The Nether Side: Band of Ninja (Ninja bugei-cho) [1967]

Nine years before Nagisa Oshima released his extremely controversial and highly seminal In the Realm of the Senses film, predating Lust, Caution by about thirty years, he was already involved with much experimentation: his film, Band of Ninja, may or may not be considered anime, depending on how one defines anime. It has moving pictures, indeed: there is animation, but not the kind one has grown to expect in anime. Unlike the stylistic slideshow of Bakemonogatari, Band of Ninja is essentially a slideshow. Motion can be noted, but it is not even the motion that can be seen in the earliest forms of anime such as Astro Boy: it really is a slideshow.

This is the most illusive movie poster I've seen.

This is the most illusive movie poster I've seen.

Appreciation toward the film is only made more difficult by the inadequacy of the subtitles. From the broken words, however, one can surmise that the film chronicles a rebellion and a bloody time in Japan’s past. It features ninja and their tales. This film was Naruto thirty years before it came into existence. I found a certain scene (picture) to be akin to one of Naruto’s more popular jutsus. I have never followed Naruto as a series (and I’m glad I didn’t), but I have seen certain episodes where he replicates himself and fights alongside his copies.

A ninja could also manipulate water to kill his enemies later on. The story seems to be the staple in ninja films: there is war all around, the protagonist is in pursuit of revenge, and there is forbidden love arising from his female counterpart representing the party opposing him. The protagonist has a lot of obstacles to overcome, but one I found particularly special was his battle with millions of mice whilst injured. Mice have teemed together in search of food because of the famine, and akin to locusts sparing no plant, they spared nothing: they attacked and ate men, women, trees, deer and other animals. This was the problem Juutaro (the protagonist’s name) faced, but he was saved again by Akemi. She could not carry him far against the rapid progression of the mice, so she buried him with pebbles and rock and put a reed for his air before running away. This was not the female ninja of the opposite camp falling in love with him, however. With the rain the mice once again had some food, and the rocks were slowly cleared, taking Juutaro along with it.

The most interesting part of the movie for me were the million rampaging mice.

The most interesting part of the movie for me were the million rampaging mice.

The start of the second part was about how the Shadow Clan came to be. It also chronicled its members gain of powers, from ‘Yingwan’ to ‘Fu.’ After the intermission it once again returns to the story and to Juutaro. He was saved from drowning by a man who taught him ninjutsu, and he was able to see Akemi after defeating the strongest swordsman. Nobunaga, however, demands the head of Akemi’s brother, Yingwan in exchange for her.

Akemi is troubled with the thought that his lover has to kill his brother, but she simply stays quiet. It returns once more to the past, where Yingwan is taught by his monk-master to stay united despite everything. Akemi becomes pregnant with Juutaro’s child, but dies in an ambush after fiercely defending herself. Yingwan (Kagemaru’s) Shadow Clan eventually perish under the self-sacrifice of Hotaru (Xinghuo) who baits them into fighting her, dying but killing them in the process with poison. Only Kagemaru himself is alive.
Kagemaru, however, eventually dies while storming one of the kings’ palaces (with quartering, no less).

Onikichi actually didn’t die when he was engulfed in the quicksand, but this was only revealed near the end. Oda Nobunaga was beheaded, and so was Zhuchan, the one who killed Kagemaru. He was killed by Onikichi. The Shadow Clan lived on.

The absence of action coupled with the inability by the subs to accurately tell the story made most of the film a bore to watch. But there are some scenes, like the mice incident and the use of torches on moving tortoises to fool the enemy that reflect the ingenuity of the source material. Were the story perhaps told with proper production values and in today’s era, it probably would have come out better.

The movie is like a history lecture with a boring teacher who can’t even speak complete English sentences. The topic may have been interesting, but the execution and the translations leave much to be desired. However, the film was average as an anime even at the time, because Astro Boy and Yuusei Shounan Papi had decent plots and better-structured animation. As it is, the film is interesting only to those interested in the formative years of anime or Japanese historians.

Tags: , , , ,

3 Responses to “The Nether Side: Band of Ninja (Ninja bugei-cho) [1967]”

  1. Ryan A Says:

    Killed by a swarm of mice, wow, that’s a terrible fate. The story sounds very hectic, but I think it would be interesting if this were rendered with modern techniques.

  2. Michael Says:

    I re-wrote the post to be more descriptive of the film rather than to summarize it. I hope it’s also become more inviting to the readers! 🙂

    Thanks for the comment, Ry.

  3. backlinks Says:

    Thanks for the post man, it’s really nice to read this blog, in favorites now:P

Leave a Reply