Ninja's Revenge
Owls' Castle
Review by Ross Anthony

Hopelessly underdressed at the premiere (shorts, ratty gymies and a neon jacket), I couldn't easily blend into the sea of very well-dressed Japanese celebs and esteemed guests. My father once told me "never be embarrassed by what you're wearing," so I grinned and nodded and held my head high as if they were the ones who'd attired far too needlessly.

The director (at the Academy's podium) opened his picture with a short sentence, "Our Ninja are stronger than ...." I didn't quite get that last word, though the point seemed obvious.

"Owls' Castle" saturates the white screen with rich color. The hues so intense, you can almost taste them. The feel of the motion across the screen suggests some medium other than film. Though, I have no inside information on this, I suspect many of the sequences where partially or entirely filmed on high quality digital tape. This is not at all a criticism. Digital cinema is more or less inevitable, film stock being so expensive to purchase, duplicate and distribute.

Unfortunately, the feel, color and texture of the picture, where perhaps it's most redeeming qualities. The plot ... a group of Ninja watch their town get destroyed and ten years later seek revenge, is complicated a bit by politics. The pace is needlessly slow, dragging the production over the two hour mark. While the acting is strong and the main character (Ninja Juzo) endearingly likeable, the relationships between the characters fall secondary to cinematography which alone simply does not carry the production.

Interestingly, Shinoda brings a kind of 1970's American Western feel to the film with it's staleness and Japanese traditional music punctuated with a 20th century classical score. The beginning is enticing and the climax nearly wonderful. I enjoyed the idea of the heartless Ninja, so committed to mission that he's lost a sense of himself and cannot even love. However, this concept is sorely underplayed, Juzo seldom seeming less than content -- it's impossible to pity him.

Owls' Castle. Copyright © 1999. 93 minutes. Rated R.
In Japanese, penned with English subtitles.
Starring Kiichi Nakai, Mayu Tsuruta, Riona Hazuki, Takaya Kamikawa.
Director: Masahiro Shinoda.
Screenplay: Masahiro Shinoda and Katsuo Narita.
Producer: Masaru Kakutani and Masaru Koibuchi at Fuji Television Network.


Copyright © 1999 Ross Anthony, currently based in Los Angeles, has scripted and shot documentaries, music videos, and shorts in 35 countries across North America, Europe, Africa and Asia. For more reviews visit:

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Last Modified: Saturday, 16-Sep-2006 08:01:43 PDT