Director Takashi Miike, the acclaimed director of the 13 Assassins, Yatterman and Hara-Kiri, tries an attempt at pure comedy with Ninja Kids!!! Perhaps this film is really made for kids and as for the title, there is no misleading advertising. But, to stay on topic, I enjoyed many of the childish fun of this film, along with the great use of ridiculous over the top special effects and make up. Ninja Kids!!! is the live-action adaptation of a long-and-still-running anime series called Nintama Rantaro. This film tells the story of a young aspiring ninja Rantaro (Seishiro Kato), who comes from a low class ninja clan. Rantaro is sent to the Ninja academy in hope to become the best ninja ever under his family expectations.
Before I get into the meat and potatoes of the films’ critique, I think I should mention that I don’t speak very good Japanese. I had to rely on subs and from the minimal subtitles that only proved to confuse and annoy, to the windy microphones so even a Japanese speaker couldn’t understand what was being said, this film was hard to follow. The young actors in the film are very cute, you love them and laugh with them and you will gasp with amazement at their feats of dexterity. In fact, the film began brightly and the laughs, the sets and manga style comedic sequences are fun enough to watch and cute enough kids’ antics to make the 1st quarter works out in a promising manner. However, I can’t really say I enjoyed this film, as I found it very unfocused. This had a charm for a time, but I felt it wore thin eventually, and the fighting for the middle 40 minutes or so of the movie lacked any reason or possibility of resolution.
One day, some Usetake ninjas arrive at the house of flamboyant hairdresser Yukitaka Saito (Takeshi Kaga) and his son Takamura (Takuya Mizoguchi) 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 by joining a contest that ends with a race to ring a bell on top of a mountain. The goal seems pretty silly, sure, but perhaps this is in part because Ninja Kids can turn the cartoony aesthetic up to 11 without concern of being TOO cartoony. Although that is a good point, I did mention how strong the first half of the film was. Sadly, in the second half, the film loses its initial playfulness. Still, if you are one of our younger readers, this film will be right up your alley.
This is without a doubt, one of the most fun films I have seen in a long time. Although not the best Miike has offered up in recent years, it is still a fun little movie. So, I don’t mean to come down too hard on this film, which is appropriate and good enough for 4 – 10 year old to enjoy, with some very anime influenced make-up and costume designs. With the near 2 hour running time for this one, I would bet a 90 minute cut might be good enough to really recommend. Resonant and fantastical in equal measures, the resulting feature earns all three of its exclamation marks!!!