Kunoichi Ninpocho Yagyu Gaiden (Japan 1998)

Rating: **
Alternate Title: Kunoichi: Lady Ninja (domestic title)
Director: Hitoshi Ozawa
Cast: Hitoshi Ozawa, Yuko Moriyama

This is the supposedly the seventh film in the "Kunoichi Ninpocho" series, which ditches the sex and nudity ninja angle in favor of samurai action with the legendary Yagyu Jubei. A curious juxtaposition and interpretation, if nothing else. The film begins with an insane screaming villain and his entourage of stereotypically flamboyant evil henchmen. He attacks a group of nuns, but their benefactor arrives to defend them and charges the nuns with revenge. You see, the nuns are actually ninja from the Hori clan, and specially trained in the arts of female ninja magic (like the previous films). The girls' latent powers manifest themselves in a barrage of special effects in times of need, but their mission for revenge is interrupted when a zen monk and Yagyu Jubei (Hitoshi Ozawa) enter the fray. After some rough starts, they all decide to work together to take on their common foe. Things eventually come to a head, and Ochie (awesome Yuko Moriyama) has to channel all of her sisters' ninja power to dispatch the final baddies.

The movie is a richly colored and beautifully filmed production, marred only by some cheesy CGI composites. It features some great effects, along with some dorky ones, and the combat scenes are over-the-top bloody, but cheapened by undercranked chaotic handheld camerawork and choppy machine gun edits. The star of the film is the radiant Yuko Moriyama, who shines throughout as a tough ninja bitch, and her intensity alone saves the production from being a complete waste. She gets to broaden her emotional range and we get to see a softer and more human side to her than her previous roles have allowed. Unfortunately, she doesn't see a lot of action, but watch out for her nasty hair whip when she gets pissed! It's also nice to see that she makes it to the end of the film, since the traditional kunoichi formula is for all of the characters to perform their assassinations, get sexually compromised, and then forfeit their lives. However, in keeping with the kunoichi ninpocho tradition, there are a couple of great ninja magic moments, including the "nipple shock wave" and the "returning echo", which allows a woman to absorb magic energy through her vagina and expel it out of her mouth with deadly force. Handy. Fortunately, Ms. Moriyama didn't have to endure these compromising and humiliating techniques.