I must confess that I was a sucker for all things Japanese since an early age, especially Samurai, Ninjas, Cartoons and Sushi. There could be no bigger delight but to watch the duo Hiroyuki "Henry" Sanada and Sonny Chiba, be it in "Ninja Wars" or "Legend of the Seven Samurai". That chemistry just couldn't go wrong – until I saw "Shoguns Ninja" for the first time; a little part of my soul died that day.
Primarily responsible for this was the soundtrack: what we get here is a pseudo-Jazz soundtrack that the composer MUST have stolen from an illegally imported Porn flick (I suspect a New Yorker production, around the years 1975-76). But that wasn't the worst part yet: They made Hiroyuki Sanada dance to this music! A free-style, 'innovative' dance, like you might expect it in an audition for "A Chorus Line". They made him dance, for a whole stretch of three minutes! Seeing the embarrassment on my heroes face, my heart sunk and I wished that I could likewise sink into the ground and disappear in shame.
Did I just write that nothing could go wrong between the chemistry of Chiba and Sanada? There is one exception: "Shoguns Ninja". Well, there is no chemistry and almost no interaction between the actors, at times making you believe that the actors were actually not together on the same shooting.
I often would like to view Sanada as "the Japanese Christopher Lee": having come from very humble beginnings, he has added quality to very cheap pictures through his sheer presence; originally with his splendid looks, at an advanced age with splendid acting skills. "Shoguns Ninjas" in a way is to Sanada, what "To The Devil A Daughter" must be to Sir Christopher: In "To The Devil A Daughter" Lee had to drop his pants; in "Shoguns Ninjas" Sanada had to dance! Sony Chiba has often been called "Japans answer to Bruce Lee"; not because he was such a great martial artist but because Chiba had charisma that would keep your eyes glued to the screen. In films like "The Street Fighter" Chiba was grunting, snarling and grimacing like an angry simian while tearing off the testicles of his opponents. In "Shoguns Ninjas", playing the villainous Shogun, Chiba plays it cool – way too cool. In fact, he doesn't do more than move about apathetically like a block of wood with arthritis. Never does a single facial muscle move, not even in his dying scene (Spoiler ahead: the hero kills the villain), when a Sanada thrusts a dagger into his throat. Not a single emotion is displayed. Nothing! But at least it's a Ninja film, the title assures us. That means, at least Sanada – after he's done dancing – will be doing some mystic Ninja-stuff, use freaky hidden weapons and generally decapitate fiends with his sharp katana, right? Not. You see, Sanadas character Momochi grew up China, returning home to Japan having mastered what every righteous Chinese has mastered: Kung Fu. And, presumably also because he grew up in China, Sanada gets to act like a village bumpkin from an early Jackie Chan movie.
Yes, the movie has its moments: there are some decent battle scenes and the hand-to-hand fights, although relatively few, are well-done – but again, if I want to see Ninjas, I watch a Ninja-movie; if I want to watch Kung Fu, watch a Shaw Brothers picture and if you want Kung Fu slapstick, go for said Jackie Chan flicks like "The Drunken Master".
Alternatively, you might want to watch a dance-film – go for "A Chorus Line", but steer clear of "Shoguns Ninjas". Three points from 10: one for old time sake, one for Sanada (despite dancing) and one for Sonny Chiba (despite doing NOTHING).