Director: Takashi Miike
Screenplay: Yoshio Urasawa, from Soubee Amako
Cast: Seishiro Kato, Takuya Mizoguchi, Futa Kimura, Takahiro Miura, Susumu Terajima
Producers: Atsushi Terada, Hiroshi Hattori, Toshiaki Nakazawa
Print Source: Shochiku Co., Ltd
2011 | 13 min
Rantaro… faito! Japan’s maniacal master of movie magic Takashi Miike has banged out about three films a year over the last two decades, from ultraviolent yakuza pictures through off-kilter genre pastiches to, well, possibly his most brutal, bash-’em-up work yet. That’s right, maestro of mayhem Miike’s gone and made a kiddie flick again! It merits its three exclamation points and rates five razor-sharp ninja stars out of five!
Over mountains, across meadows, through bustling markets and into savage battlefields thick with flying arrows and flashing swords, tousle-headed, bespectacled eight-year-old Rantaro runs to his first day at Ninja Academy. For generations, his family has been of low rank among ninjas, and his doting parents hope he’ll be the first of them to rise to the higher echelons. Rantaro immediately bonds with his classmates Shinbei, a lazy mess of a lad, and Kirimaru, a determined orphan. The boys’ studies, rock-climbing and throwing-star-throwing and the like, are fun, as is sneaking off to spy on the older students’ training — and on the mysterious Ms. Shina and her Girl Ninja class! But everyone knows that summertime is the best time when you’re a kid — a time for the rivalries, treachery and ferocious clashes in the shadowy world of the ninjas!
Amped up, over-the-top, jam-packed with slapstick whacks, smacks and blows to the head, Takashi Miike’s live-action adaptation faithfully captures Soubee Amako’s long-running gag manga Rakudai Ninja Rantaro (46 volumes and counting!) and spin-off anime TV series. Exactingly so in fact, with outrageous facial prosthetics recreating the comic strip’s assorted medieval ninja goons. Miike, the savvy shock merchant behind IZO, ICHI THE KILLER, AUDITION and dozens more, and a man truly dear to the Fantasia festival, isn’t entirely new to children’s cinema. His previous entries in that arena, THE GREAT YOKAI WAR and the two ZEBRAMAN films, were cunning, reflexive spins on Japanese pop fantasy icons. This time, however, Miike is less concerned with careful deconstruction than with carefree destruction. Which isn’t to say that the loopy, effects-soaked NINJA KIDS!!! lacks authentic charm, compassion and sweetness. It showcases a swell bunch of talented youngsters led by big-deal child TV star Seishiro Kato as Rantaro, and hey, total bonus — good ol’ gargoyle-faced Susumu Terajima, a Miike and Takeshi Kitano regular, is pinpoint-perfectly cast as the scowling teacher Denzo Yamada! Piping-hot fresh off its Japanese premiere, NINJA KIDS!!! is ready to pounce on Fantasia!