The Films (4/5)
Before last year, I had never seen a film starring Raizo Ichikawa. I have been a lifelong fan of samurai cinema, but most of the stuff I had seen were relegated to things like the Samurai trilogy, the films of Akira Kurosawa, Lone Wolf and Cub, and a few Zatoichi flicks. Animeigo's Sleepy Eyes of Death box set changed all that.
What I found was one of the finest, and possibly most underrated actors in the history of Japanese action cinema. So when Animeigo announced that they would be grouping the first four Shinobi no Mono films into a box, I quickly got on board to check them out, and as with the Sleepy Eyes of Death set, I was not disappointed.
Shinobi no Mono is an 8 part Ninja series. As I previously stated the first 4 are included in this set, and they all star Raizo Ichikawa. In the first 3 films of the series Shinobi no Mono, Shinobi no Mon 2: Vengeance, and Shinobi no Mono 3: Resurrection he plays the same character Ishikawa Goemon. In the fourth film Shinobi no Mono 4: Siege he plays a different ninja named Kirigakure Saizo. This film does not follow the continuity established by the first four films, but taken on it's own is an excellent piece of Ninja cinema.
The films themselves are fairly action packed, however, the actions scenes do not lessen the effectiveness of the plot. The films in the series are fairly plot driven, and one would probably due well taking in multiple viewings to fully absorb the intricacies of the plot. The cinematography is gorgeous, although dark in spots, and the films various directors keep the pace flowing quite nicely throughout all 4 films.
Shinobi no Mono (4/5)
In this film we are introduced to the character Ishikawa Goemon, a young student of Ninjitsu, who after the death of his Father, and an affair with his instructors wife is sent on a kamikaze assassination mission to assassinate the evil warlord Oda Nobunaga. The film documents Goemon's journey through the Japanese countryside to complete his mission. Along the way he finds himself fighting for his own survival against rival Ninja gangs.
Shinobi no Mono 2: Vengeance (4/5)
Vengeance is a more dramatic entry into the series. After the events of the first film Goemon finds himself the final surviving ninja of the Iga clan. He has chosen to put his ninja past behind him, and attempt a quiet life with his wife and young son. Unfortunately, the same evil warlord from the first film is out for the blood of all ninjas. Goemon gets wind of this, and joins a rebellion in an attempt to get his revenge once and for all.
Shinobi no Mono 3: Resurrection
This film starts up at the exact point where the last film ended, with Goemon hanging above a vat of boiling oil awaiting his death. He doesn't have to wait long, however, as he is quickly rescued by a group of Ninjas who put another in his place. Following the events of the last film, Goemon is left a very traumatized man. This film deals with vengeance more so than any other film in the series. Goemon is man who has lost everything in his life, and it is now his single minded goal in life.
Shinobi no Mono 4: Siege
Siege does not belong to the established continuity set by the first 3 films in the series. Raizo Ichikawa does play a ninja, but the similarities end there. However, after the conclusion of 3 Goemon's story arc was eventually finished, and the films were successful so they continued, same formula, different ninja. This time Raizo Ichikawa plays Kirigakure Saizo, a ninja who is sent to ambush a castle and assassinate it's lord, in an attempt to keep the peace laid out in a treaty signed decades earlier. Unfortunately, Saizo finds himself kidnapped during the attempt, and must find a way to escape.
Animeigo hits another one out of the park with the restoration job on this set. Each film is presented with a crisp 2:35:1 anamorphic widescreen black and white transfer. The transfer for the most part are impeccably neat. There is a tad bit of grain and a slight bit of ghosting on some of the films, but aside from those few moments the image is perfect.
Animeigo has presented Shinobi no Mono 1-4 in Dolby Digital 2.0. Similar to the video transfer the audio is near perfect. The dialogue is quite clear, as do the sound fx, and music that play throughout. Animeigo has also done wonders with the English subtitles on the disc. They use colors to distinguish between speaking characters, and even have a trivia track that goes into detail on some of the language used, and the background of the era into which the films take place.
The extras are pretty slim on this set, and what's there is not that interesting. A few trailers for the films, plus for Sleepy Eyes of Death, program notes, image galleries, the second film has a commentary track by Asian film “expert” Ric Meyers.
Shinobi no Mono is a really interesting, and influential series of ninja films. The films are fun enough to watch for the action, and the intricate plotting of the series practically demands repeat viewings. Animeigo has predictably done an excellent job on remastering these films on DVD, and they probably have never looked better than they do here. The extras are light, but don't let that stop you from picking up this box of excellent ninja cinema.