Shadow Hunters and Shadow Hunters 2

Shadow Hunters
Toshio Masuda
Year: 1972
Rating: 6.0

This 1972 Chanbara based on a Manga is certainly bloody enough for most fans of the genre with more decapitated heads than I could keep up and enough spurting blood to give the Trevi Fountain some competition. Throw in a small portion of nudity and you know you are no longer in the period of the Chivalrous Samurai films of most of the 1960's. With more graphic violence and nudity trending in many of the film industries around the world, Japan joined in. Not only in samurai films but Yakuza as well and an entirely new genre of what was termed Pinku films that took nudity, exploitation and sex to a new place.

This is fairly entertaining with an enormous kill count (if you find that entertaining) but it never reaches for much more than that. It doesn't have as much emotional resonance as it tries for as those elements drown in a puddle of blood. But action it has in a number of set pieces with hordes of ninjas attempting to kill the three protagonists of the film. And everyone loves ninjas and ninjas versus samurai is the coolest of all worlds. The samurais all serious and honorable slicing and dicing their way through their enemies - and the ninjas with their disguises, star darts, sneaky ways, jumping backwards into trees,  traps and ambushes are just great fun and a creative director can do much more imaginative things with ninjas than samurai who are a bit one note in terms of action. And there are some lovely tricks they use here.

But the problem in this film is that the ninjas are terrible fighters. Who trained these guys? You are going to convince me that fifty or more ninjas can't kill three samurai with all their weapons and clever ingenuity?  Here they have a very bad habit of running into sharp swords. Very un-ninja like. You are ninjas. Act like one. Not fodder. Perhaps I go on too much but in every action scene the ninjas just get wiped out. You needed the fighting to be less one-sided to be interesting.

The film opens with a gruesome scene - arms and legs strewn all over the place like a rummage sale. A group of men have been massacred by the Shadows. The Shadows are a secretive group of ninjas doing the dirty work for the Shogun. The Shogun is in need of money and wants to incorporate the lands and riches of areas run by Daimyos. He sends these Shadows in to create a reason that legally allows him to take over with the Daimyo ending up having to commit Seppuku. His eye is now on a small clan deep in the mountains - who have discovered gold. The Daimyo is a small boy but his Chamberlain hires three men who are Shadow Hunters. All three have a background that makes them want to take revenge against them. These are Jubai (Yûjirô Ishihara) with a scraggly beard that could hide a nest of sparrows and his two compatriots Moonlight ( Mikio Narita) and Sunlight (Ryôhei Uchida). All three are magnificent killers and they have a lot of work to do as they have to safeguard a document all the way to Edo with ninjas popping up everywhere to kill them. Directed by Toshio Masuda.

There is a sequel which I will shortly get to.

Shadow Hunters 2: Echoes of Destiny (1972) - 6.5
Director: Toshio Masuda
Year: 1972
Rating: 6.0

The Three Amigos are back in this sequel to Shadow Hunters - both made in the same year. There was not a third in the series but about ten years later there was a Japanese TV show. The three friends are Ronin - all having lost their master to the deceit of the Shogun and his Oniwaban  (government Ninjas called Shadows) and their prime purpose for living and not dying with their master is revenge. Simply to kill as many Shadows as possible - thus called Shadow Hunters. And kill them they do. By the end of these two films the Ninja population was dramatically smaller. As is true of the Kunoichis - female Ninjas. This film introduces a number of Kunoichis into the story line and that is always a good thing. Their main weapon is seduction and a needle in the neck while in the act of sex. Which strikes me as very cruel. At least let the man finish. That is only being polite.

The film takes about one second to bring on the gore and action. The Shadows attack the Shadow Hunters separately - Jubei (Yūjirō Ishihara) is in a hot spring when five friendly ladies appear and take off their clothes and flirt with him - in hopes he would let his guard down. They were wrong. Jubei has lost interest in women since he had to assist his master in Seppuku years before. Not the same with Sunlight (Ryōhei Uchida) who has a problem keeping his zipper up and tries to nail every woman in sight - most who turn out to be killers. He is caught again by the Ninjas in a prone position. Finally Moonlight (Mikio Narita) is in the middle of gambling when a band of ninjas interrupt. Bad idea.

This time a small Daiymo hires them to transport a huge cannon from where it was made up in the mountains to their castle through rough terrain and many ambushes. Weapons have been outlawed by the Shogun and if they are shown to have a working cannon they will have to give up their lands. They are joined by the daughter of the cannon maker who is played by Junko Natsu (Three Pretty Devils) - and it is her performance that gives the film some emotional weight. Like the first one the film suffers from ninjas basically running into swords like blind lemmings. The Ninja Association should have sued. Still a few great kills - sword through the mouth and one through a woman's breast - with blood spurting like an Olympic event.

Yūjirō Ishihara was a top star in the 1950s and 60s - Season of the Sun and Crazed Fruit are considered two of the classic New Wave films - but I have to admit to being unfamiliar with him and checking out his filmography I don't think I had seen any of this films till now. In pictures I see of him in his early days he was quite a handsome cool looking guy but by this time he has put on considerable weight and he often looks bored. Still these are fun trashy films and I wish there was another.