Written by: Michael Den Boer on August 27th, 2005
Theatrical Release Date: Japan, November 15th, 1980
Director: Norifumi Suzuki
Writers: Fumio Konami, Ichirô Ôtsu
Cast: Hiroyuki Sanada, Sonny Chiba, Etsuko Shihomi, Yuki Ninagawa, Tetsuro Tamba
DVD Released: August 23rd, 2005
Approximate Running Time: 117 minutes
Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
Sound: Dolby Digital Stereo
DVD Release: Adness/Ventura
Region Coding: Region 1 NTSC
Retail Price: $19.99
Synopsis: Hideyoshi Toyotomi a power hungry warlord makes a pact with Shogen Shiranui (Sonny Chiba) too destroy the Momochi clan and find out were their cache of gold is hidden. After Shogen Shiranui and his men slaughter of the Momochi clan they are unable to retrieve the knife which contain engravings that are a map that tells were the gold is hidden. While his family was murder Takamaru (Hiroyuki Sanada) was secretly taken away by a loyal servant to his family and they took with them the knife that everyone is looking for. Ten years later now a man Takamaru returns to Japan to reform Momochi clan and exact revenge on those who killed his family.
In the early 1980’s ninja’s we’re all the rage as films like American Ninja and Revenge of the Ninja made an undeniable impression on me during my youth. Years later I came across Shogun’s Ninja via a washed out budget DVD release that came with one of those unbelievably bad English dub jobs that totally destroy the feel of the film and add an unintentional laugh or two. Needless to say my initial impression of Shogun’s Ninja wasn’t that good. Now we come too this DVD release from Adness which not only restores five minutes missing from pervious English versions. It also replaces that atrocious English dub and gives us the superior Japanese dub that makes the plot a lot easy to digest and understand.
Shogun’s Ninja was directed by exploitation maestro Norifumi Suzuki who directed the nunsploitation classic Convent of the Sacred Beast and the Sonny Chiba film The Killing Machine. Norifumi Suzuki’s direction is never subdued as he always keeps the action moving and fills the frame with interesting compositions. One moment in particular that really stood out for me is when Takamaru’s mother commits suicide. The camera’s movements as she slits her writs and he flute fall into a pool of blood was tragically beautiful. The plot contains many elements that have been used many times before, still serves in the end as nothing more then the skeleton for which houses about a half dozen or so action set pieces that all are filled with inventiveness and try to top the last one. These action sequences were directed by Sonny Chiba who also has a major role in the film as Shogen Shiranui.
By the early 1980’s Sonny Chiba who once wowed audiences as the charismatic Takuma “Terry” Tsurugi a role for which he will be forever linked too has now shifted into the phase of his career when he is content to make ensemble films. Sonny Chiba’s performance as Shogen Shiranui is solid even though he speaks very little and spends most of his time showing off his fighting skills. The true lead in this film is Hiroyuki Sanada as Takamaru gives the best performance that I have seen from him to date. He shows off his various sides which make his character more sympathetic and some of the moves he executes during fights scenes is simply mind blowing. Another Japan action club regular who has a smaller role is Sue Shihomi as Airen. There have been many female action stars that have come out of Asia, still no have ever consistently held their own with their male counterparts like Sue Shihomi. Overall Shogun’s Ninja is a fun film that moves at a break neck pace despite its near two hour time length.
Adness presents Shogun’s Ninja in an anamorphic widescreen that preserves the films original 2.35:1 Toei scope aspect ratio. Previous releases of Shogun’s Ninja have presented the film in a letterboxed ratio of about 1.85:1 which makes several of the films compositions feel cramped. Colors look vibrant and are nicely saturated. Details remain sharp as the black levels remain strong through out. There is some noticeable grain and some minor instances of specs of dirt, still nothing that ever becomes too distracting. There is plenty of action is this film and there are no problems with ghosting or blurring as the image remains stable through out. There are no problems with compression, artifacts and edge enhancement is kept to a minimum. This progressive transfer looks stunning and Shogun’s Ninja has never looked better.
This release comes with only one audio option the films original Japanese language track which is presented in a Dolby Digital stereo. Note there are also a few scenes in which a few characters speak in Chinese which like the Japanese dialog has been subtitled in English. This audio mix is in great shape as there are no problems with hiss or distortion. Dialog sounds crisp as it is always even to follow and understand. The music and effects sounds evenly mixed as they never over power the other. Another thing about the music and sound effects they sound fuller then they have ever sounded before. Overall this sound mix beat all my expectations and then some. This release comes with English subtitles that are easy to read and follow.
Extras for this release consist of the usual suspects that include trailers for Shogun’s Ninja, Karate Bullfighter, Karate Bearfighter, Karate for Life, Shogun’s Shadow, The Executioner and The Executioner 2: Karate Inferno. All of these titles are currently or soon to be released by Adness as part of their ever growing Sonny Chiba collection. Shogun’s Ninja is another exemplary release from Adness as they once again offer a first rate audio/video presentation at an extremely affordable price. Shogun’s Ninja is an epic adventure that has an amazing cast and first rate action set pieces, recommended.