When Yu Irie isn’t thrilling audiences with works like Joker Game, his Memoirs Of A Murderer and A.I. Amok, he’ll also dive a bit into different grades of comedy like with Hibi Rock: Puke Afro and the Pop Star or 2018’s beat ’em up romp, Gangoose. His latest, Ninja Girl, takes a more artful approach boasting the occasional lively and upbeat dance track throughout the more cerebral, quiet tone.
The slow-burn notwithstanding, however, it’s rabblerousing shenanigans of Fukuya City’s Mayor and his campaign, running high on a platform of xenophobia with an ordinance underway to signage that bans foreigners, and some of the constituents aren’t having it. This especially includes Goro (Shohei Uno), a former journalist and grandfather to city hall employee, Miu (Saki Fukuda), a quaint, unassuming paper pusher who largely goes unnoticeable by her staff.
Goro’s refusal to agree to the ordinance only adds to the discomfort for guilt-stricken city hall employee, Mano (Arata Iura), who fesses up to forging his signature in a tear-flooded tete-a-tete with the ailing and bedridden Goro, before ultimately doing the unthinkable. In response, Goro decides to reveal to Miu her true lineage as the last in a blood line of ninja, tasking her to hone in on her nascent skills to find evidence of city hall’s criminal wrongdoing in order to hold the mayor and his corrupt administration accountable.
A smart, subversive and sardonic riff on the ninja subgenre, Ninja Girl stands firm on its awkward comedy with a compelling narrative to suit the hearty laughs and romantic twist. Miu’s private life is usually comprised of taking care of her grandfather, doing aerobics in the morning and dancing her way through the sunrise, and when in public, she mostly keeps to herself, save for her usual personal connections. She has a meekness to her walk and herself overall gait and posture, which is something neat to take away as a viewer knowing that she’s definitely on the way to discovering herself a little more beyond who she is right then.
There’s a romantic subplot that ensues in the second half that sort of helps drive things forward in terms of Miu’s own self-discovery, along with the added peril of quarreling with her best friend, Saeko (Ryoka Neya), and suddenly learning one day while stalking her colleagues in ninja garb that’s she’s not the only ninja in town tip-toeing in the bushes. Indeed, her escapades bring about some intense close calls, and it’s only when things reach their utmost boiling point that Miu finally starts to sharpen her skillset a little more, armed only with a homemade fukia (meaning blowgun), and a few kicks in her arsenal.
Ninja Girl moves at a slow, albeit quirky pace with a mix of characters who each compel us to get behind Miu as she stays the course. She’s not reluctant about her destiny either; though she’s fully aware of the danger she’s put herself in, she welcomes it with the responsibility beholden to her.
We do have a few key supporting character deaths that offer sobering precedence, and a tenderness through a poetic reality-bending lens that’s seldom seen in films. There’s also a scene during which an immigrant character pays a visit to Miu’s home along with a friend, who suddenly disappears after they finish talking, which also, in a way, speaks to how heavy-handed it feels when people who play key roles in our day-to-day functionality are suddenly removed from us.
Fukuda’s portrayal brings a delightful performance in a story that emancipates with absolute vengeance. As for whether or not there is an actual subsect of society living as “ninja” in Japan is another story all it’s own, but all in all, Ninja Girl will certainly have you believing in legends.