Last night I watched one of the first Blu-ray offerings that could be filed under the “Japan” category—a double feature of Shogun’s Ninja and Killing Machine. Both star Sonny Chiba, both are from Toei, but the two movies could scarcely be more dissimilar. The first is a wild, loopy samurai-vs.-ninja spectacle (courtesy of Norifumi Suzuki), which also stars a young and spry Hiroyuki Sanada, and sports an oh-so-Seventies funk-jazz score and Echoplex tape reverb sound effects. You gotta love any movie where the hero responds to the deaths of his comrades by building a giant bonfire and performing an interpretive dance to portray his suffering, all on top of a score that sounds like something John Shaft would come crashing through a window to.
Killing Machine, also directed by Suzuki, is a jingoistic (even when it tries not to be) and not-credible version of the Dōshin Sō story, he being the creator of Shōrinji Kempō. The folks at Frog in a Well have done a much better job of dismantling the film than I ever could, especially since they’re able to put it into a historical context that I could not provide. What’s most striking is that today, the movie’s overheated style would be indistinguishable from parody. Good thing for them they didn’t get Seijun Suzuki to fill the director’s chair; he might well have made it into a parody.
Of the two of these, I think I know which one I’d be talking about in detail; at least with Shogun’s Ninja I won’t feel like I’m encouraging people to see something which wallows in stereotyping even when claiming to be above all that.