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RATED: Not Rated
RUNNING TIME: 83 Minutes
- Alien vs. Ninja – Making Of
- Original Trailer
- Coming Soon
“Remember the movie you wanted to see most of all when you were about 12?”
“No, the other one!”
Director: Seiji Chiba
Writer: Seiji Chiba
Cast: Masanori Mimoto, Mika Hijii, Ben Hiura, Donpei Tsuchihira, and Shuji Kashiwabara.
In ancient Japan, a group of ninja from the Iga clan have their territory encroached upon by beings not of this earth. The visitors start disemboweling our clandestine chums immediately and making themselves quite at home in the surrounding forests. No genre touchstone will be left unspoiled in the resulting pop-culture cluster-bomb.
Nerds are such easy prey. Alien vs Ninja (AVN) will ensnare countless gullible fanboys because it masquerades as the quintessential pub discussion movie, a “wouldn’t it be awesome if…?” for the ages. However, this film is easily the nadir of “geeky cool” as opposed to its apex. And it should hardly come as a surprise. Pushing the bounds of taste with its crass modus operandi, this goofy premise goes from being potentially fun right back to terrible again in an instant. The basic concept is even cheekier than a dozen Corman movies in that it treads the knock-off/plagiarism line so finely as to almost blur it completely – director Seiji Chiba (Evil Ninja) readily admits all but copying the aliens’ design from Ridley’s Scott’s 1979 milestone. In doing so, Chiba’s film surpasses even the likes of Mega Rhino Vs Robot Mongoose and its ilk in the artistic redundancy stakes. While some of these intellectual bedfellows remain watchable due to the sincerity of their awfulness, AVN fails on even that level because the whole thing is as calculated as a naked girl in a mens’ deodorant advert. The tagline “seriously” says it all. This film thinks it’s got cult status in the bag because of its title alone, something that becomes clear within moments.
For their latest opus, “the filmmakers behind Tokyo Gore Police” have concocted a mix of Predator and Alien set in Japan… with a dollop of Body Snatchers thrown in for the wearying final act. An unconvincing group of fetishist neo-shinobi from “ancient Japan” – the Sengoku period, to be precise – square off against slimy, walking rubber dolphins intent on taking them out in the messiest fashion possible. The fate of their village and possibly the world is at stake. That’s about it. There’s nothing fresh nor nuances to energize the stale backdrop. Yamata (Mimoto), the hotshot ninja team-leader, is a vacuum of emotion and human complexity. When the alien, who arrives on Earth in a nod to The Thing, starts demolishing anything that moves, Yamata rallies his cohorts in a fight for survival that takes place over an agonizing 81 minutes, most of which is poorly staged fight scenes which borrow heavily from The Matrix. And borrowing is putting it kindly. Much like the underappreciated anime Ninja Scroll, the traditional sword-swinging sausage fest is spiced up with the inclusion of Rin (Hijii), the token hot girl ninja. Cue lots of blushing from her male comrades and attempted groping. For everyone over 14, this dynamic will prove infuriating as it’s handled with all the maturity of the average video game cut-scene. Even the worst toilet-obsessed Metal Gear Solid dialog comes off like Shakespeare by comparison.
Very often, the most interesting thing about movies set in ancient Japan is their adherence to historical accuracy and customs, things the average Western viewer might not know a great deal about. Take Shogun Assassin, itself a very stylized and hyper-violent film, for example. Dedication, brotherhood, duty: these are more than mere buzzwords to a man like Itto Ogami, AKA Lone Wolf, the eponymous hit-man of Robert Houston’s cult classic. They’re a lifestyle. We believe that Lone Wolf is a samurai because he practices the code of ethics he espouses. He doesn’t simply stand around and spout Arnie style “zingers” in Japanese before busting his best pre-Keanu Reeves “Keanu Reeves action pose.” At the most basic level, Lone Wolf exudes some semblance of what people think of when they hear the term samurai. Obviously AVN is a very different beast – and not just because of the distinction between samurai and ninja – but there must be a shred of believability to these shinobi in order to convince us they can hold their own in battle. They must show us something for baffling stylistic choices like their clunky plastic armour (which looks like it was clipped together using parts of JanSport backpacks) to be overlooked.
Buy they don’t. This collection of action movie stereotypes are as Japanese as Coca Cola. That Chiba was attempting to craft a cultural tapestry of sorts here with conflicting, anachronistic imagery and ideas is obvious. Perhaps this was intended to do for swords what steam-punk did for ray-guns. On the evidence of the film itself, it’s more likely the budget simply wasn’t available to make these stealth agents of doom convincing. Or Chiba didn’t think that was important, not with a title like Alien vs Ninja to do all the hard work for him. Any such ambitions evaporate as soon as his band of cliches start throwing rejoinders like “You expect me to run away after what it did to out pals?!” around. Yamata, the wannabe Han Solo of the village, is almost robotic in his unflinching composure. Mimoto badly wants to be an impervious action star in the vein of 80’s/early 90’s Hollywood, but although he looks fairly convincing in some early clashes, he shows none of the heart necessary to anchor a film with comedic undertones like this. Yamata is less a character than a performance art collage of every Western action hero Mimoto’s ever seen. Jinnai (Kashiwabara), the narcissistic Ken to Yamata’s Ryu, mainly stands around flicking his “emo” fringe, and there’s even a useless Hudson facsimile (Tsuchihira’s Nezumi) who squeals “game over, man! game over!” style outbursts the second things go awry. Mika Hijii is appealing in a vulnerable sort of way, yet she’s far from convincing as the complex, sensitive warrior Rin supposed to be. Throw in a shy local kid who gets drawn into this battle of the planets just in time to come of age and some gay comic relief and you’ve got a lack of originality that’s simply staggering.
The visual effects in AVN are on par with that of the average YouTube fan video. You won’t believe an alien can perform bullet-time ninja maneuvers; not when the “alien” in question is obviously a svelte Asian wearing a preposterous rubber suit (take a bow, “action director” Yuji Shimomura.) Never has the human capacity for disbelief suspension been tested more than it is here. Mortal Kombat, a film 16 years young, boasts more impressive CGI. AVN‘s curiously Westernized feel isn’t solely due to its monotonous, fight-laden script though. Traces of its vastly superior influences are evident in the score as well. Nezumi, the bumbling coward gets his own Seinfeld style slap bass theme to accompany his many meltdowns and every battle is drowned in the kind of generic, chugging metal riffs normally found on straight to video action junk. It’s a dark day, indeed, when the sight of a ninja body-slamming an alien to Japanese hard rock (with lyrics that get lost spectacularly in translation) raises barely a chuckle.
To say that AVN is sex-obsessed would be to say Nicolas Cage likes to appear in films. Every possible opportunity for a double entendre is seized with vile enthusiasm. If a blade comes anywhere near Rin, she immediately dives into a contorted pose so it can pass between her legs, graze her backside, or something equally disgusting. The DVD blurb name-checks Army of Darkness, in an attempt to lure unsuspecting viewers into this web of banality. It’s obvious Chiba is a huge Sam Raimi fan: Dutch angles, crash zooms, and frantic cutting are just some of the former splatter king’s trademarks in evidence, albeit in much worse shape. You might be thinking I’m being too harsh right now. You might even be thinking I’m exaggerating massively just for the sake of it. AVN features an extra-terrestrial with a giant penis (not a phallic suggestion, but a massive pink member) which bursts from its chest and wraps itself around victims’ necks. Also, an alien dry-humps the female ninja – who moans ecstatically, of course – in the middle of a fight to the death. Apology accepted.
For a film shot digitally, it’s hard to believe how ugly the end result is. All five of the main set-pieces are galling in their over-indulgence. Rather than choose a few carefully choreographed moves, everything has 100% more kicking, punching, and somersaulting than necessary. The contempt for physics is incredible. Naturally, this gets most of the attention on the bonus doc. As if there was any doubt, Chiba affirms his desire to succeed in a Western market and his leads do their best to contain their laughter onset. Not exactly riveting stuff. Trailers for the feature presentation and some other prurient-looking Funimation releases including Mutant Girls Squad and Vampire Girl vs. Frankenstein Girl – is there a pattern emerging? – round out the extras.
Picture quality on the disc itself is excellent so what few moments aren’t taken up with 2-D live action nonsense show how nice a worthwhile film could look and sound on a DVD of this quality. As well as the original Japanese language track (with optional subtitles) there’s an English dub; the less said about that the better. Next to this, the work of Sandy Collora looks sophisticated. Reflect on that for a moment before falling victim to your baser movie-watching instincts. Alien vs Ninja is monumentally poor, a cinematic disaster in a league all of its own. Seriously.
Out of a Possible 5 Stars