“Rogue Ninja” (aka “Fugitive Ninja”) is an earlier outing from “Aliens vs. Ninja” director Seiji Chiba, originally unleashed back in 2009 and now finding its way to DVD. Unsurprisingly, the film offers up very much the same brand of wild, low budget Japanese ninja mayhem, packing in as much martial arts action as possible into its short running time. The film also shares its protagonist with Chiba’s later effort in the formidable shape of actress Mika Hijii, who is fast emerging as one of the top Japanese genre heroines, with support from Izumi Masayuki (“Kamen Rider”) and idol Tatsumi Natsuko.
Set in 16th Century Japan, the film takes place against a background of civil war, with the Iga ninja being ruled over by warlord Nobunaga Oda with an iron fist, keeping them in check with harsh laws and handing out executions at will. Mika Hijii plays Ukagami, the toughest female warrior of her clan, who is sent out on a mission by the villainous ‘Lesser Ninja’ as part of his plot to take over the Iga. After his trap fails, he kidnaps her childhood friend, pushing her to go against the clan in a bloody mission of rescue and revenge.
“Rogue Ninja” certainly does have a great deal in common with “Aliens vs. Ninja”, not only through featuring Mika Hijii, but also the fact that it seems to take place in many of the same locations and sets, with several forest glades and caves looking suspiciously familiar. This isn’t a problem by any means, and whilst not as slick as his bigger budgeted later effort, Chiba still shows the same flashy style and fine handling of the film’s action scenes, clearly modelling himself on Ryûhei Kitamura and his cult favourite “Versus”. Given the lack of any aliens or other outlandish gimmicks, the film is unsurprisingly more grounded, though it still works in some oddball touches, mainly in the form of some creatively crazy ninja skills, something which gives the proceedings a pleasingly old school genre feel. Mika Hijii is on great form, and though she doesn’t have much to do outside of looking good while taking down an endless stream of opponents, she has genuine screen presence and impresses throughout.
Clocking in at just 70 minutes, the film benefits from a fast pace and from Chiba’s winning sense of economy and taste for ignoring the usual niceties of pointless subplots and clichéd character development. With the narrative being neither here nor there, the film progresses largely by leaping between set pieces, most of which are effective, especially given what was obviously a fairly low budget. Without too much in the way of CGI, the film shows some good wire work and a few flashes of over the top gore, many duels resulting in severed limbs or gushing blood geysers, all of which adds considerably to the entertainment value. At the same time, the film is also notably darker than “Aliens vs. Ninja”, with a few surprisingly sadistic and distasteful scenes involving the unpleasant ‘Lesser Ninja’, who has a penchant for rape and torture.
Although a little jarring, these do at least justify their existence by lending the film a harder edge, and don’t prevent “Rogue Ninja” from being a great deal of fun and a short, frantic burst of ninja action. On a par with “Aliens vs. Ninja”, the film should definitely be enjoyed by genre fans, and again confirms Seiji Chiba as a solid helmer, who will hopefully have the chance to prove his talent in the future with a bigger budget.
Seiji Chiba (director) / Seiji Chiba (screenplay)
CAST: Mika Hijii