Following a recent plague epidemic in the village of Shimoda, a group of Koga ninja is sent in to investigate under the direction of the local Chamberlin. Before reaching the village the clan is intercepted by stone skinned assassin by the name of Tessai, who while using a double bladed sword as a boomerang methodically dispatches the Koga ninja one by one until their remains but a single Kunoichi (female ninja) by the name of Kagero.
Frantically Kagero attempts a hasty retreat, but her efforts prove fruitless as she's eventually knocked unconscinece and taken captive by Tessai, and brought to a near by hut, where Tessai proceeds to start unclothing and maliciously starts to rape her. Fortunately Jubei Kibagami, a wandering Ninja, just so happens to be lurking in the shadows of the hut, and by maiming Tessai in the eye with a throwing dart is able to provide an adequate outlet for Kagero and himself to escape the clutches of a now enraged Tessai.
Shortly after their getaway Kagero abruptly declares it’s time to part ways, and bounds off to her lord to report the decimation of her fellow Ninja. Not long after, Jubei is attacked once more by the formidable stone skinned Tessai. All seems lost, as Jubei’s attacks seem to go unheeded when unexpectedly Tessai’s stone armoring begins to crumble. Jubei takes advantage of this, using Tessai’s own boomeranging technique to against him. A peculiar observing Monk congratulates Jubei of victory over who he asserts to be one of the "Eight Devils of Kimon”, but exclaims it was aided by the help of the Kunoichi he rescued earlier.
Later Jubei seeks to take refuge at nearby hot spring; he becomes transfixed by the serpent tattoos on the back of a nearby female bather. He slowly begins to lose himself, hypnotized as the snakes appear to begin to approach him slowly, when he’s brought jarringly alert after a shuriken strikes him squarely in the upper arm. Jubei makes a mad lunge at the woman gripping at her shoulders but astonishingly is left but with an exoskeleton of skin reminiscent to the sheddings left by a snake.
Once more the old Monk appears, revealing his name to be Dakuan, and that he’s a spy for the Tokugawa Shogunate. Dakuan states that he is working in effort to stop the “shogun of the dark” from reinstating the former Toyotomi shoguns rule. After several failed attempts to lure Jubei into working for him, Dakuan reveals that the shuriken he struck Jubei with to be poisoned. Stating that Jubei must work with him, to have any hopes of survival by acquiring the antidote. With only two days of life ahead of him without it, Jubei has no choice but to follow Dakuan on his quest.
Shortly thereafter Dukuan makes the claim that the head of the “Eight Devils of Kimon” is none other than Gemma, a man Jubei had beheaded nearly five years prior in revenge for the betraying his ninja clan. Once again we see the appearance of Kagero, who after aiding Jubei in another skirmish with the serpent assassin from the spring named Benisato, she reluctantly joins Dukuan and Jubei in hopes of discovering the mystery surrounding the events which have recently taken place around the village of Shimoda, at the behest of her lord. It is also around this time we discover Kagero’s secret, as a poison taster for her lord she also caries the ultimate female wepon. Anyone who tries to sleep with her, or come in contact with her will become poisoned. Such was the case with Tessai, and why his amour of stone had began to crumble durring his fight with Jubei.
Ninja Scroll originates from writer/director Yoshiaki Kawajiri (Wicked City, Vampire Hunter D: Bloodlust), with character designs by Yutaka Minowa. The film is said to be homage to Ninpōchō, a series of Ninja novels from author Futaro Yamada, with the main character of Jubei Kibagami, a nod to the legendary Samurai Jubei Yagyu. Several more of the characters are taken from Japanese folk lore as well, such as the Blind Swordsman and Stone Gollum. The film was released theatrically in Japan in 1993, finally making its way stateside in 1996.
Over the Years Ninja Scroll has proved invaluable in introducing Japanese Anime to the western market, and its easy to see why. It’s sylish, and amazingly well animated with vivid detailing. The fast pacing of the storyline and action is well suited, amidsdt the brimming flow of bloody violence and intricate fight sequences.
Ninja Scroll, or "Jūbee Ninpūchō" as it's known in Japan takes full advantage of the Ninja’s cinematic lore, something many westerners who grew up in the 80’s have a huge soft spot for. With a slight inherently convoluted, yet on the surface easily enough to follow storyline, it provides an inviting presence to those of a weaker attention span, yet retains enough depth, and memorable characters to keep things fresh and interesting for all.
The combination of the beloved and well known subject matter, a long with the streamlined action, graphic violence and visually pleasing animation makes a formidable entry into the vast realm of Japanese Anime. Be forewarned there are graphically depicted instances of rape, and with the abundance of gore and sexuality this is most definitely not for children.
With the easy accessibility and notoriety does come a price, due to the strong violence and sexuality that Ninja Scroll contains, as an entry point into Anime the genre as a whole is often forced to bear the stigma of mindless gratuity. This paired with other cutesy and silly themed faces of Anime such as Pokemon have been known to alienate more "mature" or "reserved" or just plain shallow minded audiances, casting an undeserved shadow over some truly great pieces of cinema which tend to vary in theme the same as any other outlet of film does.
For those more accustomed to Anime or Japanese cinema in general you really won’t find anything new or ground breaking here, in fact there are numerable notably more groundbreaking and cutting edge representations of Japanese Anime to be had for those who care to seek them out. Yet it remains a solid entry essentially on all counts, entertaining for the initiated and uninitiated alike, something openly palatable to most all audiances.
On a related side note, in 2003 Ninja scroll was brought to the small screen in the form a 13 episode television series partially written by Yoshiaki Kawajiri and directed by Tatsuo Sato. The Story once again focused on the exploits of Jubei Kibagami, and Dukan the shogunate spy from the original film but is of a decidely lessar quality. Yoshiaki Kawajiri is also said to be in pre-production on the films sequel, Ninja Scroll 2.