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Ninja Scroll Reviews

NINJA SCROLL is a violent, action-packed, animated tale of clan warfare in feudal Japan, conducted by ninjas with superpowers, treacherous nobles, and demonic assassins. An overly complex plot is balanced by striking visuals, intriguing characters, and artful direction. The Shogun of the Dark, an opponent of the Tokugawa Shogunate, seeks to use the proceeds from a hidden gold mine to finance the rival Toyotomi clan and foment civil war. Lord Genma, the Dark Shogun's powerful lieutenant, leads a band of assassins which includes the Eight Devils of Kimon. Dakuan, an elderly secret agent sent by Tokugawa, enlists the aid of wandering swordsman Jubei Kimagami and female ninja Kagero. Together the three take on a giant rock-skinned killer, a serpentine woman who commands an army of demon snakes, and a hunchback whose back contains a hive of killer wasps. Eventually, all the surviving characters converge on the deserted seaport where the gold is waiting to be transported by Genma to the Toyotomis. In the ensuing battle, Kagero is killed and Jubei duels with Genma aboard the flaming deck of the gold-laden ship. Trapped below deck, Genma is engulfed in molten gold and sucked down to the sea bottom. Directed by Yoshiaki Kawajiri, one of Japan's top animation stylists (WICKED CITY, DEMON CITY SHINJUKU), NINJA SCROLL boasts some of the most stunning production design and background art of any anime production to date. The forests, clifftops, seashores, bamboo groves, and seaports are all exquisitely rendered in breathtaking detail. The action staging is also spectacular; an opening nighttime battle between a band of ninjas and a hulking rock-skinned demon warrior, waged amidst the massive branches of a thick forest, features ferocious fighting and bloody dismemberment and is the first of several such battles during the film. One of the more imaginative touches is a female assassin whose snake tattoos come to life and attack the hero. The uneasy mingling of historical and supernatural elements combines with a complicated plot to weaken any emotional impact the film might offer by way of its subplot of unrequited love between the attractive leads, Jubei and Kagero. Still, for fans of Japanese animation at its most colorful, stylized, and ultraviolent, the film delivers the goods. (Graphic violence, nudity, sexual situations, profanity.)