Ninja Wars (aka Iga ninpocho) is an odd movie. It’s not odd in the fact that it’s a ninja movie, it’s odd in the fact that despite being superficially a ninja movie, it’s really not a ninja movie at all. Despite the title, Ninja Wars is in fact a love story. While their may be some wars, bloody fight scenes, and a few ninjas hopping around, it’s almost not even a martial arts movie… That is, if you watch the subtitled version.
A tea loving power monger Lord Donjo invites another local lord and his wife Ukyodayu over to check out his awesome tea set and have a few drinks. Donjo becomes infatuated with Ukyodaya and can’t keep his eyes off of her. She’s all he thinks about, and when he finds out from the treacherous wizard Kashin-Koji that she is a beauty that prophecies speak of, he becomes more obsessed with making her his own bride. Meanwhile, Jotaro – a ninja of the Iga clan, trains his love, Kagaribi, to become a ninja herself. He helps her master an attack that can cut down forests without a single blade, and they roll around in the grass together claiming their love for each other. While frolicking, they come under attack, and Kagaribi is kidnapped and taken to Donjo. Why? Because she is the identical twin sister of Ukyodayu, and she’s a virgin.
Oh, didn’t you know, virgin tears can be used to make a love potion that makes a woman fall in love with the first man she lays eyes on after taking the potion? Yeah, well they can. Unfortunately, before Donjo, his wizard buddy Kashin-Koji, and their five deadly monks (each with their own powers) can get some virgin tears, Kagaribi decapitates herself with the technique she learned from Jotaro, and Donjo’s own wife is decapitated as well by one of the deadly monks. Thankfully one of the monks has the ability to revive them both, but for some reason he can’t put their heads on the original bodies, so he has to switch their heads. Kagaribi’s body escapes with the love potion, meets up with Jotaro in the forest, and clues him into all the plans that Donjo and Kashin-Koji are dreaming up in order to capture Ukyodayu’s love. Jotaro does his best to find the Ukyodayu and keep her safe, and they fall in love in the process of destroying Donjo, and the five deadly monks. Thankfully they’ll get a little help from Shinzaemon Yagyu (Sonny Chiba), and his band of ninjas.
Ok, now that’s a lot of stuff, and that all happens in the first 40 minutes. I don’t think I’ve ever written that much stuff about the plot of a movie, and that’s not even the half of it. I had rented this movie a long time back with my sister, in the days when you could rent videos out of a local grocery store. I remember watching it and not really being able to follow it, and being generally bored. To get this out of the way, this isn’t your ordinary beat em up kung-fu ninja movie. There’s a lot more depth than that. I should also mention that I watched the subtitled version of this movie, and not the dubbed. Supposedly the dubbed version is hilarious, but between these two versions, your mileage may vary.
Again, despite this being a ninja movie, there isn’t really a whole lot of fighting. I can remember about 6 different extended fight scenes, and the rest of it is mostly either furthering the plot, or developing the characters – which honestly is a little odd, and in my case, totally unexpected. The fight scenes that do occur, however, are top notch. There is a lot of blood sprays, decapitations, people getting eyes stabbed out, and other assorted gore.
The five deadly monks are all pretty cool. As I mentioned above, they each have their own special ability. One of the monks is a healer, and he is the one that revives Donjo’s wife and Kagaribi. He also keeps all the other monks immortal. One monk is this curly haired guy that basically spits brown vomit on his enemies. One of the early scenes has him spitting on Jotaro, and the vomit ends up looking like an omelet on Jotaro’s face. Another monk has extreme strength, another is blind, but has heightened other senses, and yet another has a mysterious power. Besides being able to kick ass and throw a sickle type weapon, they have a secret identity that I don’t want to give away here.
The entire love story aspect ties the whole movie together. You can tell all the while, that even though Jotaro and Ukyodayu don’t say it until near the end, the two characters are infatuated with each other. They look at each other longingly and you can see the pain in their eyes whenever they part. Their love is the essential bond that breaks the spell of Kashin-Koji and it ties everything together in the end. I saw a lot of comments on different websites about the dubbed version to the effect of “The ending didn’t make any sense at all”. The subbed version made total sense, and that goes towards one of our theories that sometimes for dubbed versions, the producers must take extreme liberties with the film to the point of almost making something up for comedic effect, which I think may have happened with this film.
If you’re going into this movie expecting all out total ninja warfare, you’re going to be extremely disappointed. There’s very few ninjas, and there really isn’t a “war”, but more of a few skirmishes. Again, the story is everything for this movie, so if you see the dubbed version it may be a hilarious romp through the Japanese countryside, but the subbed version is definitely heavy on the story, and you can get lost very easily if you don’t pay attention to the dialog.