THE DUKE ON NINJA SCROLL
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.

Thanks, demented Asians.

Thanks folks.

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