Back in the early ’90s, I was part of a growing number of fans of Japanese animation in my country. In Italy we had been hit by a wave of anime since the second half of the ’70s, and then a decade later the floodgates opened with OAVs and movies. fanzines were printed, clubs were formed.
I said “in the early ’90s”, but it was actually in 1993 that I dropped out of that community, as I was starting to see things I did not like. What had been a passion, born of an interest for wild and wonderful stories and great art, was turning into a playing field for little Hitlers, people that wanted to dictate what people should or should not see – “why are you reading Marvel comics? You are supposed to be an Otaku!” – and a few individuals were starting to make an awful lot of money fleecing the fans.
I know I turned and walked away in 1993, because that was the year Ninja Scroll hit the screens.
And today at lunch break I watched it again for the first time in 28 years.
Written and directed by Yoshiyaki Kawajiri, Ninja Scroll is one of the most influential animation movies of the decade, and was quoted by the Wachowskis as one of the inspirations for action style in The Matrix – fittingly, Kawajiri would later contribute two episodes to the Animatrix project.
Set in feudal japan, Ninja Scroll deals with the investigation into a mysterious plague that has killed off a whole village. When the ninjas sent by the authorities to look into the matter are killed off, it falls to an unlikely trio of spies to solve the riddle and confront the bad guys.
Extremely violent, extremely stylish and beautiful to behold, Ninja Scroll was the high mark of anime when it came out in 1993, and if today the general public is probably more familiar with Akira or with Hayao Miyazaki’s Studio Gibli features, at the time, Kawajiri was considered an undisputed master of fantasy anime action.
His ultra-violent (for the time) films, filled with sex scenes and fountains of blood, were the reason why parents associations and other right-thinking groups started clamoring about the evils of anime. Indeed, everything bad you heard said about anime in the 20th century probably comes from Kawajiri’s Wicked City and Ninja Scroll.
And yet it’s a good movie.
The plot is straightforward, and acts as an excuse to align a string of action set pieces that 28 years on are still entertaining and fun. There is also a nice side of melodrama, which works fine. And the way Kawajiri uses color – often stealing his palette from the ukiyo-e style of painting, is still breathtaking.
So yes, it was fun.
There is also a TV series, I found out.
While I still steer clear of the local otaku underground, it might be interesting to look it up.