Kamui Lone Ninja on DVD

Friday, 06 August 2010 07:46

Kamui is an expert ninja who strongly desires his freedom and consequently breaks away from his warrior clan. Unfortunately for our headstrong hero (played by Ken’ichi Matsuyama – “Death Note”, “Kaiji: The Ultimate Gambler”), such actions are forbidden and expose him to a deadly fatwa. He must spend the rest of his life trying to outrun, outfox or kill those sent to execute him.

During his travels he comes across a peaceful fishing village on a tropical island. Whilst he initially distrusts everyone around him, he gradually comes to accept the villagers and even begins to think he might finally be able to settle down. Meanwhile, a suspect gang of shark-hunting pirates lands on the island and offers their services. Kamui joins their ranks to help out but trouble is never far behind.

Kamui - The Lone Ninja on DVD and Blu-ray“Kamui: The Lone Ninja” is a colourful and wonderfully varied film. Directed by Yoichi Sai (“Blood and Bones”), it starts out as a slightly erratic sequence of fight scenes as a much younger Kamui flees for his life.

On the way he encounters a female ninja called Sugaru (Koyuki – “Blood: The Last Vampire”) who is also on the run. It is quite confusing as to who is chasing whom, and the film takes a while to find its footing.

The visual effects and ninja powers also take some getting used to, as Kamui and his foes can run up trees, launch themselves across vast gaps between branches and seem oblivous to the force of gravity. As in some less accomplished Hollywood movies, characters who flit about with the aid of computer graphics sometimes look weightless and unconvincing.

It is fortunate, then, that the movie turns the corner once you have acclimatised to and accepted its comic-book approach. The scope also opens up massively once the plot moves 14 years into the future and Kamui takes an ocean trip, washing up on the island. The film largely drops its kung fu trappings and becomes a swash-buckling adventure yarn.

It also accrues some emotional weight as Kamui works his way into the villagers’ hearts and they into his. A reluctant dependency forms, which ups the stakes when the ninja can never quite shake the feeling that another wave of assassins might track him down at any moment.

Central to the success of the movie are the dynamic relationships between Kamui and Sugaru, who he discovers is living a new life as Oshika, doting wife of Hanbei, the village chief (Kaoru Kobayashi), and between Kamui and Hanbei himself. Like our hero, Sugaru lives in a permanent state of fear that she will be hunted down and everything she holds dear will be lost, including her husband and children. Having encountered Kamui once before, she fears him more than anyone.

Hanbei almost causes the ninja to drown on their way to the island, so it takes quite a while for Kamui to relax in his presence and appreciate the fisherman’s welcoming attitude and village lifestyle.

Ultimately, “Kamui: The Lone Ninja” is a film of unexpected depth, warmth and drama, overlaid with the more obvious fight scenes and action sequences. The latter are always exciting, fluid and often inventive, and Matsuyama excels as a young but exceptionally gifted warrior. He lives by a code of honour that means he only kills when there is no other alternative (which is often the case, of course), and the actor perfectly captures the balance of pain and cold efficiency required to play the role.

The other actors are not found wanting, and are to a person engaging and ably bring their colourful parts to life.

The central island setting looks stunning and ensures that every frame is full of vivid colour and luscious detail, and that is just in the DVD version. One would hope that the Blu-ray alternative draw even more splendour from every shot. As mentioned above, the frequent use of CGI initially looks out of place but is soon accepted and it actually lends a sense of hyper-reality to some scenes.

Some of it is intentionally comical, such as when the pirates are displaying their shark-slaughtering prowess by slicing and dicing the deadly beasts mid-lunge, or alternatively opting to wait until they have been landed on the ship’s deck before wrestling them to death! This occasional sense of disarming humour means that when things become more serious, the emotional punch hits you harder.

The extras on the disc are a little disappointing, not least because there is no making-of documentary or commentary track. What we do get is a selection of scruffy interviews shot during publicity and gala events. Thankfully, a couple of these deliver enough information and insight from the cast and crew to earn their place. Given that the movie took at least two years to make (including one year of training and another actually shooting it, with interruptions when Matsuyama got injured), one might have expected more.

“Kamui: The Lone Ninja” (2009) is released on DVD and Blu-ray on 9th August, courtesy of Manga Entertainment. The running time of the main feature is 115 minutes approx, certificate ‘15’ and the movie retails for £15.99 on DVD, £19.99 on Blu-ray, or less from www.culttvstore.com

Last modified on Thursday, 10 May 2012 16:37

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