Natu Odoru Ninja Densetsu

Director: Kazuki Omori
Music: Sirpir, Kosuke Yamashita
Year: 2000
Running Time: 101 minutes

And for something completely different you might want to try this oddly unique cross-cultural hybrid Bollywood film by way of Japan. I have no idea if Bollywood films are popular in Japan, but one would have to assume this film is targeted towards a Japanese audience since the dialogue is all in Japanese except for the song numbers that are sung in Hindi. It stars a well-known Japanese comedian Kiyoya Nanami and his troupe called UriNari (which includes Hong Kong starlet Vivian Hsu who makes only a very minor appearance here). One might assume that this would be a parody of Bollywood films – but it really comes across much more as an affectionate tribute with perhaps just a bit of tongue in cheek fun taking place.

What adds to the oddity of this film is that director Kazuki Omori is best known for his Kaiju Eiga films with Godzilla vs. Biollante, Godzilla vs. Mothra (scriptwriter only) and Godzilla vs. King Ghidorah along with a number of other films as well. This movie does have a few cheesy special effects worthy of an old Godzilla film, but more importantly Omori brings a very nice eye to the proceedings and the film is beautifully shot with rich colors and smooth camera movement.
The DVD does not have English sub-titles and I was initially going to watch it on fast forward mode just to see the dance numbers and to see a particular actor (who we will get to later) – but I found it very easy to follow (I think!) and I was enjoying the visuals so much and some amusing bits that I just ended up watching it all the way through. The film is as light as Himalayan air and just as refreshing – the plot is more a Saturday afternoon comical serial than Bollywood with nasty looking brutes, ninjas, cults and lovely damsels in distress – but other parts are pure Bollywood.
Natu (Nanami) and his sister Keddy (played by Keddy) seem to have ended up in India where he has become a billboard painter who dreams about meeting his favorite Bollywood actress Meena. In fact, whether his character is supposed to be Japanese is hard to discern - in a flashback to childhood he and Keddy are played by Indian children! He toddles around town on his bicycle with his trumpet and breaks out into Hindi musical numbers from time to time. Through a series of co-incidences and an amusing Buster Keaton like choreographed action scene, he is mistaken for a great martial artist and is asked to be the bodyguard to none other than Meena! Meena insists on wearing the Star Ruby that a bunch of bad guys are trying to steal  from her for their nefarious reasons.
Meena is played by the stunning Neha Dhupia who when this film was made was only a fashion model – but she later went on to become Miss India 2002 and was in the Miss Universe pageant. I came across a few interviews on the Internet with her and for some reason she never mentions this film (perhaps she could not remember or pronounce the title!) She is now just entering into the Bollywood film scene in a film called Qayamat with co-star Ajay Devgan. Perhaps she doesn’t want anyone to know of this film, but it's actually a wonderful calling card as she looks great and dances gracefully – though of course she is dubbed into Japanese. Anyway, I look forward to seeing more of her in Bollywood!
Getting back to the plot – Meena is kidnapped and Natu goes looking for her but first he runs into . . . Yukari Oshima – in a most unusual way. She is a ninja and brings Natu back for Ninja training with Jo Shishido so that he can rescue Meena. In case you don’t know – though Yukari is Japanese, she was one of the biggest Girls with Gun action stars in Hong Kong from the mid-1980’s to the early 90’s and was capable of amazing acts of dexterity. I haven’t seen her in much lately and I was amazed at how good she looks – her face has barely aged and she still has that great roundhouse kick in her (though her dancing skills could definitely use some work!). Jo Shishido is a very famous Japanese actor and was in such classic films from director Seijun Suzuki as Branded to Kill (1967), Youth of the Beast (1963) and Gate of Flesh. So though some of the actors are perhaps past their prime and others not yet discovered, the film has some real star power going for it.
In no time at all, Natu learns Ninja skills such as walking on water and shrugging off gigantic boulders and he enters the Temple of Doom looking lair of an army of bad guys where Meena is tied up and ready to be sacrificed! Gadzooks – can Natu save her in time? It’s all silly fun and not to be taken seriously for a second - Natu often comes across like a Japanese Peewee Herman on an adventure. Somehow in the 101-minute running time they squeeze in six song and dance numbers that are unexpectedly excellent with some great location work and some large crowd numbers.
There is I understand an earlier film starring the same two Japanese actors simply called Natu. This apparently depicts their adventures in the Telugu film industry where Keddy is forced to marry an older villainous fellow and Natu has to rescue her. I would love to find it.

My rating for this film: 7.0