June 19, 2002
Arts and Entertainment
Sleazy and wild
A LIFE OF Ninja begins with a rare documentary-like look into the training and education of Japan's famed and feared shadow warriors. Male pupils toss stars at frown-faced paper dummies, kill pigeons with darts, and perform makeshift trapeze acts. At the same time, female students strip down to their underwear and (get this) mud wrestle to a knockoff version of the Rocky theme. After the mysterious powers of ninjitsu are firmly grounded in reality, we are blasted off to the present (or at least the early '80s, judging from the shag carpets, faux Members Only jackets, and mustache sizes), where a series of baffling ninja-like murders has the police force worked up in a lather. It seems someone is willing to go to extreme lengths to kill a corrupt businessman and to prevent the film's plot from ever being completely comprehensible (subtitles like "you really stroke the two simpleminded bears" don't help, or maybe they do). Former Shaw Brothers headliner Chen Kuan-tai plays a character who is secretly a Chinese ninja. He's enlisted by the badges to get to the bottom of things, but he's soon up to his neck in dirty tricks: poison gas, ice picks (picks made out of ice, that is), killer snakes, hypnotism, and a whole lot of smoke bombs. But that's child's play. Lesser mortals are dispatched by cunning, disco-clubbing lady ninjas who use everything from black widow-like sexual escapades to flashing their chests to fatally distract their foes in battle. Things are so sleazy and wild that Yasuaki Kurata, normally a complete hellcat (à la One by One), comes off subdued and spends most of the film in his ninja-batcave abode contemplating a dry-ice fog. Meanwhile, you'll be contemplating the complete damn fool insanity of it all. A Life of Ninja is nothing less than a mind-spinning five-ninja-star masterpiece.
'A Life of Ninja' plays Thurs/13, Four Star. See Movie Clock for show times.
Patrick Macias is the author of TokyoScope: The Japanese Cult Film Companion.