Ninjutsu Gozen-Jiai (Japan 1957)

Rating: **
Alternate Title: Torawakamaru, The Koga Ninja
Review Date: 10/4/15

A black and white ninja film about two rival clans and their attempts to overthrow each other. The "good" clan attempts to build a fortress around their castle to keep the "evil" clan out, while the evil clan attempts to steal the plans. Ultimately, the evil clan kidnaps the princess of the good clan and offers to return her in exchange for the plans. Unfortunately, this plan is spoiled by the young son of the evil ninja, who takes a liking to the princess and rescues her. The only recourse left to the evil clan is to demand a ninja showdown against the good clan, although it's not clear what that will actually resolve. The climax of the show is a special effects extravaganza, as the hero and villain use all sorts of ninja tricks to battle each other. This includes jumping, flying, invisibility, teleportation, breathing fire, blowing steam, turning to stone, and transforming into toads, tigers, dragons, and fire-breathing snakes. It's a charming battle, but it was all screwed up on my DVD so I only got to see small chunks of it. The "happy ending" sees the evil ninja boiled alive, while his son is spared and left in the care of the hero. He only appears to grieve over his father's horrific death for a couple of seconds before he's all giddy to learn the ninja arts from his new benefactor.

The black and white cinematography is wonderful and the film looks great. The music is a bit overblown and has a heroic Western feel to it. The visual effects are decent, if not delightfully tacky for the most part, although the flying battles look ridiculously bad. The sword fighting is fluid, but overly soft and slow. Needless to say, there's no blood and people's clothes don't even get slashed. The acting is good, although the hero has an intensely annoying laugh, and the comedic elements are goofy and misplaced. The children interactions also betray the film's family friendly target audience. For what it is, it's a fascinating look at how ninja used to be portrayed as silly magicians rather than secretive assassins.