May 14, 2009

RED SHADOW (2001) - from the director of SAMURAI FICTION

(2001, Japan, Akakage)

Tragi-comedy ninja action in this homage to the beloved Toei series

I only started watching samurai movies relatively
recently. After overdosing on Asian horror, I dipped my toe into a few other genres. I tried some Akira Kurosawa classics, like The Seven Samurai, but struggled to appreciate them. I found the more recent, realistic dramas The Hidden Blade and The Twilight Samurai more accessible and impressive. I loved the sword-swinging action hits Princess Blade and Azumi. Hong Kong's House of Flying Daggers and Curse of the Golden Flower are full of truly impossible feats, and tremendous eye candy, but I don't feel the need to catch every epic. The same goes for the huge backlog of samurai and Chinese martial arts films through the decades. I'm looking for the more offbeat movies. The same way I prefer the westerns of Sergio Leone over John Ford. So I was very pleased to stumble upon Red Shadow.

It's a modern spin on a ninja hero. Based on a popular TV and film series produced by Toei Studios, who celebrated their 50th anniversary with this irreverent homage. The ninja heroes' ultra-athletic abilities are sent up with light, but not slapstick, comedy. While die-hard Red Shadow fans might not welcome this, there's also plenty of action and drama. The approach is much the same as director Hiroyuki Nakano's acclaimed Samurai Fiction (1998), also a modern update of the samurai genre.

Red Shadow focuses on three young ninja students who are part of a secret movement who use their special abilities to prevent civil war and unnecessary bloodshed. They can camouflage themselves in darkness, scale impossible walls, and defend themselves from any weapon. Red Shadow, Blue Shadow and female ninja buddy Asuka are given a mission to keep two clans from going to war. The three friends are in constant peril, and in danger of falling into a love triangle, in defiance of their ninja code.

If you liked Samurai Fiction, this is most definitely for you. Red Shadow is all-round entertaining and accessible. Jarringly, the soundtrack is techno music (which works for me), a technique Nakano also used in Samurai Fiction.

Composer/actor/pop star Hotei Tomoyasu makes an early cameo appearance and provides the magnificent electric guitar solo over the closing credits. I wish Tomoyasu was as famous in the west as his music - he wrote and performed one of the most famous tracks in Tarantino's Kill Bill: Vol 1.

I watched a blurry DVD from Hong Kong, which lost a lot of detail in the many night scenes, but there must be a better Japanese or US DVD edition out there for me to upgrade to for my next viewing.

For a taste of the action, here's a French trailer for Red Shadow on YouTube...

Also check out this promo for the 1960s Toei TV series, it has giant monsters!

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