Lurking in the shadows

Lurking in the shadows

Netflix breathes new life into the ninja genre

Lurking in the shadows
Kento Kaku as Haru Tawara in House Of Ninjas.

The lore of Shinobi, better known in popular culture as ninjas, has been pivotal in Japanese history. Despite global popularity, ninja portrayals in Japanese cinema are overshadowed by samurais. However, Netflix's original series, House Of Ninjas, breaks this trend and captivates action and martial arts enthusiasts alike.

Crafted from a story by Kento Kaku, the inaugural eight-episode season of House Of Ninjas is helmed by American director Dave Boyle. The series intertwines the stealthy exploits of ninjas with colourful family drama, concocting an entertaining blend of action and family dynamics. However, it is occasionally marred by repetitive and clunky segments.

Set in contemporary Japan where ninja tales dwell more in myth than reality, the series imagines a clandestine world where ninjas undertake modern missions. This is where the Tawara family, the last remnants of a once-renowned ninja clan, now lead normal lives after a tragic mission six years prior. However, an unforeseen crisis summons them back into action, setting the stage for a riveting narrative that juxtaposes everyday existence with covert identities.

Fans of Pixar may notice a familiar pattern in the series, akin to a live-action rendition of The Incredibles, albeit with a twist -- the Tawara family aren't superheroes, but highly skilled assassins. In the initial episodes, viewers are introduced to each family member, with each grappling with the conflict of their ninja instincts and the facade of normalcy they endeavour to maintain. They may try their best to act like any other normal family, but in the end, they're not. As the story progresses, we see each character struggling to adjust their lives as their ninja instinct kicks in every now and then. And the secret agency they used to work for keeps pestering them to come back to the game again. This results in a delightful exploration of family dynamics tinged with humour.

(Photos: Netfix Thailand)

While not solely reliant on action, House Of Ninjas delivers in its fight scenes with sequences that punctuate the narrative. The series deftly intertwines elements of drama, particularly in exploring family trauma stemming from past missteps. It also strikes a commendable balance between traditional ninja stereotypes and contemporary sensibilities, seamlessly blending ancient practices with modern technology. Diehard ninja fans will geek out as the show gets all formulas right, from the black clothing to the masks, swords, secret weapons and the running across the rooftops. It's akin to watching ancient principles and ancient attitudes evolving and adapting while remaining sneaky and stealthy.

Nevertheless, the series does have flaws, notably pacing issues that intermittently hinder the viewing experience. The show occasionally stagnates, probably because of its eight episode length, with each often exceeding the hour mark. Trimming the narrative to six episodes could have mitigated this issue and ensured a tighter, more engaging storyline.

House Of Ninjas is a commendable drama/action series, buoyed by stellar performances and a keen sense of humour. While the series has pacing issues, particularly in the latter half, its strengths ultimately outweigh shortcomings. The series succeeds in delivering a captivating blend of action, drama, and humour, and offers a fresh perspective on the appeal of ninja mythology. While it may not revolutionise the genre, its ability to entertain and intrigue makes it a worthy addition to the streaming landscape.

  • House Of Ninjas Season 1
  • Starring Kento Kaku, Tae Kimura, Yosuke Eguchi
  • Created by Dave Boyle
  • Now streaming on Netflix
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