Ninja Kids!!! (Nintama Rantarô) (2011)
Directed by Takashi Miike
[part of the NYAFF 2011, WORLD PREMIERE]
Keeping up with all the films Takashi Miike makes is like a full time job. I just haven't had time to watch his recent flicks. I've got The Great Yokai War sitting on my computer, I passed up multiple chances to see Miike's latest film 13 Assassins and for some unknown reason I keep figuring I'll checkout Yatterman eventually.
So I decided I wouldn't let Ninja Kids!!! World Premiere at the NYAFF pass me by. The film isn't even out in Japan yet! So I was one of the lucky people last weekend who would be the first to see Miike's latest flick. Miike's been all kinds of serious with his samurai movies (13 Assassins and Hara-Kiri: Death of a Samurai are critically acclaimed soon to be masterpieces). But I was itching to see vintage weirdo Miike. Where was my Ichi/Happiness of the Katakuris/Zebraman/Dead or Alive Miike? Well it seems he was saving all his WTF crazy and put it all into Ninja Kids.
Ninja Kids is like Spy Kids on acid. Think Harry Potter but with over the top ninjas and slapstick comedy. It's a cute Japanese family film with a Miike insanity mixed in. And it works from start to finish. It's super duper funny, has some dog poop humor and a ton of CGI madness that only Miike could think up. Based on a long running Japanese TV show called Rantaro the Ninja Boy, it's filled with humor that's international in the LOLs. It's got visual wackiness, self aware parodies and villains that are basically clowns with swords and ninja stars.
What you get is a family comedy that leaves you feeling freakin awesome after you leave the theater. Ninja Kids is heartwarming Japanese wackiness, the Miike way.
Exchanging noble samurai for kid ninjas has let Miike get back in touch with his wild side. This big budget, big screen version of popular Japanese kid’s show Rantaro the Ninja Boy (running for 1,437 episodes and counting!) this is like Harry Potter if Harry Potter was a ninja who hid underground and killed people with bamboo darts and ninja bombs.
Young Rantaro is from a family of low class ninjas and he’s sent off to first grade at Ninja School by his parents who hope that one day he’ll grow up to be a respectable middle class ninja. But he’s hardly at school for five minutes when a classmate – literally – has the snot beaten out of him, the headmaster starts exploding and more wild and wooly ninja tricks than you can hit with a throwing star are zipping off the screen.
Seishirô Katô is a popular child actor in Japan. In Ninja Kids!!! he plays Rantaro, who goes off to Ninja School so that he can fulfull his parents wishes of becoming a great ninja instead of a "low class ninja". Here he meets his classmates who range from a sleepy kid with snotty nose to a soon to be gun marksman to an orphan who brings his babysitting work to class!
Suffice it to say, they go to each class and learn the ways of the ninja. From ninja stars to climbing to explosives, it's all in a school day when training to be a master ninja. They are taught by Mr. Doi, their sensei and a dean of students who has a knack of dodging ninja stars and landing in dog poop.
Rantaro has some Ferris Bueller qualities. He breaks the 4th wall and talks to the audience. The film is totally self aware. In the middle of battles a mysterious disfigured ninja breaks through the setting literally and explains a particular weapon. It's completely WTF and it's just plain super awesome. Ninja Kids is full of other wacky moments and you never know what you'll see next.
As Rantaro and his fellow 1st graders learn from their masters, they also start observing the other grades. 2nd to 5th are all represented and are getting quite good at their art. From the art of deception to explosives to booby trapping and also plain old kicking ass, the ninja academy is quite the student body.
Well eventually we get a plot which to say the least isn't the best in the world. From what I can gather, some other ninja clans are out to kill friends of Mr. Doi. This leads to some assassination attempts that are foiled by the students. In the final scenes, the masters enact a contest where the evil ninja clan must race with the 1st graders to ring a bell on top of a mountain. It's a hilarious conclusion where Grades 1-5 outsmart their not so smart and hideous looking henchmen ninjas in a variety of ways. Along the way we're treated to various WTF moments that could only come from across the Pacific on those islands of Japan.
The humor is top notch, never losing anything in translation. All the jokes hit the mark and others well they hit the outer rings. When our bad guys get pounded, we see bright red ping pong balls on their head which represent their "lumps" in a cartooney way. Sure, not all the jokes work but Miike has a way of figuring out what Japanese and Western audiences will find funny and when somebody falls in a hole with his bomb, that's just universally cartoon funny.
Ninja Kids!!! is a Japanese family film I'd take my 10 year old and 6 year old nephews too. I saw a lot of kids in the audience and people of all ages. The crowd was laughing in pure ecstasy from all the visual gags and one liners that were relentlessly onscreen.
Sure I'll be catching up on all my Miike films eventually. I hear 13 Assassins has a insane hour long battle scene and Yatterman is also an live action anime filled with craziness. I prefer my Miike with a side of WTF and a steaming cup of cuteness. Takashi Miike is sort of like the Robert Rodriguez of Japan. Rodriguez will follow up a grindhouse masterpiece like Machete with Spy Kids 4. The only difference is Miike makes more films in a year than R.R. does in 3.
And his kid's flicks are just plain better.
Cartooney violence without the anvils
Snot kid's snot is elastic
The Jaded Viewer's Final Prognosis
NYAFF 2011 film festival opens on 7/1. I've created a list of films to check out at this year's festival. You can catch Ninja Kids world premiere on Saturday July 9th at 6pm at Japan Society (333 East 47th St)
Head over to the official site for more info.
I'm going to give this 3 and a half spinkicks. I'm only knocking half a spinkick because the plot was a little too goofy for my taste. Also, there were a few moments of musical flashbacks that didn't click for me and weren't that funny. Maybe something lost in translation?
Check out the trailer.
Teaser trailer with English subs!