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Red Shadow - Akakage (Nakano Hiroyuki 2001)


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Red Shadow
[Akakage]

Genre: Ninja Drama (Comedic)

review in one breath

Here is a light-hearted ninja adventure filled with techno music, strobe lights and acrobatics. The title Akakage refers to the name of the lead character who, along with his childhood companions Aokage and Asuka, fight myriad evil forces threatening Japan. Our dynamic ninja trio consists of two often goofy guys and one always sexy gal. The name Akakage means Red Shadow and Aokage means "Blue Shadow". Asuka, the name of the ninjess means, well, nothing. From a very early age, all three have been strictly trained in the Kage (Shadow) School of Ninja-ry under the auspices of the Master Ninja Shirokage ("White Shadow"). Now as young adults, both their friendship and skills are strong but (both) will soon be tested.


As to why the movie revolves around Akakage is not clear, except perhaps he is the more photogenic of the two male ninjas. Thus he is pursued by both the film's leading female characters while Aokage's advances are generally spurned, causing him to end up in the arms of a wanton massage parlor girl. (!) Asuka's role in the film is also less than primary, though in the opening scenes it appears that she will be a central figure.

This brings us to the general plot of the film, which many confessedly find almost dichotomous. Indeed, the film itself consists of two "missions", proclaimed in screen titles (e.g., "Mission One") which make it seem as if this is meant to mimic a video game. (The techno music also greatly adds to this impression.) Mission One is much more brief than the second, and serves as our primary introduction to the personalities of the ninja three. Herein, our three characters are the primary focus and the atmosphere is almost one of slapstick humor. Mission Two is much more somber, prosaic and complicated, and it is during this mission that both Aokage and Asuka are relegated to their secondary status. (Asuka is "relegated" to a far greater degree than Aokage.) The slapstick atmosphere is all but gone in the second mission which, when combined with the virtual absence of Aokage and Asuka, results in what feels like a separate story within the movie. This is the palpable dichotomy which other reviews of this film make reference to.

But all in all this is a fun film. The evil guys include former J-Pop band Checkers lead singer Fumiya Fujii who makes a convincing perpetrator of havoc. Asuka is dressed throughout in a ninjess uniform consisting of black leather miniskirt and fishnet stockings. And looming in the background is an ancient evil sword fashioned from the metal of a meteor.

The film seems aimed at incorporating contemporary pop stars in a humorous, techno-pop story. It requires little brain power to process and provides quite a bit of eye candy, ranging from the ninja-sexy Asuka to the near comic-book blue hue overlaying half the scenes in the story. The music and action are good, and the jokes aren't too cornball (though getting close).

cultural interest violence sex strangeness
Not too much historical value here, especially due to the infusion of MTV culture atop the feudal samurai setting. No graphic violence, though what's a ninja movie without some limb hacking? For the most part, our heroes employ sleeping gas squirted from tiny canisters to overpower the minions of evil. Though Asuka is indeed the best looking ninja in feudal history, you (along with every male character in this film) will be forced to summon the ancient power of imagination if you seek the "way of libido". The value here is solely in an MTV-like cast and the fact that this is a ninja movie set to techno music. No mind-bending creativity here. Even the dreaded Meteor Sword of Doom wimps out in the end.

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