After the sudden death of the grandfather who trains him, young ninja Kabamaru travels to the big city to stay with the one person who can help, namely his dead man’s former lover. As it happens, said lover is now a schoolmistress, and Kabamaru enrols in her establishment. Initially Kabamaru’s backwards country ways makes him a figure of ridicule, but when a rival school enters the picture, it is down to the ninja boy to save the day.
This is one of those occasions where familiarity with the source material might be essential. ‘Might be’. There’s always the chance that fans of the original Manga didn’t think much to this either. ‘Kabamaru the Ninja Boy’ is the typical ‘fish-out-of-water’ comedy but lacks the necessary qualities to succeed beyond its premise. First of all, the humour from the ‘fish-out-of-water’ comedy is only really dealt with in the first twenty minutes, with the rest of the duration being more focused on the dull storyline of inter-school rivalry. This takes the form of Animal House-style challenges, but without any of the amusement and it’s equally hard to feel much interest in the characters.
The best thing about the film is Hikaru Kurosaki as the eponymous hero. His performance suggests that he would have excelled with better material, as all he is given is the very broad Japanese comedy that makes ‘Run For Your Wife’ look subtle and nuanced. There is a brief scene of Kabamaru visiting the set of a ninja film that is amusing and occasional flashes of the interplay between the characters show promise, but this is quickly extinguished by the storyline. Hiroyuki Sanada is massively wasted in this, playing against type as the effeminate rival to the hero – who knew that it would take more than dressing Sanada up to look like he’d stepped out of the 1980 incarnation of ‘Spandau Ballet’ to make something entertaining!