Ninja Gari (Japan 1964)

Rating: ***
Alternate Title: Ninja Hunt
Review Date: 10/10/15

The old master of the Garo clan is dying, and the Shogunate dispatches a letter acknowledging that the young lord of the clan is the rightful heir. However, the Shogunate wants to abolish the clan, and sends a group of deadly ninja to intercept the letter before it reaches its desination. Seems kind of convoluted to me. Anyway, in order to protect the young master and the letter, the chief vassal of the clan hires a group of four ronin who have past experience with ninja trickery, led by the dark and brooding Gorozaemon Wadakura. He holds a grudge against the ninja master Kurando, and will stop at nothing to kill him. After Wadakura foils several attempts to steal the letter, Kurando gets desperate and goes after the young boy instead, which leads to a climactic battle in a creepy crypt.

It's a slow starter and the pacing is very challenging, but the black and white cinematography is wonderful and the deep shadows create a lot of dramatic tension. The action scenes are good and feature a handful of really intense moments. There's even a surprise decapitation that's handled with such brevity and subtlety that you barely even notice it happened. The acting is good, but the characters aren't particularly likable. The biggest disappointment is actually the soundtrack, which features some really annoying and invasive music, along with some bizarre sound effects. It really spoils the tone of the film. But on the other hand, when there's no music playing, the film suffers from the stifling silence. Overall, it's an enjoyable and serious minded ninja flick if you have the patience for it.