Ninjas are roam freely in the secluded Japanese province of Iga, doing any and all work as long as it pays the right price. They’ll kill each other if they’re offered enough money, and this is even true of Mumon, a lazy-yet-skilled ninja who feels it’s unnecessary to go overboard if the least amount of effort will do the job. These so-called ‘barbarians’ run wild through the picturesque region they call home, and everything is going swimmingly until Oda Nobunaga’s campaign to unify Japan reaches their borders.
Oda leaves behind his son Nobukatsu to deal with the unruly region, and the young warlord is determined to prove his worth and step out of his father’s shadow. His desire to be a better leader twists his way of thinking, making him act naive and irritable in the face of his subordinates. His father specifically instructs him not to engage with the region in combat, and while he is compliant at first, he soon becomes fixated on taking action against those that live in the province. After a plot to demolish the region from the inside is thwarted, and the young lord’s life is threatened directly by Mumon, Nobukatsu decides that enough is enough and engages the province. What follows is an intense and hilarious battle between the two sides, recreating history like you’ve never seen it before.
The advantage that Mumon: The Land of Stealth has is that it doesn’t take itself seriously. By not being afraid to laugh at the genre and have some real fun with it, the film feels light-hearted and ridiculous, something that should be read as a compliment in this context. Mumon is a brilliant ninja, and his over-the-top methods of defeating his enemies and saving his own neck just add to the charm that Satoshi Ono brings to the character. He’s a rogue that has a witty comeback for anything anyone says, but his charisma makes him loveable and before you know it you’re fully invested in his life on and off the battlefield. This is a testament to Ono’s great work as an actor, and the Arashi frontman continues to prove he’s just as talented at acting as he is at singing.
His co-stars are also wonderfully cast, as they each contribute their skills to the film’s vast acting pool. Yuri Chinen, in particular, gives a nuanced performance as Nobukatsu, the warlord with a chip on his shoulder. He conveys the young man’s hardships of living with the Oda family name well, and this is especially true in a moving scene where he breaks down. He cries and he screams at his followers, acting like a spoilt child, before revealing the pain of living in his father’s shadow. This is one of the film’s most effective moments, though its most heartbreaking scene comes later.
With its upbeat music and stunning visuals, Mumon: The Land of Stealth is a fun and crazy ride. It’s on the ridiculous side of historical drama, so you shouldn’t go into it expecting a serious melodrama. It’s fun and light, something to make you laugh for a couple of hours as you escape into a world where ninjas roam free, can kick ass, and all they care about is money. Review by Roxy Simons
Mumon: The Land of Stealth is being screened across the UK as part of the Japan Foundation’s Touring Film Programme. For more information on cities and dates, visit the Japan Foundation’s official website.
Director: Yoshihiro Nakamura
Release: Out Now (Japan Foundation Touring Film Programme)
Format: Theatrical Release
Age Rating: 15