Ninjas have fascinated Western audiences since the 1980s, as Professors Takayuki Tatsumi and Seth Jacobowitz explain. Somewhere along the line, “ninjas” have become synonymous with black-garbed secret spies who practice outrageously flashy martial arts in combat. While an inkling of the traditional ninja—or “shinobi,” as the Japanese more often call them—remains in Western stereotypes, you will find that the more accurate depictions are presented in Japanese entertainment—with a few creative liberties.
Naruto: Ninja Clash in the Land of Snow
The first movie based on the best-selling fantasy ninja anime and manga series Naruto, Naruto: Ninja Clash in the Land of Snow out-sold all other Naruto anime DVDs when it first appeared in US markets in 2007 — but not before enjoying a limited theater nation-wide release.
Like all Naruto anime and manga, Naruto: Ninja Clash in the Land of Snow is appropriate for teens and older pre-teens. The movie features violence with a bit of blood, but no gore. The film stars the original main trio of the cast—Naruto, Sakura and Sasuke—as they protect a film starlet from being kidnapped during the filming of her latest hit movie. The secret behind this starlet’s past leads Naruto and his friends to a ninja battle against the backdrop of a snowy mountainscape.
An anime ninja movie that’s captured anime fans’ attention since 1993 is Ninja Scroll. The anime movie is so classic that in 2008 Warner Bros. optioned to develop a Hollywood live-action adaptation. Although not always rated on DVD release, Ninja Scroll is an adults-only anime that features gore and nudity.
The Ninja Scroll story follows the romanticized adventures of a fictionalized Yagyuu Juubei, a real-life Japanese folklore hero—who was actually a samurai and not a ninja, but in this version, he fights as a ninja alongside a female ninja, Kagero. Juubei’s adventures feature ninja-on-ninja battles, behind which there’s a plot to overthrow the Shogunate government.
Dagger of Kamui
A 1985 ninja anime movie classic, Dagger of Kamui tells the story of Jiro, a young orphan who grows up to be a master ninja assassin under the tutelage of a monk. Jiro discovers that his father was once a ninja who worked for the monk who raised him and died on the monk’s orders for abandoning his mission and starting a family. For revenge and to stop the Shogunate government from possessing a treasure that could make Japan isolationist again, Jiro travels with another ninja, the female Oyuki, to Russia and America. The film is appropriate for adults and older teens, as it features violence and nudity.
Wrath of the Ninja—The Yotoden Movie
Ayanosuke is a female ninja out for revenge in this 1989 release, a feature film compilation of a three-episode direct-to-video anime series. Oda Nobunaga, an actual Japanese warlord, is fictionalized into the rampaging warlord in Wrath of the Ninja—The Yotoden Movie who destroys Ayanosuke’s home. To defeat him, Ayanosuke seeks out a holy weapon, a short sword, and fights alongside two other ninja with sacred weapons that may be the only weapons powerful enough to defeat Oda and his army. The film is heavy on the gore and is appropriate for older audiences.
Watch the best anime ninja movies to get a feel for the Japanese pop culture take on the ninja. The anime format allows for a more stylized and artistic look than the medium of live action movies. There are no limitations to what the creators want to show.
“‘Naruto the Movie 2’ Out in July.” ICv2, 5 May, 2008. Web. 14 April 2010.
Tatsumi, Takayuki, and Seth Jacobowitz. “Ninja, Hidden Christians, and the Two Ferreiras: On Endo Shusaku and Yamada Futaro.” John Hopkins University, 2009. Web. 14 April 2010.