The 10th Anniversary DVD of Ninja Scroll has sat on a shelf in Mondo Towers for much of the past four months. I wasn’t shunning it on purpose, man, it’s just that every time I’d go for to pluck the disc from Area C, there’d always be that copy of Shogun Assassin or Curb Your Enthusiasm for to distract the Mind de Duke.
Today, though, myself and a respectable gentleman by the name of Sir George, sat down for to partake of this feast of eye- gouging, throat slitting, string-tossing anime.
Let The Duke be the first to say that The Duke was a ridiculous son of a bitch. That disc should have been flung into the player the second I crossed the threshold, bearing plastic-bags filled with visual delight, awash with the tears of financial obligations destined to be unfulfilled.
If there’s a copy of Ninja Scroll sitting on your shelf right now, that maybe you’re thinking you’ll watch, but wait, is that Visitor Q?, then I say put down the Miike about the lactation and bathe in the glories of this blood-thirsty opus instead.
Ninja Scroll, written and directed by Yoshiaki Kawajiri, concerns itself with being about a fella who gets roped into battling 8 demons of some kind. Something to do with government upheaval and clan-warfare is mentioned, but to be honest, it’s not really terribly important.
Feel free to wallow in the muddled toss what serves as some kind of historical context and so on, but, in the famed words of Abraham Lincoln, “That would be an act of sheer motherfucking inanity, is what.”
Folks yack on about The Toy Story or The Snow White is the best animated feature of all ever, but did Snow White headbutt a motherfucker so many times with such ferocity that his head ends up going through the floor? Did The Toy Story have a bit where a snake comes out a woman’s hoo-hah and bites a lass in the thigh? Maybe in that anniversary cut or whatever, but not in any version I ever seen.
Because of a load of nonsense, y’see, our hero gets paired up with a woman what kills folks when they sex with her, and an old fella what seems like he’d die if so much as an erection troubled him, but who actually turns out to be some kind of ninja, one that turns into trees and such when the need arises.
How many times has The Duke wished that he could turn into an Oak for a second? At least fourteen times, would be a rough estimate.
Anyway, these three sword-wielding malcontents go off and battle the 8 demonic types mentioned earlier, on account of these evil sons a bitches are trying to steal some gold or something, and also something about they want to instigate a new world order. Other highbrow sociological issues of varying degrees of ridiculousness.
These 8 demons, though, these are some works of demented genius, is what. Ninja Scroll, in fact, is possibly the most consistently inventive and visually unpredictable animated film this side of Spirited Away. Except Spirited Away concerned itself with a young lass gets lost in a fairy-tale world of some sort, and this has more to do with the assault, limbs being cut off, fountains of blood and what have you.
At one point, our hero is somewhat surprised when the snake tattooed onto the skin of a passing naked woman suddenly comes alive and lunges for him. It’ll take more than a lizard for to freak our hero, though, and he just flings a sword through the motherfucker.
The action sequences in this are astounding. Shadowy individuals bound through trees, knives and sundry other sharp things in close pursuit. One particularly nasty creation actually lives in the damn shadows, popping up out of the ground now and again to fling a rusty claw at some poor sod.
The action shenanigans and set pieces are complimented by a sense of genuine horror. There’s a plague going around, and an entire village have fallen in its wake. Shots of bodies propped against walls and lying across streets bring to mind similar visuals in Bergman’s The Seventh Seal, which was, I believe, a remake of Bill And Ted’s Bogus Journey.
There’s stuff what would give even The Bible a run for its money, as far as the diabolical tricks are concerned. Plagues of wasps, demonic possession, the corpses of infants riddled with boils.
There are traces of Kurosawa and Ford, but also of Leone, Miyazaki and even David Cronenberg. The shifting, mutating bodies of the demons are obviously inspired by that film where James Woods gets his head sucked into a telly, and then a vagina pops up on his stomach, and also something about the woman from Blondie stubs a cigarette or two out on her breasts. Casablanca, it may have been.
For all the yacking about recent developments in anime with regards the CGI, and how photo-realistic those new Appleseed and Ghost In The Shell pictures are, it’s all the difficult in the world to envision anything more jaw-dropping than this.
It’s also uncompromisingly brutal.
Anime has a disturbing tendency to get all chauvinistic with regards the females, and there are a couple of instances here that tend to get a fella all unsettled.
A rape scene early on is, by all accounts, especially nasty, but the BBFC saw fit to lop 55 seconds off the UK version, so all The Duke saw was a fella sucks a woman’s chin. I’m not complaining, mind, but still, the sexual assaults actually do have some importance to the plot, and it’s a tad annoying that Ninja Scroll gets sliced up just because it’s an animated film, when a thousand far worse live-action examples get off scott- free, films with no justification for the mayhem whatsoever.
Ninja Scroll obviously influenced Tarantino to quite an extent, too, and alongside the likes of Baby Cart At The River Styx, it's easy to see traces of this anime masterpiece in that film about Uma Thurman wears a tracksuit and cuts folks the hell asunder and then some nonsense about a wedding.
Why the hell would you have a trickle of blood when you can have a volcanic gush of guts? What the hell sense would that make, in the grand scheme of things?
Kawajiri had previously worked on the brilliant sci-fi detective series, Cyber City Oedo 808, the daft but highly atmospheric Monster City, and the following year’s superior Wicked City. Following Ninja Scroll he directed not only the highly-regarded Vampire Hunter D - Bloodlust, but also the Program section of The Animatrix, whilst simultaneously working in various lesser positions on various other instalments of The Cartoon Matrixes.
However visually marvellous those later projects may be, Ninja Scroll is still the finest example of his work, even though there isn’t a solitary mention of a scroll anywhere in the whole damn film.
It’s a whole heap of motherfucking glory, is what The Duke would suggest.