‘Mumon: The Land of Stealth’ is a jidaigeki – a historical action comedy set during Japan’s Sengoku period, focusing on fictional events that take place surrounding the Tenshō Iga War. Like many Japanese films, it is based on a novel and has already been adapted as a manga before arriving in live-action form in cinemas. With a narrative that revolves around a bazillion ninjas with funky supernatural powers battling an equal amount of samurai, an anime series is almost guaranteed to be in the works.
It is September 1579, and the ninjas of Iga are skirmishing again. They aren't really enemies – more like dedicated mercenaries in an industry where fighting and being on top leads to the best jobs. Heibe Shimoyama (Ryohei Suzuki, the lead in the ‘Hentai Kamen’ / ‘Masked Pervert’ comedies) recognises the bloodshed as a futile exercise, but it should be relatively harmless; his clan's fortress is well secured. At least, it seems that way before Mumon (Satoshi Ohno of the Japanese boy band Arashi), whose name means "no door", crashes through (and then steps aside after only being paid to make an entrance).
'MUMON: THE LAND OF STEALTH' TRAILER
Mumon is the region’s best ninja – stealthy, cunning, athletic but extremely lazy. The only impetus for him to carry out his work is to earn money for his gorgeous, but until now, chaste wife Okuni (Satomi Ishihara, ‘Attack on Titan’, ‘Shin Godzilla’).
Meanwhile, based in Ise, samurai leader Nobunaga Oda has been consolidating power across Japan. He is dangerously close to Iga, the country’s ninja stronghold. The twelve councilmen of Iga decide to take a break from their meaningless infighting in order to provoke Nobukatsu Oda (Yuri Chinen, ‘Samurai Hustle Returns’), Nobunaga’s 21-year-old second son, into engaging them in warfare.
Satoshi Ono is the highlight of the film as Mumon, spending most of the movie with a twinkle in his eye and an upbeat disposition that never seems put-on (aided by the casual grace of his fight choreography). He’s well-paired with Satomi Ishihara's serious, well-bred Okuni as the two characters provide a clear view into each other's world.
Directed by Yoshihiro Nakamura (‘The Magnificent Nine’, ‘A Boy and His Samurai’), the film chugs along at a reasonably solid pace (aside from an over abundance of flashbacks). The film’s many plot twists and turns provide a myriad of excuses for bigger and better fight scenes, all of which are designed to match the personality of the characters. The music adds to this propulsive feeling - a fun disco-pop soundtrack is fast and loud enough to set the pace for a movie that's always pushing forward, especially during the battles, but it’s also cheerful and anachronistic, adding to the sense of fun and parodic silliness (Mumon’s personal slacker theme is laidback, jazzy-fresh bassline).
Satoshi Ono is the highlight of the film as Mumon, spending most of the movie with a twinkle in his eye and an upbeat disposition.
The film presents us with several moral dilemmas. On the one hand, the honourable samurai of Ise, represented by Daizen (Yusuke Iseya, ’13 Assassins’, ‘Sukiyaki Western: Django’) and Sakyonosuke (Makita Sports, ‘Her Sketchbook’), grapple with their code of honour after assassinating their former lord during a coup. Another is Mumon’s dawning realisation that the ninja’s way of life - having no pride or honour, with an inhuman thirst to kill anyone for money - is kind of shitty. Mumon embraces his humanity and begins to find a reason for his existence, something that separates him from the pitiless society of “the tribe of beasts”.
The script, adapted by Ryo Wada from his own novel, has a decent handle on the material but stumbles seriously towards the end. After a Looney Tunes-esque battle between the armies of samurai and ninja, the film adopts a much more serious tone that clashes with the rest of the film. This abrupt tonal change is so jarring that a surprisingly downbeat ending seems to come out of nowhere (although it isn’t enough to undo Nakamura’s stronger work along the way).
Despite some flaws in the film’s final act, if you enjoy light action comedies and tons of ninjas, ‘Mumon: The Land of Stealth’ is worth a squiz.