Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art

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PostPosted: Mon Aug 16, 2021 4:55 pm 
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YU IRIE: NINJA GIRL シュシュシュの娘 (2021) - 2021 New York Asian Film Festival )Aug. 6-22)


Practical heroism

Revelations from Goro (Shôhei Uno), her crusading journalist grandfather (now bedridden), to shy 25-year-old Fukuya City Hall employee Miu Komaru (Saki Rukuda): fellow employee Koji Mano (Arata Iura), who has just jumped off the roof of city hall, did so because he had been forced to falsify documents to enable the Immigrant Elimination Ordinance to be rapidly passed. Goro, like Mano, passionately opposed this racist law, which if passed will legalize the expulsion of all immigrants from Fukuya City. So begins Ninja Girl.

Because the cinema industry of Japan was shut down in 2020 due to the devastation of the coronavirus, Yu Irie chose to make an independent film dear to his own heart on a political subject to release in small local theaters. His unglamorous subjects are local government corruption and racism. Shot in composition-enhancing 1:33:1 aspect ratio, with delicate color, mixing handsome traditional interiors in wooded settings with bland office spaces and drab rural urban landscapes, this is a thoroughly oddball film, which cannot be taken seriously in every specific detail or its trajectory would be self-contradictory, making a crusader wind up looking more transgressive than the corrupt, bigoted local officials she opposes. The idea, I guess, is that contemporary Japanese should look to the honor and tradition of their ancestors and have the same courage they did in facing modern wrongs.

As the quiet bedroom discussion continues, their family has always had secrets, Goro murmurs. "We were a family of ninjas." The Karasumas (their family) were courtly dancers in the Muromachi era, Goro says, and then in the Edo period were spies for the shogunate. But since the Meiji era "our bloodline has faded." He was afraid it would die out when Miu's parents divorced, he says; that secrets would die with him. But now he wants to tell her. He has her take down some papers from the kitchen. "Don't open them!" he says of a package. "They're books I bought on Amazon." A touch of humor: but Goro gives Miu a serious ninja mission. She must now track down the video Mano secretly made of himself being coerced at city hall, so local government corruption in promoting the Immigrant Elimination Ordinance can be exposed. As Goro speaks now, his murmur begins to sound like the ritual chant of Noh drama.

Irie continues to build drama. Exaggeratedly meek at city hall, Miu will become bold when she dons the costume of a ninja. Going fabric shopping with her colorful lunch-mate Hitomi (Mayumi Kanetani), she buys a handsome roll of black cloth and at home sews up for herself a traditional masked ninja outfit, practices using a blow gun, which she used to play with as a teen, and goes hunting Mano's video against city hall enemies who are also tracking it, and confounds them. Getting the hang of the blow gun will take a while.

Another site she visits is a headquarters of opposition to the anti-immigrant ordinance, Takamine Scrap, the local place where many foreigners work, and Mano, an ally, was a frequent visitor. Mr. Takamine (Kirian Jou), however, sternly rebuffs Miu, associating her with city hall enemies. She comes back there and sees green-shirted vigilantes attack Takamine. Returning to their traditional Japanese house with its delicate wood and paper, Miu finds it has been attacked and defaced by the vigilantes, the data stolen, Goro terrorized.

The plot thickens. Miu is caught here and for the second time confronted by city hall officials, and now the mayor. She gets into personal trouble too. She has been wooed by Tsukasa, a local delivery person who keeps giving her rides, and finally bedded in his van at Sengen Shrine. Hitomi finds out about this and parts with Miu in great anger for this because she was "seeing" him.

Miu ramps up her ninja skills. The Ordinance gets passed. But jingoistic haters suffer a terrible toll in a climactic sequence that is a lot of fun - and not to be taken literally. One realizes that everything, Goro's hushed explanations to Miu from his bed, the ninja outfit, the Kafkaesque confrontations of Miu by city hall officials, as well as her final dramatic revenge, is all a little bit tongue in cheek and more than a little bit droll. The officials have been unpleasant buffoons, and watching their downfall is cathartic. When the final shots pull back to show the rural-urban landscape, we know we've penetrated just a little bit further into the wonderful complexity that is Japanese geography, history, and culture.

Ninja Girl (シュシュシュの娘 ("Shu Shu Shu," the sound of a spinning ninja blade), 88 mins., debuted at Shibuya Euro Space Aug. 11, 2021; screened for this review as part of the Aug. 6-22, 2021 NY Asian Film Festival, shown for its international debut Aug. 15, 2021.

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