Alien vs Ninja (Japan, 2010)

In film fandom, few subgenres elicit the same sort of child-like (some may say nerd-like)  joy as the versus film.  These films answer centuries-old playground debates such as “Superman could so kick The Hulk’s ass.”  “Nuuh-uhh!” “Yaa-huuuh!” “NUUUH-UUUH!” “YAA-HUUUH!”  Versus films mean to evoke the grand knock-down-drag-out battles of old such as Ali vs. Frazier and Tyson vs Golota with titles like Dracula vs. Frankenstein(1971), Billy the Kid vs. Dracula (1966), and quite possibly the most epic of the bunch, Wife vs. Secretary (1936).  Once relegated to ‘50s horror and B-movies, the versus film has enjoyed a resurgence with titles such as Freddy vs Jason (2003) and Alien vs. Predator (2004) being two prime time examples, not to mention Syfy Channel’s direct-to-video offerings.

Sushi Typhoon throws their offering into the ring with one of their latest, Alien Vs. Ninja (2010).  Taking place in an alternate world during the Sengoku era (aka The Warring States era, 1467 – 1573), the Iga, Koga, and Oda clans are battling for control of Japan.  During one such battle, a band of ninja from the Iga clan, Jinnai (Shuji Kashiwabara), Yamata (Masanori Mimoto), Nezumi (Donpei Tsuchihara), and Rin (Mika Hijii) witness a fireball falling from the sky into the nearby forest.  When they are sent on a reconnaissance mission, they discover a nearby town ransacked by alien creatures.  In the ensuing battle, Jinnai becomes abducted and zombified by the creatures, prompting the Yamata, Nezumi, and Rin to  rescue him and rid the world of the alien scourge.

Having directed and/or written other low-budget period films such as Ganryujima (2003), Death Trance (2005), and Evil Ninja (2010), director Seiji Chiba has become somewhat of a specialist when it comes to low-budget period piece films.  This really benefits AVN, as Chiba has a good grasp of filming action with limited means.  It helps that his talent pulls off the action well.  All too frequently in modern Japanese cinema, actors are unconvincing in action scenes because they do not have the physical talent, have been poorly trained, or both.  This results in sloppily coordinated moves that feel staged and which rob the action of its power.  AVN has hand-to-hand and katana (double katana, at that) battles that are convincing enough to appear to have impact and look cool to boot.  The real problem is there isn’t enough of it, especially for a film that clocks in at less than 90 minutes.  For a film that short, there is just way too much exposition and flat attempts at humor.  Normally, so much script dedicated to characterization wouldn’t be a problem, but for the most part, all of the characters are typical action characters: Jinnai is the narcissistic pretty boy who primps and preens himself in the reflection from his katana blade, Yamata is the gritty tough guy, and Nezumi is part scaredy cat Hudson from Aliens (1986) and part gadgety MacGuyver.  Rin, as an independent and genuinely tough female character, is the only one with some texture, but even she just seems to have been written in the script to set up the sophomoric gender gags.  Even the alien, which looks a papier mache Giger alien merged with a pterodactyl, seems very generic which is one  of the film’s biggest problems.  If you’re going to have a monster in a movie, make it cool somehow.  Stupid, weird, scary, whatever, but just not generic.  Nobody likes generic monsters.

Sushi Typhoon, just a year old, has already established a Cormanesque formula: cheap, quick, bloody and fun for Western cult film enthusiasts.   Plenty of (very fake, very CG) gore, off-colored jokes, flashes of nudity, and crazy, non-sequitur behavior is what you can expect from a typical Sushi Typhoon flick so far.  AVN follows this formula for the most part, but stumbles while doing so.  For a beer-doused Video On Demand night, this might be a fun appetizer for something better.  However, if you are faced with the battle of using your hard earned dollars to purchase it, make sure the Benjamins win and stay where they belong: in your wallet.