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  Ninja Wars Mistaken Identity
Year: 1982
Director: Kôsei Saitô
Stars: Hiroyuki Sanada, Noriko Watanabe, Akira Nakao, Sonny Chiba, Jun Miho, Yuki Kazamatsuri, Strong Kongô, Mikio Narita, Gajirô Satô, Noboru Matsuhashi, Akira Hamada, Seizo Fukumoto, Nokoda Kawai, Sanji Kojima, Hiroshi Tanaka, Tyrus Bromley, Syunji Sasamoto
Genre: Action, Fantasy, AdventureBuy from Amazon
Rating:  6 (from 2 votes)
Review: Back in Japan's history, there is a tale told of a daughter of a Shogun, Ukio (Noriko Watanabe), who hand in marriage was much desired, for it had been prophesised that whoever won her heart would go on to rule the country. She was a very beautfiul woman, which only made her more alluring to pretender Danjo (Akira Nakao), but she was also already wed to nobleman Miyoshi (Noboru Matsuhashi) who was currently ruling the land, so when the evil wizard Kashin (Mikio Narita) appeared and informed him that he would assist Danjo in his plans to usurp Miyoshi and win Ukio, he was all ears...

If Ninja Wars was noticed much outside Japan, it was because there was a rumour that Jackie Chan appeared in it, supposedly as a favour to one of its stars, Sonny Chiba, who played the lead samurai for Miyoshi's clan. Well, maybe Jackie is in this, but if he is he's well hidden, and it would not be recommended to watch simply to see him because you're likely to be disappointed. Those who did brave the film's plotting would often find that they were quickly baffled by who was supposed to be doing what to whom, leaving a movie with a serious message relegated to being laughed at by or irritating the casual viewer.

But Ninja Wars does make sense if you're willing to follow its convoluted logic, it's just that you may find yourself paying more attention than you really wanted to a Japanese fantasy epic, or more attention than you ever believed necessary. Once it has been established that Danjo is going to use a collection of five wicked sorcerers, the henchmen of Kashin, to ensnare Ukio, we are introduced to a ninja couple who are laughing and gambolling in a field. They are the very much in love Jotaro (Hiroyuki Sanada, a protege of Chiba's) and Kagaribi, who - and this seems to be the sticking point with many viewers - is played by the same actress who played Ukio, Noriko Watanabe (in her debut, and not to be confused with Sam Neill's wife).

Now, there's a reason for that double role, and that is our old friend, the head swapping storyline. What happens is that Kagaribi is Ukio's twin sister and captured by Danjo's men, and in a bid to escape, she and a concubine both commit suicide rather than face life enslaved to the schemers. They do this by that time honoured manner of death in Japanese fantasy movies, decapitation, and self-decapitation to boot, which gives the sorcerers a brainwave: why not use their powers to bring them back to life only with each other's heads on the other's bodies? It's something that must have occured to many of us at one time or another, er, or maybe not, but that is what transpires.

Only one of these head swapped women is in the thrall of Danjo, however, and the other escapes to warn Jotaro, who is naturally a bit put out at the news the love of his life has suffered this fate. Soon she is dead, and Jotaro is swearing revenge, which sets the scene for some very odd battles, including an example with a warrior who projectile vomits acid at his victims; our hero is hit, but magically survives (how else?) thanks to Chiba's sword. Jotaro is the man to watch here as the plots and plans grow ever more involved, so as long as you know that he is doing his best to disrupt the villains, you should be able to get along with the mixed up identities that obfuscate the amount of sense you can make of this. As ever with this sort of thing, you're guaranteed to see something unusual, like a powerful love potion that the whole kerfuffle hinges around, and prompts the true love is better than the false, concocted kind moral that is supposed to end this on a reflective note, but may leave you let down. Music by Toshiaki Yokota.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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