Ninja Scroll (獣兵衛忍風帖 Jūbē Ninpūchō?) is a Japanese action thriller anime set in feudal Japan, by critically acclaimed director/writer Yoshiaki Kawajiri who was best known for his previous thriller Wicked City (Yōjū Toshi). The character designs were done by Yutaka Minowa. The movie is in homage to the Ninpōchō series, ninja novels by Futaro Yamada. The main character, Kibagami Jubei, is an hommage to the famed Japanese samurai folk hero Yagyū Jūbei Mitsuyoshi.
The movie was released on June 5, 1993, and received a Western release on December 6, 1995. The movie was also released in some regions as Jubei Ninpucho: The Wind Ninja Chronicles. It is licensed by Manga Entertainment in North America. Ninja Scroll won the Citizen's Award at the 1993 Yubari International Fantastic Film Festival. Ninja Scroll is among the most popular anime movies outside of Japan, along with such movies as Akira and Ghost in the Shell. It was well-received in its depiction of the ninja and Japanese legendary creatures such as the Stone Golem and the Blind Assassin.
Five years before the start of the film, the Yamashiro Clan's chief retainers (Vassal lords) dig gold out of a secret mine behind their Lord's back. The Lord of the Yamashiro clan wants to have the gold for himself, but his forces aren't strong enough, so he cannot act alone. He also can't go to the government first, because they would take the gold if they knew about the mine. He orders his Ninja team, led by Himuru Gemma, to assassinate the Chief Retainers, claiming he would then report the mine to the government. Jubei Kibagami and Shinkuro are members of this Ninja Team. After the Chief Retainers are murdered, the Yamashiro Lord doesn't report the mine to the government. Later, Gemma orders Shinkuro and others to kill Jubei, hoping they would all kill each other, thus eliminating everyone who knew about the mine. Reluctantly, Jubei kills Shinkuro and the others in self-defense. While Gemma is riding along a pass, Jubei springs from the snow and cuts off his head to avenge Shinkuro and the others. Jubei then becomes a wandering swordsman-for-hire.
Sometime later, Gemma reincarnates himself, and over the next five years, becomes leader of the Devils of Kimon, who in turn work for the Lord of the House of Toyotomi (The Shogun of the Dark). The House of Toyotomi holds a grudge against the current government, the Tokugawa Shogunate, and wants to overthrow it. Gemma tells the Shogun of the Dark, the location of the secret mine. Meanwhile, Tokugawa Government spies are trying to determine where the mine is. The Shogun of the Dark sends the Devils of Kimon to protect the Yamashiro clan from the government spies and government intervention in return for gold from the mine.
The Yamashiro clan sends a large shipment of gold to the Shogun of the Dark, but the ship is wrecked in a storm on the coast near Shimoda Village, in Mochizuki Clan territory. Gemma and the Devils of Kimon are sent to recover the gold. They wipe out Shimoda Village by poisoning the wells to get rid of any witnesses. They make it look as if a plague has killed the villagers.
The next night, a team of Mochizuki Koga Ninja is sent to investigate the plague in Shimoda village, but on their way they are slaughtered. The only survivor is Kagero, who is captured and raped by her assailant, a huge stone golem called Tessai. Rescued by the wandering mercenary ninja Jubei Kibagami, Kagero escapes to continue her mission, while Tessai vengefully pursues Jubei. Tessai succeeds in ambushing Jubei but is killed.
Tokugawa shogunate spy Dakuan, who had been observing Jubei, reveals that Tessai belonged to a ninja group known as the Devils of Kimon, who will constantly attack him to avenge the death of their comrade. Calling his bluff, Jubei is fatally poisoned by Dakuan in an attempt to force Jubei into his employ, the reward for his service being 100 pieces of gold and the antidote to his poison, which will kill him in under a day. The two unite with Kagero to determine the Devils of Kimon agenda and how it relates to the mysterious plague in Shimoda village. Dakuan continues the main investigation on his own, using Jubei and Kagero as decoys, who must constantly fend off deadly attacks from the remaining members of the Devils of Kimon, the leader of whom is reputed to be Jubei's old nemesis Gemma, who was killed several years previously. Later on, Dakuan reveals to Kagero that the poison in Jubei can only be cured if she sleeps with him, much to her shock. During this she is caught off guard and kidnapped by the Devil Shijimi, but is later rescued by Jubei.
The Devils of Kimon and their ninjas recover the gold and move it by cart to nearby Kishima Harbor, to have it picked up by another ship and sent to the Shogun of the Dark. Jubei, Kagero, and Dakuan attempt to stop them, but Kagero is killed by Gemma, who was impersonating her lord the Mochizuki Clan Chamberlain, Sakaki Hiyobu. In her dying moments, Jubei rushes to Kagero's aid, who confesses her love for him and the two share a kiss before she passes away, curing Jubei of his poison. Jubei fights through hundreds of ninja to get to the ship as it is casting off. Dakuan has also sneaked on to the ship.
On the ship, a Toyotomi Retainer and Gemma discuss the Shogun of the Dark's plan for the gold. The Shogun of the Dark plans to use the gold to buy advanced guns from Spain and to overthrow the government. Gemma reveals that he had planned to steal the gold for himself all along, to use it to raise the largest army of ninjas ever. He ultimately plans to rule the country from the shadows. Gemma kills the Toyotomi retainer, and takes over the ship. Meanwhile, Jubei and Dakuan sneak into the hold of the ship, and in a fight with Sakuro, the ship is set on fire.
Gemma goes down to the hold, and in a final battle with Jubei amongst the flames, he falls into the molten gold. Jubei and Dakuan escape the burning ship while Gemma's golden body sinks with the rest of the gold to the bottom of the sea.
Ratings and censorship
In 1995, the BBFC cut the UK version by approximately 52 seconds. This included a rape scene and images of imitable weaponry. The UK and Australian DVDs were affected by these cuts — it was not censored in Australia but the Australian DVD was an exact copy of the UK disc. In 2004 the footage was reinstated and the movie in both countries was released uncut.
The film was initially given an MA15+ rating by the OFLC in Australia. In 1996, following an uncut screening of the film on free-to-air television, the Federal Attorney General lodged an application to review the classification of the film. As a result of this, the film's classification was upgraded to an R18+ rating, meaning television airings must be censored as R18+ material cannot be screened. Confusion often occurs due to the re-rating as well as the BBFC cut — someone could purchase the BBFC-cut R18+ DVD thinking it contained more graphic material than an MA15+ VHS copy, only to discover it contained less.
A Japanese animated television series named Ninja Scroll: The Series aired in Japan in 2003 and ran for 13 episodes. The series is partly written by Yoshiaki Kawajiri, but remains only a spiritual sequel to the film because the story stands alone; however, many references suggest that it is indeed a continuation from the movie. In the series, Jubei gets caught in the middle of a battle between the Kimon Clan and the Hiruko Clan. He meets up with the Light Maiden Shigure, a young lady whose village was destroyed by the Kimon Clan and whom Jubei was charged with delivering a Dragon Stone to. The duo are joined by Tsubute (a young thief) and Dakuan (Tokugawa shogunate spy), and together they try to find out why both the Kimon and the Hiruko Clan are after her and why the Dragon Stone she carries is so important to them. The show was directed by Tatsuo Sato (Martian Successor Nadesico), with character design done by Takahiro Yoshimatsu (Trigun).
An official sequel, Jūbē Ninpūchō 2, is classed as in production with no specific release date. The film is scheduled to be written and directed by Yoshiaki Kawajiri, and will most likely be released in the west as Ninja Scroll 2.
In North America, the Ninja Resurrection anime films were marketed as sequels to Ninja Scroll, but were actually created by a separate animation studio. The only similarities they share is a lead character named Jubei. The Jubei in Ninja Resurrection was famed swordsman Yagyū Jūbei, not Jubei Kibagami from Ninja Scroll.
A soundtrack was released titled Jubei Ninpucho (Ninja Scroll) with music composed by Kaoru Wada from the movie. Tracks 8 and 15 are composed and sung by Ryouhei Yamanashi with lyrics by Shou Jitsukawa.
- "Eight Warriors of the Demon Clan"
- "Blood Wind"
- "Devil Shadow"
- "To Those Who Face the Wind"
- "Devil Swordsman"
- "Struggle to the Death"
- "Somewhere, Faraway, Everyone is Listening to a Ballad"
In October 2008, Warner Bros. began development of a live-action remake of the anime. The production companies Appian Way, Madhouse Productions, and Jungo Maruta are involved in development. Screenwriter Alex Tse, co-writer of the movie adaptation of Alan Moore's Watchmen, was hired to write the adapted screenplay.
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- Ninja Scroll (anime) at Anime News Network's Encyclopedia
- Ninja Scroll at the Internet Movie Database