There’s no shortage of Kunoichi (female ninja) movies, adult or otherwise in Japan, though the porn variety, both soft and hard, seems to far outweigh the straight-laced action efforts - or perhaps I’m just watching the wrong kind of movies. In recent years Ryuhei Kitamura’s Azumi has stood out amongst this relatively obscure sub-genre and gained quite a little following; its success leading on to a sequel and few imitators. Hiroyuki Kawasaki’s Lady Ninja Kasumi surfaced in 2005 where it rode
mightily on the coat tails of Kitamura’s 2003 hit, but instead specifically targeted the Pink Cinema crowds: those who would have liked to have seen Aya Ueto take her kit off first time around. Although the film itself is also based on a popular enough manga, namely Sanada Kunoichi Ninpo-den: Kasumi by manga-ka Jin Hirano and author Yoji Kanbayashi, Lady Ninja Kasumi does indeed bare an uncanny resemblance to Azumi and indeed Azumi 2 in terms of plot mechanics, the only difference of course being that it retains all the nudity, unlike its forbearer which skimped on such delights despite the original comic showing Azumi in the buff loads. Both tales essentially take place around the turbulent and real life Battle of Sekigahara in the year 1600. In Azumi the battle has ended and the Tokugawa Shogunate enlists a master samurai to train a band of assassins with the intent to wipe out the clan of Toyotomi Hideyoshi - who would later go on to unify Japan.
In Lady Ninja Kasumi the battle of Sekigahara is underway. Former Tokogawa Ieyasu follower Sanada Yukimura has set up fortress at Ueda Castle, Osaka, where he now trains promising young warriors who have high hopes of becoming Shinobi. The Tokugawa and western army leader Ishida Mitsuri are squabbling, while Sanada is left worrying about the neighbouring clan of Sengoku, located in Komoro. His most promising student is a young orphan named Kasumi, who had been adopted by Sanada after the death of her father, and who now is about to face her first mission. One of Sanada’s spies has gone missing and now Kasumi must head out to Sengoku to find out why. After she encounters a baddie during her mission she collapses due to a small scratch (which is meant to be a sword gash btw) and is taken to Tsubakiya Lodge where’s she looked after by a young fellow named Shingo. He takes quite a fancy to her and they strike up a friendly relationship, although Kasumi keeps the details of her profession a secret from him. But Kasumi realises that she cannot stay with Shingo, and so she leaves, soon getting back on the trail and uncovering some mysteries surrounding some local folk. Love, loss, betrayal and all that gubbins take place.
Although its historical value is hardly cause for debate when this is essentially soft-core porn, Lady Ninja Kasumi is simply a poorly made film no matter what angle you look at it from. Under the given circumstances the idea of female ninjas getting down and dirty for the good of their country seems like a pretty sound idea, so then why is it so boring? Director Kawasaki wastes plenty of opportunities. He moves from one set up to the next with some efficiency; his often stable camera telling the story swiftly, but there’s no sense of tension or style as it brings forth a never-ending stream of supporting characters (complete with Azumi style intros), flashbacks and potentially dramatic showdowns, which ultimately degenerate into slow, poorly choreographed numbers in which Kasumi effortlessly strikes down several supposed sword masters, before running off to engage the next one in this slightly convoluted introduction to her world.
For reasons I’m not entirely sure of the role of Kasumi is taken on by a different idol/actress for each instalment, though it’s likely in a bid to keep the Sex-O-Meter fresh. In this debut outing our heroine is played by Yonmi. Not that she destroys the film, but she certainly doesn’t help it in any form, aside from having nice, perky breasts. Lady Ninja Kasumi feels as if every scene was done in one take; Yonmi fights with swords (badly), screws her face up, cries and screams (even less convincingly) and doesn’t really “go for it” during her one love-making scene, which merely exploits her character’s virginal state. I shouldn’t really blame her too much given that it’s just another movie starring an idol actress with limited film experience, whose only purpose is to stand there and look pretty; a shame though judging the production run, in which she seems to be having a lot of fun overall, and she is quite likeable all the same. As what is undoubtedly its main draw it even disappoints in its adult content. It’s almost impossible to believe that the director is a veteran of these types of movies, with everything here suggesting that Kawasaki wouldn’t know how to direct engaging or fun sex scenes if Russ Meyer rose from the grave and gave him pointers. There’s no flow to them, with the camera often fixated on a single point in frame for stupidly lengthy amounts of time, while we get the obvious flashes of breasts in-between to try and make up for it. Four such scenes take up a total of fifteen minutes, which leaves an hour’s worth of rushed storyline, which we’ve all seen before, and a collection of characters we really don’t care about. I suppose at least this pastiche offers some kind of unintentional comic value, which comes down to one or two totally inept shots, poor special effects and over the top acting (especially the death scenes). Do I really need to make this review any longer than it already is?
The DVDLady Ninja Kasumi: Vol 1 is part of Media Blasters’ Tokyo Shock sub-label and is also the first in three volumes to date that they’ve licensed.
The film is presented with a non-anamorphic 1.85:1 transfer, which is often the trouble with these low-budget DV productions that see releases on DVD. The image is reasonably good, despite being interlaced and exhibiting minor artefacts and cross colouring. Clarity is fine, as is the overall colour palette, with little else for me to add.
Likewise the Japanese DD track is decent enough, offering little in the way of excitement, but sounding undoubtedly as it’s intended to. Dialogue and effects are clear, so there’s little else for complaint. The optional English subtitles are very good, with no grammatical or timing errors.
The Production Diary is a 29 minute look at the making of the film which took place in the summer of 2005. It goes through the usual introductions and shows various location shoots and choreographing, along with quick chats between cast and crew members during set-ups. The interviews with Yonmi are quite fun and she comes across as a lovely person, though the interviewer does like to ask her the occasional oddball question.
The Selected Sexy Scenes is entirely pointless, or not, depending on your view. It’s fifteen minutes’ worth of sex scenes taken directly from the film, just in case you really did want to bypass the whole story thing.