Ninja Kids!!! 忍たま乱太郎
Fantasy martial-arts comedy
2011, colour, 2.35:1, 99 mins
Directed by Miike Takashi (三池崇史)
By Derek Elley
Mon, 08 August 2011, 21:12 PM (HKT)
Gleefully anarchic ninja comedy overstays its welcome only by a little. Genre events and specialised ancillary, on the strength of director Miike Takashi's name.
Japan, late Muromachi period, early 16th century AD. Born into a family of low-ranking ninjas, young Rantaro (Kato Seishiro) is sent by his father and mother (Nakamura Shido, Dan Rei) to attend the six-year course at the Ninja Academy run by disciplinarian Yamada Denzo (Terajima Susumu). His fellow classmates include Setsuno Kirimaru (Hayashi Roi), who lost his father in the war and carries a baby sibling on his back, and bushy-eyebrowed Fukutomi Shinbei (Kimura Futa), who's the son of a wealthy merchant family and has a skull like iron. Their homeroom teacher is the kindly Doi Hansuke (Miura Takahiro), and head of the Ninja Girl classes at the school is the mysterious Yamamoto Shina, whose age no one knows and who can appear as either a beautiful young woman (Anne Watanabe) or an old crone (Nakamura Tamao). Yamada's rival is Captain Hieta Happosai (Matsukata Hiroki), who wants to kill him but never succeeds. After going home to his parents' farm for the holidays, Rantaro is joined by Shinbei; but they later go off and stay with teacher Doi, who lives a spartan life and finds himself invaded by Rantaro's classmates. One day, some Usetake ninjas arrive at the house of flamboyant hairdresser Saito Yukitaka (Kaga Takeshi) and his son Takamura (Mizoguchi Takuya), a senior pupil at the Ninja Academy, in order to kill both of them. Yukitaka and Takamura used to belong to the Usetake clan, but Rantaro and his friends aim to save them — a contest that climaxes with a race to run a bell on a mountain.
Japanese director MIIKE Takashi 三池崇史 has never lacked for variety in his voluminous career, but it's a sign of the huge creative roll he's currently on that he can segue smoothly from the classical rigour of Thirteen Assassins 十三人の刺客 (2010) and Hara-Kiri: Death of a Samurai 一命 (2011) to an equally well-made family comedy with raucous kids and villains in pantomime prosthetics that sends up everything the previous films dealt with. Based on the still-running TV anime series Nintama Rantaro (in turn based on an even longer-running manga popularly known as Rakuran), Ninja Kids!!! 忍たま乱太郎 (2011) gleefully mixes martial arts with poop jokes, historical references with wilful anachronisms (starting with young Rantaro's glasses and his noughts-and-crosses, colour-coded uniform), as well as Rantaro directly addressing the audience. Rantaro's name contains the Japanese character for "chaos/disorder" (乱) and that's pretty much what the kids and the film celebrate.
In fact, almost all of this stems from the anime series itself, which Miike has closely hewn to while adding deft cinematic touches — such as an early sequence of Rantaro running to the Ninja Academy through a succession of moving tableaux that sketch the setting and era. The first half-hour or so is full of laugh-out-loud moments that exactly catch the anime's spirited humour, with its fantastical moments and cackling kids. Popular child actor KATO Seishiro 加藤清史郎 is as cute as a button in his specs and heroic gestures, and KIMURA Futa 木村風太 is especially good as his thick-skulled, dribbly-nosed classmate Shinbei.
As the plot spins ever wilder (and less coherent) in the second half, the film loses its initial playfulness and becomes more like rote silly comedy, though thankfully without the cuddlesome-ness of Miike's The Great Yokai War 妖怪大戦争 (2005). As a flamboyant ninja-turned-hairdresser, veteran KAGA Takeshi 鹿賀丈史 quickly becomes irritating rather than funny, and the exaggerated make-up and prosthetics of several of the characters lose their initial comic potential. Fortunately, the film then ditches most of the "plot" for an all-out race that rediscovers the lightness of the first half. And at 99 minutes Ninja Kids!!! hardly overstays its welcome for very long.
ContactSales: Shochiku, Tokyo (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Premiere: New York Asian Film Festival (Japan Cuts), 3 Jul 2011. Theatrical release: Japan, 23 Jul 2011.
Presented by Live Action Ninja Kids the Movie Action Film Committee (JP). Produced by Sedic International (JP). Executive producer: Nakazawa Toshiaki. Producers: Terada Atsushi, Hattori Hiroshi.
Script: Urasawa Yoshio. Anime: Nintama Rantaro (忍たま乱太郎, 1993-). Manga: Amako Sobei (Rakudai Ninja Rantaro/Failure Ninja Rantaro/Rakuran 落第忍者乱太郎, 1986-). Photography: Kita Nobuyasu. Editing: Yamashita Kenji. Music: Ike Yoshihiro. Art direction: Hayashida Yuji. Costume design: Matsumoto Chieko. Sound: Nakamura Jun. Visual effects: Otagaki Kaoru.
Cast: Kato Seishiro (Rantaro), Hayashi Roi (Setsuno Kirimaru), Kimura Futa (Fukutomi Shinbei) Hira Mikijiro (Okawa), Terajima Susumu (Yamada Denzo, academy head), Miura Takahiro (Doi Hansuke), Yamamoto Koji (Tobe Shinzaemon), Furuta Arata (canteen lady), Anne Watanabe (Yamamoto Shina, as a beautiful young woman), Nakamura Tamao (Yamamoto Shina, as an old crone), Emoto Akira (Usetake ninja Choro), Ishibashi Renji (Usetake ninja OB), Yamamoto Yusuke (Suzutakano Yoshiro), Ishigaki Yuma (Do Sukarasu), Shiraishi Shunya (Komatsu), Mizoguchi Takuya (Takamura), Mitsuya Ryo (Shosei), Takenaka Naoto (Miruma Sukarasu), Kaga Takeshi (Saito Yukitaka), Matsukata Hiroki (Captain Hieta Happosei), Nakamura Shido (Rantaro's father), Dan Rei (Rantaro's mother), Kitamura Takumi, Tanihara Shosuke.