Discovering Sarutobi Sasuke Senjogadake no Himatsuri has been an eye-opener. The below caps will attest to how well-rounded the film is, hitting genre beats from both the super hero sorcerer spectacle-50s and the grim and grittier shinobi-spy 60s at the same time.
Sasuke’s relationship with the femme fatale goes from dodging shuriken to dodging affection. This poor gal, caught between an uber-noble hero and a viciously manipulative villain, ultimately pays for being on the wrong road to start with then making some bad decisions along the way.
This ceiling-crawl special effects sequence is both innovative and effective as hell, as good or better a bit as anything in the 60s craze. The ceiling is actually a floor with the actor crawling across it, flipped upside down when optically composited with the right-side-up room footage. Wonder why we didn’t see this compositing technique more often after this flick?
The ninja-vs.-ninja action goes from darkened hallways and crawlspaces to rooftops at night. However, while there are plenty of scenes more in tune with the espionage-based shinobi-cinema of a decade later, the fighting is still rather swash-buckler-y (yep, just made that term up) and very much of the 50’s. The whole jump up/jump cut disappearance thing is way WAAAY overdone, too. One of the best things about the 60s craze was the elimination of these cheesy camera tricks in favor of realistic movements coached by genuine ninjutsu practitioners serving as on-set advisors.
But damn, this has got to be one of, if not the, best pre-craze movies for credible hood and mask capers.
Said hoods are ultimately shed for the final duel, fought atop a mountain (and an indoor mountain-top set, never matching well when intercut alas). Weapons are parried and elemental ninja magics are exchanged, and, surprise, a redemptive act of self-sacrifice by a certain emotionally scarred female saves the day.
I just LOVE this film, but a word of warning before you go and buy. The print shown on Japan’s jidai-geki channel is alarmingly flawed – tons of flutter and frame jogs, especially on edits where special effects occur. It is hazy in places and inky in others, and the sound pops a lot. If this is the only print in circulation, I can see why there’s been no rush to put it on DVD, the thing is a mess.
That being said, beggars can’t be choosers. Maybe there’s a Criterion-level Blu-Ray on the horizon from Japan. Maybe pigs will fly.
OR… maybe **somebody** out there will sub this thing and make it available here first. I’ve got a DVD box cover pic just waiting…