Sunday, 17 January 2016

the ninja trilogy: enter the ninja

enter the ninja follows cole (franco nero), an american army veteran who has spent years training to be a ninja in japan. on graduating ninja school he decides to visit his friend frank who owns a farm in the phillipines. there he finds that frank and his wife are being harassed by a local organisation intent on taking all the oil-rich land in the area for themselves, and this gives cole the perfect opportunity to put his ninja skills to good use.

the opening of this film is a ten-minute sequence in which cole, a ninja in a white outfit, takes on a bunch of red ninjas and one ninja in a black outfit (sho kosugi) who seems to be some kind of super-ninja. cole beats them all and beheads his master, at which point it is revealed that it was all part of his training, even down to the fake beheading.

i came away from this sequence with a bunch of questions. what do the different colour outfits mean? is franco nero allowed to be a ninja? there are so many ninjas in this sequence, is this film set in ninjaland? why is his moustache so huge? are ninjas allowed moustaches? you can see it through his mask! how and why do you fake a beheading? do ninjas really need a ninja licence? what are ninjas anyway?

so i asked a couple of these questions on twitter (thanks to everyone who responded!) and apparently ninjas were a real thing, not just something invented by movies. in real life, however, they dressed like civilians to blend in, which makes much more sense. ninjas were mercenaries, hired for covert work like espionage and assassination and there's evidence of this in the film when the bad guys hire the black ninja to take on cole. i wassurprised the head of the ninja school wasn’t more concerned with who he was hiring out his ninjas too, but i suppose if you're a mercenary it doesn't really matter.

in between ninja battles, the film actually has quite a sombre tone with occasional moments of ridiculousness. there is one interesting juxtapositon in the film where frank recruiting farmers for his land is contrasted with the bad guy recruiting his thugs, and that part actually works quite well, but otherwise the underlying themes of the film are mostly to do with masculinity. there’s a subplot about frank’s impotence and failed masculinity in comparison with cole’s uber-alpha male that seems directly related to killing and the ability to kill. frank was in the army with cole and even saved his life, but whereas cole trained himself to become a super-assassin, frank has seemingly lost the will to fight and the film makes a clear connection between this and his inability to perform in the bedroom.

it almost seems like the power of the ninja is somehow connected to masculinity, with the black ninja being masculinity gone too far; with great manliness comes great responsibility. worryingly, both ninjas have a similar reaction when the first encounter frank's wife, the only woman in the film. when cole first meets her he wrestles a gun from her hands in a moment that’s one grope away from a sexual assault, and then when the black ninja first encounters her he cackles like a crazy person and takes great pleasure in manhandling her. this presents a troubling theme of women as playthings for men in stupid costumes; something that continues to happen in superhero movies today.

all you really need to know about this film is that the ninja stuff, which probably makes up about thirty minutes of its running time, is all pretty cool. i mean it’s insane and ninjas certainly use some bizarre tactics to get the job done, but because of that it all feels a bit different and interesting. the fight scenes are actually pretty good in places and there’s a satisfying amount of bloodshed, particularly in the final assault. it’s worth seeing for that, but be prepared for some dubious gender politics and dull plotlines along the way.

enter the ninja will be released by eureka entertainment as part of a 5-disc dual format (blu-ray & dvd) edition on 18th january 2016

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