Riding the coattails of Ryuhei Kitamura’s excellent ninja-girl actioner, this isn’t so much a sequel as a softcore variant. Which happens a lot in Japanese cinema. Like Azumi (2003) and Azumi 2: Love and Death (2004), it’s based on a manga (in this case: Sanada Kunoichi Ninpo-den: Kasumi by artist Jin Hirano and writer Yoji Kanabashi), but unlike the earlier film retains all the sex and nudity present in its source. Leering topless shots over the opening credits set the tone.
As in Azumi, the action is set around the 1600s, amidst the real-life Battle of Sekigahara. An allegiance is formed between survivors of the Tokugawa Shogunate and rising feudal lord Ishida Mitsuri, while ninja master Sanada Yukimura trains the next generation of young assassins. His most promising student is Kasumi (Yon-mi), whom flashbacks reveal was rescued along with her infant brother from their war-ravaged village, having impressed Lord Ishida with her bravery. When one of their spies goes missing, Sanada sends Kasumi into the neighbouring Songoku clan’s territory, where she kills one of three brothers belonging to the evil White Tooth Brigade. Injured in battle (via an absurdly tiny scratch!), Kasumi is nursed back to health and romanced by happy-go-lucky Shingo, a member of the Songoku clan. He becomes her first lover, but their relationship is destined for a tragic end.
Meanwhile, a mysterious lone samurai coerces Kasumi’s street-peddler lady friend into heated sex. He also tasks a number of assassins to take out the Tokugawa ninja. After escaping the Songoku castle, Kasumi begins pondering whether the ninja life is really for her, until her best friend, a simpleminded ninja boy, is murdered by a mother and child team of assassins. So Kasumi swings into action. She also gets it on with Lord Ishida, which somehow reinvigorates the Tokugawa cause and leads to a would-be heartwarming reunion with her long-lost little brother.
Eroticism has always been a potent part of the ninja myth, what with their legendary sexual prowess, unorthodox use of bodily fluids and those sexy, mini-dress outfits ninja-girls always seem to wear even in more sober movies. Hard to follow and devoting most of its screen-time to tedious sex scenes, Lady Ninja Kasumi isn’t really much cop as either a sex romp or ninja adventure. Shot on digital video with competent production values, it resembles a TV drama, while Hiroyuki Kawasaki’s static camerawork ensures everything crawls at a snail’s pace. The action is uninspired, with a handful of arterial sprays and severed limbs as Kasumi mostly just waves her sword at the camera until somebody falls over. A stoic supporting cast tackle their roles with great seriousness, but lead actress Yon-mi simply doesn’t convince.
Amidst much breast-fondling and boring bump-n-grind, the film carries next to no erotic charge, largely because the characters are so dull and presented in such prosaic fashion. The one spark of imagination involves that mother-and-child duo. In a freakish twist, the latter is revealed as a contortion artist able to disguise himself as a little girl. By nights he dons a clown mask and pleasures his partner with a phallic nose. Yuck. For the most however, the film has precious little style or creativity and is the kind of thing Japanese cinema did much better thirty years ago. In spite of that it has spawned a whopping six sequels!