Directed by Satsuo Yamamoto
Written by Tomoyoshi Murayama and Hajime Takaiwa
Cast: : Raizô Ichikawa, Shiho Fujimura, Yûnosuke Itô, Katsuhiko Kobayashi,Yôko Uraji,Reiko Fujiwara,Chitose Maki,Kyôko Kishida, Takeshi Katô and Kô Nishimura
The famed Ninja Ishikawa Goemon is caught in an embarrassing scandal by his master. Now, Goeman is blackmailed into performing many deeds by his master. After which Goeman starts to question his life as a ninja but must cross path with the unstoppable Oda Nobunaga.
Ninja 1 deceptively masks its true plot for a good while until it reveals itself. Much of the intrigue is build on the schemes of a sly old master. Though, the plot might take a good while to come into effect. Much of the first half of the film feels like an awkward prologue in need of some adjustment. The first half might contribute to some pacing problems, yet it is far from being boring and captivating in its own right. Ninja 1’s first half builds up a lingering mystery that is at least captivating one though the motivations around it can be confusing. It’s carnal pleasures you won’t expect and a slight surrealism that asks you to do a double take. The lingering mystery energizes the narrative with a strong suspense. The strong suspense even extends to the small moments.
Despite featuring such a high profiled historical figure, Ninja 1 isn’t at its strongest when it pretends to be a historical drama. But, the much of the narrative’s strength arises when it focuses on the grueling experience of a ninja. The life of a ninja is a constant hardship where death hangs over you. Goemon initially hopes to rise through the ranks and to have a comfortable life some day, but these hopes are dashed. Goemon’s readiness for violence is less about the valor of his ninja profession, but rather a necessity for survival. So, the violence has this visceral feeling to it. Goemon’s story is filled with a shocking amount of soul-searching. To the point, the narrative has this existential overtone that makes Goemon’s journey quite a personal one. Goeman wants a life beyond being a ninja but his past isn’t willing to let go of him. So, Goeman’s romance with Maki ends up being more than a tacked-on romance. The relationship comes to represent what Goeman wants out of life.
The finale is an important set-piece where all of the various sides fatefully collide. Nearly everything is overturned but without any cinematic flair of an action film but more akin to the chaos of a war movie.
Ninja 1 is a shadowy mystery that is interspersed with a powerful story of a young man searching for something more in his life than the harsh life of a ninja.