I don’t know if I can speak for everyone, but when I hear of a new Japanese DVD release my gut impulse is to expect some or all of the following: cheap DV photography, pretty girls in rubber performing martial arts, and ridiculously excessive gore. When the film in question is called Ninja Girl and is directed by Seiji Chiba, the man behind Alien Versus Ninja, you’d be forgiven for going in with such preconceptions. This being the case, Ninja Girl may catch you slightly off guard. Yes, it’s shot on crappy looking DV and boasts pretty girls kicking ass, but the rubber and gore are notable for their absence. Perhaps even more surprisingly, in the place of the usual fetishistic splatstick we have efforts made toward a microbudget ninja movie with feminist leanings. That may sound unlikely, and in all frankness it doesn’t really work. But there it is.
The set-up is that a group of young women of the Kouga clan have been abducted by two ninjas from the Iga clan. In early scenes reminscent of Apocalypto (but on clearly a fraction of the budget), the women are tied in a chain and dragged through the forest with no clue as to where they are being taken or why. Soon enough, it is revealed they are being taken back to the Iga village to become, as the Igas put it, instruments of pleasure. Naturally the captive women are less than thrilled by this prospect, and soon enough a break for freedom results in some sadistic cat and mouse games. However, one of the captives, Kisaragi (Rina Takeda), is considerably more than she seems. Yes, you guessed it, she’s a deadly Kouga ninja, there to bring down the Iga sex slave trade once and for all.
Seiji Chiba is clearly going to pains to make something a bit different and a bit more challenging than most contemporary Japanese exploitation. While his earlier film Alien Versus Ninja (which I reviewed a while back at Ka-Boomski) was a virtually plotless beat-’em-up, albeit with an incongruously slow and verbose opening half hour, Ninja Girl dispenses with the more fantastical excesses and places greater emphasis on dialogue. For the most part the film cuts between three concurrent scenes in which the male ninjas verbally intimidate their female prey. As such, there’s more than a hint of I Spit On Your Grave to proceedings, as we see not only the depravity of the men but also learn how deep that depravity goes in their culture.
However, as well-intended as Ninja Girl might be, it all fizzles out pretty darned quick. There’s no escaping the sense that it just takes itself too seriously. A great many J-sploitation films squeeze in a hefty dose of social commentary (look out for my next Definitive Directors article on Yoshihiro Nishimura sometime in the coming month), but this is conveyed with humour, adding an intelligent edge to the excessive silliness on display. In largely dispensing with the excess, and emphasising talk over action, Ninja Girl just isn’t as much fun to watch. It doesn’t help that it doesn’t have the scale or budget to really explore the premise to its full potential, staying almost entirely with the core cast for the duration and abruptly coming to an end after barely 65 minutes, just as the story seemed to be going somewhere. Chiba gets points for ambition and intention, but I trust in future he doesn’t forget to give the audience more of the entertainment value they expect to go along with his social conscience.
Ninja Girl is released to DVD by MVM on 10th October 2011. But trust me, it’s nowhere near as action-packed as the clip below would have you believe.