Generally speaking, I love Takashi Miike. In fact, you could go as far as to say that I’m a fanboy without offending me in the slightest. I’ve followed the director down many strange cinematic roads, and, for the most part, I’ve never been led astray. That is, of course, until I stumbled across “Ninja Kids”, a motion picture that pushes my devotion to all things Miike to the absolute breaking point. The film is loud, garish, and childishly sophomoric, which, of course, makes perfect sense. It is, after all, a kids movie. Unfortunately, there’s not a single thing in the film that will appeal to discerning adults, even if you are a card-carrying member of the cult of Miike.
Based on the manga by Soubee Amako, the film follows the martial arts-related adventures of Rantaro, a young boy growing up in a poor ninja household. Once he comes of age, Rantaro’s loving parents send him off to ninja school, a Hogwarts-style establishment where children master the art of ninjutsu. Their instructors, a bumbling group of professors led by a physically repulsive headmaster, do their best to train their charges in the ways of the ninja. Since the film, for all intents and purposes, is a comedy, their lessons don’t always go as planned. Some of these knee-slapping scenarios involve a fair amount of mucus, so if you have a fear of cinematic snot, there’s a very strong chance you’ll find yourself gagging on your popcorn.
Trouble soon rears its ugly head in the form of the headmaster’s old rival, some unfinished business, and lots of ninja-related tomfoolery. As danger closes in from all conceivable angles, it’s up to the students of this magical ninja academy to step in and save the day. Unfortunately for the viewer, our pint-sized heroines have a penchant for pit traps, a gag which is used more often than not. In fact, you could easily base an entire evening’s drinking around the number of people who fall into large holes over the course of “Ninja Kids”. Given that the kids know a wide variety of nifty ninja tricks, you’d think Miike and screenwriter Yoshio Urasawa would have diversified the shenanigans just a bit. Then again, maybe that’s just me being picky. After all, comedy is an overly subjective genre, and one man’s yawn is often another man’s guffaw. If you love watching people fall into holes, it’s probably going to be a fun night at your house.
Let’s make one thing clear: I don’t have a problem with dick and fart jokes. In fact, some of my favorite films incorporate scatological comedy to great effect. “Thunderpants” is a lot of fun, and “The Garbage Pail Kids Movie” gets a ton of attention in my house. However, the poop jokes in “Ninja Kids” seem excessively gross. The whole bit involving a ninja master and two steaming piles of fresh dog crap are particularly hard to watch, as Miike chooses to get up close and extremely personal with the fecal matter in question. To make matters worse, the same bit is repeated later in the film. You shouldn’t have to recycle material in a movie centered around kids at a ninja school. The possibilities for imaginative set pieces are truly endless.
“Ninja Kids” isn’t Miike’s best effort, and I can only recommend it to the hardest of the die hards. Although the characters are zany and the action is colorful, the film itself is simply too repetitive and too empty-headed to warrant kudos. However, kids and child-like adults who enjoy watching old people trip over dog crap may find themselves in stitches. There’s certainly plenty to gross-out gags and corny slapstick humor to go around, but it’s not enough to keep the entire production afloat. “Nina Kids” is a mildly entertaining albeit deeply flawed experience, and while it may hold some appeal to those who can’t get enough of the director’s bizarre imagination, everyone else may wonder why they’re wasting their time watching ninjas fall into holes.
Takashi Miike (director) / Yoshio Urasawa (screenplay)
CAST: Seishiro Kato … Rantaro Inadera
Roi Hayashi … Kirimaru Settsuno
Futa Kimura … Shinbe Fukutomi
Mikijiro Hira … Okawa
Susumu Terajima … Denzo Yamada
Hiroki Matsukata … Hiroki Matsukata
Takeshi Kaga … Yukitaka Saito