Seventeen Ninja (Japan 1963)

Rating: **
Review Date: 1/2/16

A Japanese ruler is about to die, which will unleash political unrest as various parties attempt to take his place. In order to keep the peace, a group of seventeen Iga ninja are sent to disrupt a political uprising at an impenetrable castle. Unfortunately, the job proves to be impossible, as the fortress is guarded by a powerful Negora ninja named Saiga, and he anticipates their every move. But Saiga's cockiness eventually gets the best of him, which causes his superiors to abandon him and gives the remaining ninja a chance to sneak in and steal a condemning document.

As far as ninja movies go, this one is more historically accurate than most. The ninja are simply highly skilled spies and assassins, and the majority of the film plays out as a study in military strategy as Jingosa and Saiga attempt to outwit each other. Unfortunately, that doesn't make for a particularly interesting film. The acting is good and the atmosphere is tense, but the music is exceedingly sparse and the pacing is overly sluggish. The production values appear to be quite good, but the copy I saw wasn't a good transfer and a lot of the details were lost in the dark and blurry black and white photography. The action scenes are few and far between, but surprisingly brutal. The final showdown between Saiga, Hanshiro, and Kozue is definitely the highlight of the film, and its execution is excellent. It's worth checking out if you're a fan of serious ninja action and political intrigue.