Ninja, a Band of Assassins (1962) Poster

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A Nutshell Review: The Ninjas
DICK STEEL17 September 2008
I suppose many of us would have loved the romanticism associated with ninjas, with their famed skills of invisibility, swordsmanship, cunning and a whole host of weaponry and gadgets that add to their element of surprise. If you'd think you know a lot of their modus operandi, then perhaps The Ninjas, aka Shinobi No Mono, would contribute to that wealth of knowledge, and at the same time dispel some of the myths and stories that add to the stature of these masked assassins.

If you'd wonder what a ninja does when out of his mask, then the film would have painted a rather mundane picture of the practicing ninjas, who hone their skills in enclaves, and frankly look no more like your usual Samurais, except sans status, and honing their skills ala rebels in hiding at their fortified base, and being skilled assassins for hire to Samurais who need someone to do their dirty work for them (yes, even back then you can outsource your dirty laundry), as they themselves are bounded by the honor code of bushido.

The movie doesn't waste time in building up a proper background, but throws you thick into the action. With characters loosely adapted from history, you have Oda Nobunaga, a ruthless warlord on rampaging victories across Japan in an effort to unify the country. Needless to say such aggression doesn't sit well with the able bodied, and 2 clans of ninjas are pitted against each other to see who can carry out a successful mission to stop the warlord. The story centers upon Goemon (Raizo Ichikawa), an up and coming, though ambitious and impatient ninja, who is recognized and granted a promotion (to the back office, away from the battlefield, as an accountant!) but in a moment of lustful folly, becomes the pawn of his master Sandayu (Yunosuke Ito), pledging his life to his master's bidding.

So begins Goemon's mission, which includes a ruining of his reputation, and committing acts which defy even the ninja's code of conduct (yes there is one!). In fact, we learn and observe many rules and regulations of ninja-dom, what with the need to disfigure oneself prior to death, and how torture must be endured and death always an option. All these get interpreted through Goemon's ultimate shame in living with his guilt, up until he meets a prostitute called Maki (Shiho Fujimura), who gives him new cause to live, setting the stage for the truth of his double-headed master to be revealed.

Shinobi No Mono was credited as the first film to popularize the ninja series of films, and had relatively low key special effects, decided to root itself in more realistic elements, rather than have things like tunnelling through sand dunes, and blink and you miss puffing of smoke. Secret passages, booby traps, poison and darts still remain staple, but don't expect any fancy swordplay as targets get dispatched rather quickly. If you're looking for a climatic ending, then you'll likely be sorely disappointed, as everything goes into a big shebang, lacking in any mano-a-mano opportunities.

That said, this film is still rather enjoyable for its shedding of light on these mysterious group who operate in the shadows, and it's not always they have to dress up in black for their operations. It'll look rather dated, but somewhat a refreshing change from current films in its presentation sans the easy way out using tons of computer aided imagery.
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Part 1 of the definitive ninja film series.
Mikesw123420 February 2014
Warning: Spoilers
There are very, VERY many excellent samurai films. It's a shame then, that there are so few good movies focusing on the ninja. At least as far as what's been released in the U.S. anyway. Still, considering just how highly regarded ninja are in American pop culture, it's a mystery why the Shinobi No Mono series isn't more widely known.

The series is based loosely on true events and features far more grounded action than Ninja Gaiden fans might expect. After all, the real life ninja were all about infiltration, espionage, sabotage, assassination, and subterfuge with their enemies not knowing what hit them until far too late. Straight combat was strictly a samurai thing.

The first three films are part of a single story arc and takes place during Japan's Sengoku (Warring States) Period which lead to Tokugawa Ieyasu becoming the first supreme Shogun. The fourth movie is a stand alone story taking place a number of years later when Ieyasu was consolidating his power and features a different main character (though played by the same lead actor).

All in all, the Shinobi No Mono series is definitely worth a watch for ninja fans. Also, anyone interested in Japanese history, or even anyone with a taste for period political thrillers should check it out. We can only hope that the rest of this series will some day be released here.
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Interesting Seminal Ninja Film
massaster76027 October 2007
Warning: Spoilers
Shinobi No Mono opens quite simply with a meeting of a garrison of ninja's. Oda Nobunaga (Tomisaburo Wakayama) is ravaging the countryside in a quest for total control of Japan. Fearing his onslaught will mean the demise of the ninja, two rival garrisons attempt to send assassins to dispatch the warlord. The Momichi and Fujiyachi garrisons send their two best students to complete the assassination; Guemon (Raizô Ichikawa) from the Fujibayashi clan, and Yohachi from the Momachi clan. Determined not to be bested by the other clan each Shinobi attempts to kill the evil Nobunaga as quickly as possible.

Having never seen any of the series but being familiar with many Samurai movies from the same era, I found Shinobi No Mono to be very similar in form to the traditional Chambara formula... albeit a bit more action packed. However as with most early Chambara, the film features a complicated plot, well-developed characters, and striking imagery courtesy of cinematographer Yasukazu Takemura.

The big draw of Shinobi No Mono is the martial arts and the film delivers in that aspect. Being one of the first Ninja movies, the film is packed with fight scenes and cool ninja tricks. Shuriken's are thrown, gunpowder ignited, and grappling hooks are used in ways they weren't intended. The film is particularly interesting because it helped create quite a few modern day movie cliché's.

For instance, there is a scene where Guemon tries to dispatch a target by sneaking into his attic, drilling a hole in the roof, dropping a string down, and sending poison down the line in an attempt to land it in the sleeping target's mouth. This scene was later imitated in numerous films including George Armitage's 1997 black comedy, "Grosse Point Blank." Other than that, many of the newer breed of ninja movies feature a lot of the same "secret ninja moves" that were made known in Shinobi No Moni.

My only complaint is that sometimes the plot feels needlessly complicated. If your familiar with other films from this era you shouldn't have a problem following the film. But if you're not, you'll probably have to pay close attention because the plot intricacies come fast as the betrayals, set up's, and alliances pile up.

Bottom Line- Interesting and complicated seminal ninja film that's as fun as it is action-packed.
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The first movie of the legendary Ninja Goemon
euroasiangenetic10 December 2018
There has been many movies about a legend in the Japanese ninja history of Goemon, this is the first movie from 1962 and also gave inspiration to the James Bond movie you only live twice and it's show that Japanese actors are 10 years a head of time when it comes to dimensional acting, as in the west were use to schooled dialogue, Japan had their actor play out their role with their hearts.

Goemon is a young ninja of his clan and a man with a future. But he is also weak for women specially the wife of his leader. But later his life turned apart when his father is killed by his own powder and the wife is also killed. The leader is blaming Goemon for all this bad events but he spare his life, in one condition to kill an evil lord that threat to destroy all ninja clans. Goemon agrees but only to find out he has been fooled by his own leader.

Every time I see these black and white movies from Japan I'm surprised that the acting feels like today. The acting at that time was good but it was 1950s good but in Japan the acting feels new like today even it's from 1962. I give a big applause to Japanese acting and this movie is no exception. Fantastic acting and choreography and strong plot and a must have for all ninja lover. 10/10
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Entertaining Ninja story
sinful-225 May 2017
First I will say i have no clue if any of this is historical correct. I have watched it as pure fiction. From that point of view I have to say I was well entertained. It seemed like natural lives of ninjas depicted in the movie. So no flying ninjas here or anything really wild :-)

Acting was fine but not amazing. I think the action scenes was good and realistic for being a ninja movie. Characters are not very deep but fine to make the movie flow and not seem like cardboard characters.

At times I guess the movie slows down without getting boring while following the main characters personal life. So I guess I would recommend it to fans of Japanese cinema that likes samurai/ninja movies and do not require non stop action. I look forward to see the next movie in the series.
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Good, though it felt hard to connect with the characters
MartinHafer14 September 2009
Raizô Ichikawa plays Ishikawa Goemon, a legendary bandit hero in this Japanese trilogy set during the reign of Oda Nobunaga--the man who nearly conquered all of Japan during the 16th century (before this, the country was split into many disunited kingdoms). The problem with this is that after I researched about the real life Goemon, I found that very little is known about the man and so over the years Japanese plays and movies have taken great liberties with who the man MIGHT have been. In this movie, Goemon is a ninja--though other sources I read didn't make mention of this nor did I read about him trying to assassinate Nobunaga, but another man (Hideyoshi)--but this isn't even certain.

In this film, the ninjas are not just lone agents of death or spies but are an organized group led by an inscrutable man whose real goals and machinations are a bit hard to follow, as he plays so many different angles. The one fairly constant thing about the boss is his desire to see Nobunaga die, as he apparently represents a threat to their way of life. Initially, Goemon is give great responsibility and power within ninjadom (Is that a word? Well, it should be if it isn't.). However, Goemon is too proud and not especially careful (even though his father warned him) and he falls into a trap--a trap that obligates him to personally murder the seemingly indestructible Nobunaga.

I'll be honest here--the plot was so convoluted and hard to follow at times that I had to struggle to keep watching. This is NOT the easiest Japanese series for a Westerner to follow--not nearly as easy as Ichikawa's "Sleepy Eyes of Death" series or Kitano's "Zatoichi" series. Now this isn't to say it's bad--just a bit tougher to follow--and I already DID know quite a bit about Nobunaga and his dream of forcibly unifying Japan.

Overall, while you'd think this is a big action movie, it isn't. Sure, there's some fighting but the emphasis is much more on the behind the scenes stuff and the conniving--not the battles or even many of the assassination attempts. I liked the movie but was far from in love with it. I will have to see the final two films to see what I think of the overall product, though I do love the idea of a story so big it takes several films to complete (such as the epic "Samurai" series from the 1950s).
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Probably Historically Accurate But Slow Going
jrd_7315 May 2019
I saw this film back in the late 1990's when I was a college student. After recently watching the Kyoshiro Nemuri films and being impressed with Ichikawa Raizo, I was curious to try the Shinobi No Mono series, even though I had a vague memory of not caring much for this first film.

On re-watching this first film, I remembered why I was not overly taken with the film. It is slow going with a lot of intrigue but very little action, much different than the Kyoshiro Nemuri films. Raizo is still good though. He plays Ishikawa Goemon, a young Iga ninja. At the start of the film, he has ambitious dreams of becoming the master of his ninja clan. After engaging in an affair with his master's neglected wife, Goemon is exiled from the clan and given two tasks. The first of these is to commit robberies to help the clan with expenses. The second is to kill Nobunaga Oda (played by Tomisaburo Wakayama from Lone Wolf and Cub), a cruel warlord that is the target of several ninja clans. The film has a lot more plot, including a prostitute that Goemon falls for and a rival ninja that Goemon fights (in the film's two best scenes).

Shinobi No Mono is a well shot, well made film that only occasionally grabs me. It is also problematic that the hero is mostly absent from the film's action climax (which leaves many plot threads unresolved). Viewers knowledgeable in Japanese and/or martial arts history will get more from the film than casual viewers. While I can't say that I dislike Shinobi No Mono, I must admit that I do prefer Revenge of the Ninja with Sho Kosugui as ninja films go. Call me a philistine.
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Confusing, but entertaining, fast paced and fun ninja flick.
johnlewis21 December 2000
Warning: Spoilers
The confusion level is very high for the story, but so is the entertainment quotient. This is good fun, in a fast-paced, light drama; but without any of the goofball humour that mars later 1970s Japan samurai pulp films. The elderly leaders of two Ninja clans are actually the same person in disguise. The old man frequently changes disguises and travels to the other hideout during the night to give commands and play his role as the clan leader in each place. In one clan, he enlists and inspires one young ninja aspirant to fight for him in trying to overcome a powerful warlord who is trying to kill off all the ninjas in Japan. The young man ends up being seduced by the old man's young wife. The old man catches him and blackmails the young ninja into asassinating the warlord. One of the most interesting things about this film is watching all the now well-worn cliches of ninja behaviour and methods being introduced in this story: The old man climbs up his walls and in his attic almost like a monkey; the old string and poison assasination trick is used in one place, and some mild humour is added when one adept young ninja keeps accidentally killing small birds when trying to hit various assasination targets with his little star wheels. By the end, most of the confusion is cleared up, and I even found myself wanting to watch it again to understand more of the details. Both the evil old nina leader and the young, ambitious ninja warrior are very convincing in their roles, and are just really fun to watch. On the downside, this movie is too well-made to rate as a good B-movie, but is not really good enough quality to rate it as an "A" movie, either. So the overall feeling is that of a slightly better than mediocre grade A movie. Also, the action is spread a little thin and far between longish drama scenes. Since the drama is on the light side, there is no mesmirising effect as with a good Kurosawa yarn. Overall, however, it is still an entertaining and satisfying movie to watch from an early 1960s ninja filmmaking master.
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Ninja shenanigans from back in the days.
GrandpaBunche2 January 2008
Warning: Spoilers
If you came of age around the same time I did, you no doubt remember the spate of lousy American-made ninja flicks like ENTER THE NINJA (1981), REVENGE OF THE NINJA (1983), NINJA III: THE DOMINATION (1984), and the nearly indescribably boring and Swedish-made THE NINJA MISSION (1984). I have no idea why the boom happened, but Ninja were every bloody place for about five years, infesting television, comic books, bestselling adventure novels, and other media, (though their absence from pop music is conspicuous, but I guess that area of entertainment was already awful enough during that decade) and their general craptasticness and ubiquity earned them a place in my heart right next to uncontrollable projectile vomiting or being on the receiving end of a perfectly executed kick to the nuts.

Even by the admittedly over-the-top standard of skills seen in any garden variety martial arts flick, the cinematic/pop culture exploits of the ninja were exceptionally cartoonish and juvenile, rendering the fabled masters of assassination and espionage into caricature and stripping them of much mystery and respectful fascination. Even the excellent LONE WOLF & CUB movies suffered from such crazy theatrics, but those films got away with it by having the sense to be completely gory and insanely ultra-violent, unlike any of the American entries that starred boring rent-a-ninja Sho Kosugi.

With all of that in mind I approached the recent US release of SHINOBI NO MONO with some trepidation, but as it starred one of my favorite chambara actors, Raizo Ichikawa — best known as the red-headed ronin Kyoshiro Nemuri — and was described as being the first film to take the ninja seriously and treat him in a realistic manner, I was willing to give it a chance.

The film is the first in a series about real life ninja/thief Goemon Ichikawa, described in some circles as a Japanese analog to Robin Hood, although to the best of my recollection Robin Hood didn't meet his end by being boiled alive in a vat of oil. Anyway, after a somewhat tedious first third of the film in which we must endure far too much exposition regarding the film's various intrigues, we get down to Goemon's adventures as a top notch soldier and ninja who is charged with killing an asshole warlord (Tomisaburo Wakayama, real-life brother to Shintaro Katsu of ZATOICHI fame, and ten years away from screen immortality as LOne Wolf) while having an affair with his commander's sexually-neglected wife. The affair turns out to be more than it seems, as does Goemon's master, and when the doody hits the fan Goemon goes on the lam and hides out in a whorehouse, there finding love with a sweet prostitute. He gives her the money to buy her freedom so they can retreat to a secluded home in the woods and start anew, but Goemon's past catches up with him and he's forced into accepting an assassination mission or else the lives of his loving wife and unborn child will be forfeit.

Once you get past the turgid first act, the flick's a lot of fun in an old school way, and the ninja skills/martial arts are surprisingly realistic, featuring none of the superhuman looniness I would have expected. The fights and ninja stuff were choreographed by Masaki Hatsumi, a doctor of natural healing techniques as well as being the 34th Grandmaster of Budo Taijutsu and founder of the Bujinkan Dojo, an all-around thoughtful badass who knows his stuff, so there's an intimate intensity to the combat that allows the viewer to worry about Goemon as a human being whose skin is the only thing separting his guts from the cold and dusty ground.

The cinematography is reminiscent of a lower-budgeted and perhaps rushed Kurosawa wannabe, but the film looks great and is definitely a fun way to spend 116 minutes. I enjoyed it enough to want to see the next installment, so TRUST YER GRANDPA and rent it.
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