What’s old becomes new again in a modern-day ninja story that bends the realm of reality with anime style in Ninja Assassin, the latest by Australian director James McTeigue, who brought us the comic-based cult hit V for Vendetta and collaborated with the Wachowski brothers in The Matrix trilogy.
Metro sat down with McTeigue recently in Vancouver, who talked about his love for ninja movies, some Japanese TV influences growing up in Australia, and his take on the visual styles of B-movies of old.
“I’m a big fan of ninja movies. In Australia where I grew up, we used to get a lot of Japanese TV series, one of them called Shintaro, and Phantom Agents was another one,” he said.
“My favourite anime was Ninja Scroll. I really liked that so I wanted the aesthetic and some of the visual motifs in the film to be a cross between anime and game play.”
With Andy and Larry Wachowski onboard the production team, Ninja Assassin is an action-packed ode to martial arts films with stylized graphics and blood-spitting fight sequences, starring Korean superstar Rain as protagonist Raizo, a trained killer of the powerful Ozuno Clan of ninjas.
The graphic quality in the film like the blood splattering in the fight scenes or the shadowy figures that flash across buildings often look like it came out of anime or a game, and McTeigue says he achieved the aesthetic digitally.
“I wasn’t really interested in doing like the homages that (Quentin) Tarantino did to some of the Japanese movies,” McTeigue said. “I wasn’t really interested in doing a remake of ninja films.
“I wanted to do something that took elements from those films and craft it into a new story. So into that ninja genre, I was interested in putting in elements of film noir because it has a great use of negative space and graphic and light.
“And I think if you have ninjas resolving out of darkness all the time you can add little bits of horror in there,” he said. “And also because it is an action movie, I wanted to have mixed martial arts in there but also elements of parkour or free-running and acrobatics. So it was trying to mold all those things into the genre of the ninja movie.”
McTeigue says that what was once a subculture that belonged in the realm of nerds like comics, games and graphic novels, are now definitely part of the mainstream culture through generational changes. His next film is The Raven, an adaptation of the macabre poem by Edgar Allan Poe, a fictionalized last five days of the writer’s life. “There’s a serial killer loose in Baltimore killing people in the manner that Poe uses in his stories.”