Mumon: The Land of Stealth
Michael Potts | 1/11/2017
A glorious collision of action, comedy and drama, Mumon: The Land of Stealth is a joyous romp through a heavily fictionalised and stylised episode in Japanese history.
Set in the late 16th Century, the film follows a large cast of characters on opposing sides of the only war fought between ninja and samurai, from the provinces of Iga and Ise respectively. Mumon (Satoshi Ohno) is Iga’s greatest ninja, but is also lazy, simple-minded and only desires money so he can please his wife, Okuni (Satomi Ishihara). When he kills the younger son of the rival Shimoyama family, Mumon sets the elder brother, Heibei (Ryohei Suzuki), off on a journey of revenge against all of Iga. This triggers a chain of events bringing about the confrontation between the ninja and the forces of Isa, under the command of Nobukatsu Oda (Yuri Chinen), son of a great conquering warlord.
The cast of characters is quite large and it can be hard, especially early on, to keep track of who’s who and what’s what. But paying close attention is worth the effort, as there a plenty of gems. Mumon himself is a laughable mix of slacker and ninja savant. The line between dancing, gymnastics and martial arts blurs considerably whenever he bounds into action. His relationship of needy subservience to the stern and sensible Okuni is also one that is ripe for humour. Heibei Shimoyama and top samurai general, Daizen (Yūsuke Iseya) play the straight men of the film, both faring well in contrast to the more comic characters and each holding the weight of many of most of the more dramatic scenes. The ninja of Iga, particularly the ruling Council of Twelve, are also a delight to watch. Their collective lack of regard for anything but money is less of a simple characteristic and more of a comedic weapon, one that cleverly doubles as a thematic anchor for the film’s plot and many of its characters. Every actor’s performance is solid and there’s no identifiable weak link in the cast.
Most characters being warriors, it would be expected that there would be fight scenes aplenty, and Mumon delivers in spades. From one-on-one face offs to skirmishes between the two armies, the combat choreography is excellent, especially as the physical feats on display become sillier and sillier. The attendant special effects become pretty trashy, but this only helps the film, compounding the humour and displaying a healthy creativity that the smoke and mirrors techniques of ninjas allows. As to the comedic elements of the film generally, almost everything lands and its impressive how often the funny scenes stand so successfully in close proximity to tonally much heavier sequences. Even dramatic moments have jokes successfully sprinkled in. This is all backed up by a good soundtrack, most notably including some catchy J-Rock pieces which add a slick, modern sense of style to the ninja-play.
Mumon as a film is jam packed, and it does its best to create a balance between its comedy and action, as well as its serious drama. Overall, it pulls this off nicely, though there are some tone shifts, particularly towards the end, that can feel jarring because of how abrupt they are. But these moments do little to hurt the film overall. As a whole it doubles down on its strengths so hard that it’s all too easy to forget the brief parts which feel just a little bit off.
Mumon: The Land of Stealth is a wild ride that never ceases to entertain. Whether you’re looking for a tale of revenge, a medieval Japan action-fest, a punchy comedy or anything in between, this film will give you just what you need.