Friday, March 23, 2012


... Because there haven't been any really GREAT Ninja movies of this calibre lately... 

Or have there??? 
(Yeah... everyone loves a classic Ninja joke)

This week we're going to cover some serious geographical ground from Japan to New York to Berlin in order to cover the story of Raizo, the young Ninja gone rogue, fighting his way to justice and payback on his adoptive clan. Yes... we're talking about the most recent epic Ninja film, "Ninja Assassin". This is a 2009 release directed by James McTeigue (Matrix, Dark City, Street Fighter, Episode II-Attack of the Clones, etc) and written by Matthew Sand and J. Michael Straczynski (Babylon 5, Thor, Underworld: Awakening, etc), and starring the South Korean pop star Jung JiHoon, Naomi Harris (28 Days Later, Pirates of the Caribbean, etc) as an American FBI agent, and Ninja film legend Sho Kosugi (The Godfather II, Enter the Ninja, UltraMan Series, etc). The entirety of this film is built around the myth and mystery of the Ninja... and that my friends is entirely AWESOME!

Is the acting great? Not always. Are the Ninja CG and special effects entirely believable? Not really. Is the story good, filled with high action sequences and superhuman, mystical Ninja skills? YOU BET YOUR YEN IT IS! (And no, we are NOT referring to Donnie Yen. But if he'd been in the film, it would have exceeded all human expectations and thus caused the universe to fold in on itself. For realz.)
Super Happy Fun Time Book about Ninja

Now, before we get too far, it is worth noting that much of what we in the West know as "Ninja" (guys running around in incredibly comfortable black footie pajamas, scaling walls, flying over rooftops, throwing various metal things and causing massive bloodshed) is entirely a Hollywood invention. According to my handy-dandy Ninja field guide, "Ninja Attack!", Ninja were really no different than any guerrilla warrior anywhere else in the world. They were mountain farmers that got entirely tired of the crap being pulled by the Shogun (A military dictator by birthright), and ended up developing highly specialized, technologically advanced forms of espionage, covert attack, and utterly disabling forms of battle involving hand-to-hand martial arts fighting, weapons, explosives, but wore average, everyday clothing in order to "blend in". They formed into clans according to family and region, and eventually became independently contracted consultants and hit men. They were however largely wiped out in the 16th century by Oda Nobunaga, the "Ninja Destroyer"...

(OK OK OK... I'll quit with the lame Ninja joke)

SO, our story starts in the hangout of a small Yakuza clan branch. Due to the entire lack of accent, we have to presume they are from Brooklyn... though that doesn't make any sense at all. But, this is the movies and anything is possible.

Our lead Yakuza man, Hollywood, is getting a GNARLY old school tattoo on his back by an older gentleman who knows a thing or two about tattoos. As Hollywood winces in pain, the Tattoo Master gives him a lesson in the real meaning of tattoo. Just then, a poorly folded letter with a wax seal is delivered. When opened, it reveals black sand. (DUH DUH DUH) It is here that our tattoo master goes into a story about how he encountered this very thing a long time ago. How the darkness surrounded them, and all of the men were snuffed out.

But wait... how did he survive??? His only reason for survival was that his heart is located on the opposite side of his body cavity, thus his heart could not be pierced easily. The Yakuza gangsters start mocking him (bad idea), followed by the whole Yakuza group mocking him (SUPER bad idea). And then, just 4:07 into the film, the massive blood letting begins. And BOY, did they ever have a big blood budget on this one!

I mean, this is really saying something too because,  in all of the Donnie Yen brutality films we've watched, he has never... And we mean NEVER, caused it to rain body parts.

Well played Ninja. Well played.

And... now we're launched at top speed over the ocean to the Europol offices in Berlin into the office of the young sleuthfoot researcher, Mika, and her Europol boss, Ryan Maslow. She is presently researching an assassin case, which she believes has a strong Ninja connection. Through the presentation of compelling evidence, Maslow agrees to let her research this Ninja connection further.

"Why can't that ever happen in my laundromat!??!!?"
OK. Hold on now, because now we're going to jump forward to a laundromat, presumably in Berlin. We find our now grown up Raizo doing his laundry. And HERE is the real secret of Ninja. Even when he is in the middle of washing his darks, he is still COMPLETELY in disguise via his street wear... which is entirely consistent with the Ninja M.O.

Now, you see a lovely Asian woman across from him in the Laundromat. She gently approaches him and asks for help with folding her bed sheets. Odd... OF COURSE!!! Raizo immediately knows she's a Ninja, and in two swipes of the blade she is promptly shoved into a washing machine in bits and pieces.

That red is going to
stain those whites!!!

Now, there's more history within the history of the history you're learning about. There's the "making of Raizo" history, the KGB research of Ninja assassination plots resulting in the death of the researcher, the ACTUAL assassination plots of the Ninja, and the most exciting non fighting Bond-esqueRaizo.

You quickly find out that Raizo is an "orphan" (likely kidnapped from his village), and has been adopted into the Ozunu clan. He spent many years training and being brutalized by his "father" in order to masterfully hone his Ninja craft. But where/how/why did this Ninja training happen??? Now, if I refer back to my Ninja field guide, this COULD mean that he was raised on the island Izu-Oshima in the Hando-san Dojo, believed to be the site where the infamous En no Ozunu lived in exile some time in late 600 A.D. This is significant to note as Ozuno's followers eventually taught their warfare and alpine survivalist techniques to the earliest Ninja. They thus in turn venerated En no Ozunu, a bad-ass non clan affiliate, as a patron saint. SO... is it possible that, though there isn't officially an Ozunu clan in Ninja history, there is/was an Ozunu Dojo that created hardened individuals that could survive everything and be Ninja??? Me-thinks YES! And besides, it makes for a great story.

So the training! We spend a good portion of the first half of the film watching flashbacks of Raizo grow up from about 8 years old with a group of other 'orphans'. We come to find that Raizo has been identified as a high potential student, taking to this Ninja thing like a duck to water, beating, stabbing, slicing and dicing. There are a couple of pretty brutal scenes here, feet being sliced open and such, children beating children, general ickiness. But as we watch Raizo grow he also develops a relationship with pretty Ninja trainee Kiriko. Kiriko seems to know that this Ninja thing is not for her though, and receives a gash across her face as punishment from her master when she refuses to cut a brother she has defeated. We swoon for a moment over pretty girl Kiriko teaching monster boy Raizo that he does in fact have a heart before things start to get really ugly.

Rick Yune. Nom...
Many of Raizo's training fights are with older 'brother' Takeshi (just to get it out of the way so it doesn't bug you for half the movie like it did me, yes, Takeshi is played by smokin' hot Rick Yune, Johnny Tran from The Fast and the Furious. Yum.) who seems to be taking this Ninja business very seriously. To teach Raizo to 'see with his ears', his master blindfolds him and pits him against a sword-wielding Takeshi. It's like that scene in Star Wars where Luke learns about the force and how to use a light saber, but way more deadly, with far less whining, and a whole lot of Ninja. Score. But anyway, there's this rivalry thing going on with Takeshi that is obviously going to blow up someday.

Deciding that she just could not bring herself to carry out the duties of a Ninja Assassin, Kiriko decides to blow the proverbial popsicle stand by climbing the high outer wall. When Raizo catches up with her in her escape attempt she tries to convince him to go with her, but he insists that his place is with his Ninja family. There's a super cute goodbye kiss (it's the only one in the movie ladies, enjoy it while it lasts), and then she's up and over the wall.

Wow... those are some big nails.

And now, flash forward to the current day to  find Raizo busy doing bad-ass things like push-ups on nails bigger than my fingers and slinging around a kyoketsu-shoge like it's a yo yo. Feel free to use that pause button to allow yourself time to pick your jaw up off the floor and mop up the drool as this is one of the most amazing NON-fighting scenes you will ever be privy to watch. 

And, we're back with the Ninja-youth flashbacks... Now you didn't think Kiriko would get away, did you? Because how else would we end up with angsty rebellious Ninja boy and another hour of high action film?? SO... Kiriko is quickly caught and sentenced to death at the hands of none other than... (DUH DUH duuuuuuuuuuh) Raizo's long-time rival Takeshi!! So sad with the heart stabbing (a theme in this film, must be a Ninja thing).

As a result of everything that went down with Kiriko, Raizo is feeling a little unsure when he gets his first assignment, but that doesn't stop him from making a giant bloody mess. Things don't go as well as it could, but I would say Raizo does pretty well for his first time out, and the crazy blood-spooting mess and busted up bathroom fixtures all over the clean white men's room is a high contrast of violence red and sharp white porcelain not soon forgotten. BUT, Raizo kills his target (understatement of the century, right there), steals his watch, and heads up to the roof to meet up with his Gang'o'Ninja, where his master decides that now is an opportune time for him to kill a newly discovered traitor who had tried to run away, much like his Kiriko.

Unable to bring himself to kill another person that night, and reminded of his murdered love, Raizo completely snaps and unleashes that kyoketsu-shoge he's so good at on Master Ozunu's face (surely your short term memory is such that the irony is not lost!). Ozunu, complete with spooting blood face, orders death and burning to be rained down on Raizo. Again with the slicing and dicing through all of his buddies, Raizo manages to escape. And by 'escape' we mean he performs a stunt akin to the clown-jumping-from-ladder-into-kiddie-pool trick.. except off of a skyscraper in the River Thames.

You know what that means, right? Yes? Do we really have to tell you? OK, we'll tell you. ROGUE NINJA!! Deadly shuriken (throwing-stars) and other sharp shiny thing toting sneaky dudes on the loose! But that's ok, Raizo is actually a good guy now, running around the world thwarting assassination attempts by his previous family and generally putting a really big kink in their Ninja business.

"... But why did you save me?"
Uuuh.. Cause he's a rogue Ninja with a score to settle
and you're his biggest argument pawn E-V-A-R!?!!?!
This brings us back to the current date and time where Mika has discovered way too much about the family of trained assassins and their willingness to bump off political figures at 100 pounds of gold a pop. Knowing this is naturally bad and when Ninja's descend on her apartment, Raizo shows up to protect her, and then explain what a ridiculous hole she has dug herself into, and whisk her away into the night... to a really cheap hotel.

And on a side note... 
I want to be whisked by a Ninja. Maybe not to a cheap motel, but I'll take what I can get. 

                                                  - Sincerely, MJ.

Yup. The guy in the center is a double agent "rock-star".
So, post-whisking, Mika and Raizo are chilling in said cheap motel when she gets the brilliant idea that boss Maslow, touting himself now as a firm believer in the pajama-clad killers, could help them. The brilliancy of her plan is questioned though when they meet up with him and Raizo is promptly arrested by an entire team of dudes in SWAT gear. They haul him off to their secret FBI lair (it's scary to think that these things exist...) and chain him up in a room with cameras, because Ninja can be sneaky like that.

Maslow, in some attempt at what can only be described as "strategery", pulls Mika aside to try to convince her that he hasn't betrayed her and that he's still on her side. I think we're supposed to believe him, but the performance leaves something lacking. ANYWAY, he gives her a tracking device so he can know where she is at all times, and it makes perfect sense for her to accept it because he's never betrayed her before. Insert slapping of the forehead.

Knowing that the Ozuno Ninja clan is on their way to claim Raizo, Mika tries to urge the Europol/FBI/Various other agents who are standing around gawking at Raizo to get a move on and save themselves. They of course laugh at the fictitious pajama brigade. But then the Ninja electrician shows up and all hell breaks loose. And then with the flying and the stabbing and the punching and the spooting of the bloody bits and the billions upon billions of Shuriken...

I hope your insurance coverage has a rider for Ninja attacks!!!
If not, this sucker's totaled.
I'm just sayin'.

After perhaps one of the most Ninja-est, flying-est, death defying-est scenes EVER  in the history of Ninja films, we soon discover that Raizo has taken a shuriken to the gut. Yes, OUCH is the appropriate response here. (shudder) Mika uses her newly found NASCAR/stunt skills to peel out of the center of Berlin to... a cheap motel. (I guess that after getting such a huge blood budget, they needed to "trim the fat" somewhere else in the film) She gets Raizo into bed so that he can rest, having refused to be taken to the hospital and stitched back together.

There is some talking, some apologizing, and then some Ninja descending. By the time Watson and his agents of various agentry (???) arrive on the scene, Mika is fine, but Raizo has been captured and taken back to the Dojo for execution.


(Pshhhh... seriously? We're just 2/3 the way into this 99 minute film.)

SO, Raizo rides in a steel coffin back to Japan, all the while conducting healing exercises to close the gaping hole in his abdomen. Upon arrival, they strap him up on the whipping post in the Dojo's courtyard and start a candlelit ceremony OF DOOOOOOOOM!!! Master Ozunu pulls out the magic Japanese fist of gut re-arranging and goes to town on defensless Raizo. (bastards!) But wait... what... what is this little thingie that Raizo has coughed up, all covered in blood and slime????


The explosions are loud, but the Ninja fall silently...
as expected.
'Splosions and ninja and tanks.... wait, wha? Tanks? Where did the tanks comes from??? See, Raizo coughed up the tracking device that Watson gave to Mika, and now the Marines have descended upon the mountain top Dojo to save Raizo and show the Ninja that guns, or bazooka for that matter, aren't useless after all.

The film ends with an EPIC fiery dojo battle galore with punching, kicking, weapons, fire, blood, swords, blood, guns, blood, Kusari-gama knife like thingie, and the Marines decimating the thousands of years old temple complex. Because it really is faaaaaar to epic to describe, you're just going to have to rent the movie because no one on YouTube would allow us to embed the video clip here.

Sorry folks. :(

HOWEVER, you can easily rent this movie anywhere for a couple of bucks. iTunes has it for $2.99, has it for $3.99, and I'm SURE that Video Universe in good old Robbinsdale, MN has it for around $3.25 for three nights of rental... because YOU WILL want to watch this one a couple of times. Or, at least pause, rewind, play, pause, etc often.

Totally, utterly, amazingly impressive... is it not???
Now, before we close this episode of PiTN entirely, it seems right to mention that Raizo, played by Korean Pop star "Rain"(Born Jung Jihoon), spent MANY months training for this film. Here is a photo montage of his transformation over 6 months, working out 10 hours a day, and eating nothing but boiled meat, vegg, and few carbs. We aspire to his greatness, adore his amazing abs, and wish for 10% of his bicep awesomeness. (insert image of the mavens cramming dark chocolate brownies in their mouths and rinsing it all down with delicious double Mojitos)