The Magic Serpent

Year: 1966
Tetsuya Yamanouchi
Rating: 5.5

Aka - The Battle of the Dragons
Aka - The Mystic Dragons' Decisive Battle

It is not too often that you come across a ninja-samurai-kaiju-fantasy film but here you go in this Toei production. Toei wasn't exactly known for its Kaiju films - that for the most part was Toho's domain with Godzilla, Mothra, Rodan, Ghidorah among others. Daiei had Gamera and Daimajin and Nikkatsu had Grappa but I don't think that Toei more than dabbled in this genre. Which might explain why they felt they needed the ninjas and the fantasy included. It also probably explains why the special effects are so amateurish and the Kaiji are so laughably bad. Yet charming in their way with some decent miniature sets that get destroyed and two guys in rubber suits doing their best. This feels like it might have been intended for children but hard to say - I have seen some Japanese children TV and they get pretty violent - way more than children shows in the USA. In their version of Captain Kangaroo he would have been gored by a monster on a regular basis.

But you can't beat the beginning with a stick - a swarm of ninjas invade Kasumi Castle, kill all the samurai protecting the Lord of the Castle and the head of the Ogata Clan. Then the Lord and his wife are murdered by betrayers who then go off to kill the young son of the Lord. But he escapes on a boat with some faithful retainers until a dragon rises out of the sea to try and kill him but a giant bird swoops in - wounds the dragon and escapes with the boy. All in the first five minutes. It slows down considerably after this!

Ikazuchimaru (to be called Ik from now on) is dropped off with a Master of martial arts and magic and brought up and trained by him. He teaches Ik some neat tricks - flying, sorcery, magic and an ability to have his head cut off and continue fighting and then put it back on. Something we all wish we could do. Eventually of course he grows into a man and goes off to reclaim his castle and kill the evil-doers. Along the way he picks up a young lass in search of her father who ran off 20 years ago. Her grandmother warns her that she won't like what she finds and then shrinks and disappears. We don't see the Kaiju again until near the very end when the dragon battles a toad and a spider shows up. That was fun. I mean the whole fun was sort of fun on a 10-year old level. Which is what I feel like when I watch the old Kaiju films.

Some good actors portrayed the two main combatants - Hiroki Matsukata (Ik) who goes through most of the film in smiling genial fashion except when he is killing was in tons of Yakuza films later on - three times in Kinji Fukasaku's Battles Without Honor and Humanity series. And Ryutaro Otomo was a major player in many samurai films including portraying Tange Sazen in a bunch of films.