Mumon: The Land of Stealth / 忍びの国 / Shinobi no Kuni (2017)
Directed by: Yoshihiro Nakamura
Written by: Ryo Wada
Cast: Satoshi Ohno, Satomi Ishihara, Yuri Chinen, Yûsuke Iseya, Jun Kunimura
Review: I’ve liked a lot of the films by this director as he’s often managed to successfully combine serious moments with comedy. This movie is mainly a historical action comedy that falls in the Jidaigeki genre. Mumon is the best ninja in a region called Iga where ninja clans reside. Mumon (Satoshi Ohno, leader of super popular boy band Arashi) like many of his fellow ninjas only fights if the price is right. In one battle, Mumon kills a ninja of a rival clan for a reward. The dead ninja’s brother, Heibi (Ryohei Suzuki), is deeply saddened and seeks revenge only to be met with indifference by his clan’s leader and the rest of the clan. This leads to a chain of events that culminate in a battle between the ninjas of Iga and the armies of Nobukatsu Oda (Yuri Chinen), the second son of Nobunaga Oda.
The interesting thing about this movie is that, at times, I wasn’t actually sure who to root for. Mumon comes off as a goofy, happy go lucky ninja but then he kills Heibi’s brother in a pointless fight and you start to sympathize with Heibi. There actually isn’t a clear-cut good guys vs bad guys conflict in the movie. Even Nobukatsu isn’t shown as totally evil. He has a moment that does humanize him even though it follows an emotional outburst that comes off as unintentionally funny. Thankfully, one of his generals, Daizen (Yûsuke Iseya) takes appropriate action in response. The tone while mostly comedic does shift into serious moments, sometimes without warning. The climax and ending are definitely more serious.
One of the weaker aspects is the relationship between Mumon and his wife Okuni (Satomi Ishihara). It’s not well established at all. The latter half of the story, she makes some dramatic and significant decisions that greatly affect Mumon but they lose a bit of their impact because we don’t really see their relationship develop beforehand. Early on she mostly just shuts the door in his face when he brings measly amounts of money home. These scenes are funny but more could’ve been done to show her gradually changing attitude towards Mumon.
Overall, I enjoyed this movie but the juxtaposition of tones sometimes doesn’t work well. Mumon often acts like a cartoon character even in battle. This isn’t helped by the obvious computer effects which make the ninja fights look like looney tunes cartoons. It’s probably intentional and the fights are comedic in nature but it can be jarring when a sudden death or the rare spurt of blood appears in the mostly bloodless battles. However, it does work in the case of Mumon’s fight with Daizen which is both comedic and serious. In contrast to most of the fights, the showdown between Mumon and Heibi is more realistic. It’s intense and bloody. It’s one of the few moments when Mumon is totally serious and the outcome is a bit tragic. Interestingly, according to this review, there was also a manga which has a much darker tone than this movie. That might explain why I felt the lighter tone and darker moments don’t quite mix well at times.
Seen in the theater at Fantasia film festival.