Black Fox: Age Of The Ninja (Japan 2019)

Rating: ***
Review Date: 6/6/20
Director: Koichi Sakamoto
Cast: Chihiro Yamamoto, Maimi Yajima, Kanon Miyahara, Mami Fujioka, Yasuaki Kurata, Yuki Kubota

A girl named Mia (Maimi Yajima) is on the run after her father is murdered by the Negoro clan. She comes across the home of a fox clan and devotes herself to their leader (Yasuaki Kurata) in order to avenge her father. She also befriends the leader's spirited daughter, Rikka (Chihiro Yamamoto), who ends up defending her with her life. The bad guys raid the fox shrine looking for Mia, but end up retreating when their forces are overwhelmed. However, the fox leader decides to sell Mia out for some reason, which forces Rikka to don the sacred fox armor and rescue her from a terrible fate. The film's big reveal is immediately obvious and comes as no surprise (anyone who hides their face in a mask can only be ONE person), which leads to an even more tragic outcome for Mia.

After seeing so many of Koichi Sakamoto's low budget efforts recently, it was nice to see something with less fan service and higher production values. Wushu champion Chihiro Yamamoto is nothing short of stunning in the film. She's super cute, super athletic, has mesmerizing hair, and burns with fierce intensity. Her fight scenes with Kanon Miyahara and Yuki Kubota are especially exciting. Karate star Miyahara ("High Kick Angels" (2014) ) is also super cute and makes a delightful villain. She's also the most physically aggressive of the bunch, and her savage hand-to-hand encounters with Yamamoto are very satisfying. J-pop idol Maimi Yajima is tragically pretty and also has amazing hair, while Maimi Yajima provides some eye-catching Chinese-styled swordplay. Even veteran karate star Yasuaki Kurata sees some action, which I was very happy to see.

Apart from a handful of terrible visual effects, the movie looks fantastic, the cinematography is great, and the music hits all the right emotional beats. The acting is good, and the women look gorgeous and have incredible hair. While Sakamoto's action choreography is excellent, the camera work and editing tend to be a bit sloppy, which unfortunately obscures a lot of what's going on. I would have loved to see Yamamoto and Miyahara fight in more detail, as the two of them are so skilled and their engagements are so energetic. That said, there are a handful of scenes that are longer and more stable, which are truly amazing to watch and reminiscent of old-school kung fu cinema. It's a shame the film didn't use this approach more often. However, what the film does exceedingly well is capture Yamamoto's seething intensity and dramatic posturing, which made me positively giddy. I need to figure out how to incorporate this cinematic style into my own work. Overall, I found "Black Fox" to be a pleasant surprise and entertaining throughout. It was great to see the underrated Kanon Miyahara in action and it made me a fan of Chihiro Yamamoto. I look forward to seeing both of them in future action projects.