Sometimes the spinoff is better than the original. It happened with Alien Nation, a mediocre movie that turned into a very good TV series. The same thing happened with Buffy the Vampire Slayer, a rather minor-league comedy that was turned into a major-league cultural phenomenon.
And now Ninja Scroll, the movie (which was eye-catching but not very absorbing) has also been made into a TV series which manages to one-up its original material. It’s still gory, lurid and violent (which is going to turn a lot of people off), but it’s somewhat more interesting than its predecessor by dint of having more fully-realized characters and enemies who are not simply drop targets in a shooting gallery.
Despite the shared name, Ninja Scroll: The Series doesn’t have to be seen with the movie. The two are essentially standalone entities that share a few common characters and conceits. Both movies were about the adventures of wandering swordsman and ninjutsu master Jubei Kibagami, whose excellence with his weapons is only tempered by his general laziness. He’s an anti-hero’s anti-hero, and part of the fun of watching him at work is seeing what smart-ass way he’ll use to weasel out of what few responsibilities he has. One of the running gags of both the movie and the show is that every time he’s finally ready to catch a nap, something interrupts him — usually a monster. Read more
Talking about a movie like Angel’s Egg is bound to be frustrating, because my first impulse is just to recommend it unhesitatingly to anyone with the slightest interest in animation as art. Like Koyaanisqatsi or 2001, it doesn’t lend itself to being described; it’s the sort of thing best seen first and then discussed. Unfortunately, most of the people reading this may never get to see it — at least not until someone licenses the film for an English-speaking audience — so I’m forced to improvise through words and stills.
Angel’s Egg is a collaboration between director Mamoru Oshii and visual designer Yoshitaka Amano. Oshii is best-known for directing Ghost in the Shell, Avalon, and many other films — live-action and animated — all of which deal in some way with memory and the meaning of being human. His movies aren’t for everyone, but contain many rewards for the patient and openminded. Amano has provided design work for many anime and manga (Five Star Stories) and video games (Final Fantasy); his art style is beautiful and unmistakable. He provided the character and set designs for Egg, while Oshii wrote the story and framed the action. The result is a successful hybrid of two very dynamic talents. Read more
Among Japan’s most prolific authors of samurai-fantasy and lady-ninja adventure stories was a fellow named Futaro Yamada, and his Samurai Reincarnation (also known as Darkside Reborn) was a wildly successful retelling of various samurai legends all spun into one with a supernatural twist. The story has inspired various movie versions, but the best-known and most widely enjoyed remains this version, directed by Kinji Fukasaku in 1981.
Aside from Fukasaku’s golden touch, Makai Tenshōu also features none other than Sonny Chiba playing the plum role of the master ninja Yagyū Jubei. (Fans of Kill Bill who know little of what Chiba was actually famous for in the first place need to put this on their list immediately after screening the Street Fighter movies.) Small wonder it was a stupendous hit in Japan, but it’s taken forever for it to show up here in America in a proper edition — all previous versions of the film were saddled with a ludicrous dubbing job and terrible-looking transfers.Read more
Some stories are about small, simple questions: Will the guy get the girl, defeat the bad guys, and live happily ever after? There’s nothing wrong with that, as many of the best movies are precisely that simple. Then there are stories that are about great, unanswerable questions, not so much to get an answer but to make us wonder: Why are we born? Why must we die? Where did we come from before all of this, and where will we go afterwards? Why are we even here at all when it all just vanishes anyway?
Haibane Renmei is firmly in the second category, and all the better for it because it tackles these huge questions in the context of a story that has all the simplicity of a children’s book. At the same time, the simplicity of the story is deceptive: there is so much more going on inside it than a single viewing will reveal. It also does not answer all the questions it brings up, and I think that is quite deliberate, since only a fool or a saint would assume they had absolute answers to such questions. Like Wings of Desire or 2001 or any of the other great movies about man's place in the universe, it inspires more reflection than certainty, which is exactly the idea.
Haibane takes place in a town named Guri, which outwardly resembles one of the many towns in Middle Europe that have remained unchanged through the centuries, with many tall, older buildings brooding over the shorter, newer ones. Life is quiet and unhurried, the weather mild. The extraordinary thing about Guri is that many of the inhabitants are Haibane — young people who look and act human, but have small wings and a halo, much like the classical depiction of angels. They remember nothing of their life before coming here, but retain their personalities. The other odd thing about the town is that no one, human or Haibane alike, may leave — except, that is, for the mysterious Touga, the traders who come and go through the giant wall at the edge of town and speak only in sign language.Read more