Geisha Vs. Ninjas (U.S. title: Geisha Assassin) is what I could call a WITTIWYG Movie. You’ve heard of What You See Is What You Get; now here’s What’s In The Title Is What You Get. There is a geisha, who also happens to be an assassin hellbent on avenging her betrayed father; there’s a ton of ninja; the two of them collide; there’s your movie. Refunds are available at the booth if, for whatever reason, you feel cheated.
It’s another production from the same direct-to-video Japanese quasi-underground that gave us such fine, quality filmmaking as Tokyo Gore Police, Machine Girl, Death Trance and Sukeban Boy. Director Gō Ohara was action director for Trance as well as the eagerly-awaited Onéchanbara, so after a pedigree like that I was expecting something so far over the top it ought to come right back up through the bottom again. Geisha is actually pretty sedate compared to the Gore / Machine / Trance axis of movie lunacy. But it’s fun to watch as the lower half of a double feature with one of those films, it’s good-looking given that it was probably shot on a pocket-change budget, and it’s another piece of living proof that unpretentious, honest-to-Zarkoff grindhouse cinema is alive and well on the other side of the Pacific.
As I hinted earlier, there isn’t so much a plot as there is a checklist of happenstance. The geisha of the title, the lovely and gifted Kotomi (Minami Tsukui), sets out to kill the samurai who betrayed and killed her father. At first dressed in a formal geisha outfit, she retrofits it into something a little more streamlined after the first couple of battles turn her hemline into purple ribbons. She’s also dismayed that what should be an easy kill becomes progressively more difficult, as wave after wave of opponents come pouring out of the woods (and woodwork): other samurai, a trove of masked assassins, a yamabushi with demons at his command, an Ainu countrywoman, and on and on. What storytelling we have is pretty threadbare and mostly exists to paper over the gaps between fight scenes.
But hey, they’re some impressive fight scenes. Not least of all because Miss Tsukui does all of her own fighting, and a good majority of it is right there up on the screen—not disguised with nervous-tic cutaways or stitched together from a dozen different speeded-up takes. It is, ironically enough, that much more impressive when she’s doing it in full geisha garb through the first third of the film; slightly less so when she’s dressed down for battle for the rest of it. The best fight, sadly, comes early on: it’s a three-against-one which the movie’s title has foreshadowed, although it sports more than a few tongue-in-cheek moments: a “bullet-time” shot which actually manages to pump some humor back into that already-hoary cliché, and a split second when we realize the “smoke bombs” used by the ninja are actually Christmas ornaments painted black.
I admit, I was hoping there would be more. I would have enjoyed more of the “geisha” side of things—for instance, having her start her training as a warrior while still pouring tea and performing dances, and learning how to fend off attacks while she still has one hand on a client’s arm. That kind of thing. But hey, I’d like that pony I wished for as a kid, while I’m thinking about it. Let’s see what they can do with more money—and a slightly crazier concept to boot. Geisha Vs. Ninja Vs. Pirates, for instance.
Oh, admit it. You were thinking that, too.
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