to the traditional weaponry and some of the training sequences. Sho Kosugi especially does a good job (he’ll also be in the upcoming Ninja Assassins) but Franco Nero does look silly prancing about in that ‘white’ ninja outfit. Having seen this movie at the tender young age of 3 it certainly made an impact, and that is the main reason it’s made it on the list. Worth a rental if you gather a few friends together and are already drunk.
6. Shinobi No Mono (The Ninjas) (1962)
Set sometime in feudal Japan when real ninjas actually existed, this black and white film from Japan is a good primer for anyone interested in a bit of history regarding ninjas. Certainly more stealth oriented than Franco Nero in white jammies and more realistic, the portrayal of a ninjas role in society is made clear and you’ll find no sensationalism here. Although it’s the oldest film on the list this is the one I’ve seen most recently and so I was able to appreciate its subtle approach and minimalist style. Many of you looking for a more bloody and thrilling time should look elsewhere because this ain’t no Ninja Gaiden…check out this snippet of footage to see what I mean.
5. Shadow Warriors (1980)
Starring the venerable Sonny Chiba, who many of you may know as the swordsmith Hatori Hanzo in Kill Bill, Shadow Warriors is not actually a movie but a Japanese TV series. It does play as one very looong movie if you watch each season back to back however because like most Japanese television programs a single narrative is told over several episodes, in this case 27, culminating in a climactic finale. In this serial Sonny Chiba plays historic figure Hatori Hanzo (did I hear an echo?) who was the leader of a deadly ninja clan. Like Shinobi No Mono this serial is set during feudal times and involves high levels of intrigue and drama not to mention plenty of satisfying action. I highly recommend you buy the first season box set if you’re any kind of ninja enthusiast or just curious. Several other serials were produced right up until 2003 so there is plenty here to satisfy that ninja craving…that is if you have one. If you’re a normal dude that is. That likes ninjas.
4. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (1990)
Are you seriously gonna add this one to your list??? I mean really??? Yup, so shut your mouth and quit complaining. For those of you in the UK and some other bits of Europe remember, it’s not HERO Turtles, it’s NINJA Turtles. Got it? Now, perhaps the greatest portrayal of the ancient Japanese art of stealth as taught by Master Splinter, TMNT has it all. Each turtle is a master of ninjitsu and an expert with his respective weapon, all of which are authentic ninja killing tools. They are by all means deadly and formidable foes, but unlike true ninjas they do not kill anyone. They have hearts of gold and a great sense of humor and tend to goof off at times, but always stay true to their training and remain completely devoted to their master. This is one that certainly made an indelible impression on my childhood, but then again how could it not? Oh, and Shredder is perhaps the most badass ninja villian of all time bar none, except your mom of course.
3. Watari the Ninja Boy (1966)
This kid is the sh#@! No ninja, past or present, can even come close to the skills on Watari the Ninja Boy. Seriously. Another sixties movie from Japan about ninjas only with a twist. The ninja is this kid named ‘WAAAATAAAARIIIII’ and he can disappear and reappear at will. Pure sixties silliness done as only the Japanese can do. In fact I’m at a complete loss as to how to explain what this movie is about but I’ll make a meager attempt. As far as I could tell (since I watched this without subtitles) it’s about this kid named ‘WAAAATAAAARIIIII’ who goes around and…gets into situations….and…ummm….’WAAAAATAAAAARIIIII!!” Just watch this trailer, it’ll be enough.
2. Shinobi (2005)
Back to more serious ninja stuff. If you’re only gonna watch one of the movies on this list (and have already seen the number one pick of course) then check this one out. The story revolves around the conflict between two warring clans in the Tokugawa era in Japan, but quite frankly that doesn’t matter because the focus of Shinobi is on the smooth as silk action choreography and shiny visual effects. A true feast for the eyes this flick is. It does get a bit silly since a lot of the ninjas are practically superhuman but if you allow for the suspension of disbelief and absorb the ‘oh that’s so f$%@ing cool’ factor then you’re in for quite a treat.
1. Ninja Scroll (1993)
I shouldn’t even have to write anything else about this animated masterpiece because quite frankly all of you should have seen it by now. In case you haven’t (picture a look of utter scornful disappointment on my face as you hang your head in shame) here’s a quick summary. A ninja-for-hire named Jubei Kibagami is tricked into battling a group of powerful demons against whom he battles one by one in order to get the antidote for the poison that is slowly killing him. Awesomeness ensues, and yes there is animated nudity. If that’s not enough for ya then check out the trailer below. I suggest watching the subtitled edition or learning Japanese because it’s much cooler that way. Watching dubbed anime is for n00bs, or whatever.
So there you have it, another lazily compiled list of random flicks that just so happens to have ninjas in them that I pieced together to fill space. Or in fact it is a well thought out retrospective piece of internet journalism providing mounds of insight for a genre most people don’t take seriously enough. Now all that is necessary to complete this feature is the several comments of naysayers extolling their own set of favorite Ninja based entertainment while sneering at the one you’ve just read. Bring it on I say…
All the movies above are rated N for Ninjarific.