Batman in Japan… This is not a concept that hasn’t been explored before. Many fans will remember Kyodai Ken and Bruce Wayne’s exploits in Batman: The Animated Series. Bat-Manga: The Secret History of Batman in Japan by Jiro Kuwata was also a memorable re-imagining of the character’s exploits in Japan and garnered very positive reviews. A story based on this work was portrayed in an episode of Batman: The Brave and the Bold.
As a concept, this movie couldn’t be any more prefect. Batman and ninjas both operate in the shadows and hence the title is appropriate. On to the review
This movie is an American Japanese collaboration and has almost been entirely created and produced by the Japanese side. Takashi Okazaki who was the character designer for the acclaimed series Afro Samurai returns as the character designer for this experiment. His terrific re-designs and visualization of the characters really stand out and lends itself well to the cell shaded 3D animation style employed for the movie.
It is very interesting to note that while the original Japanese script for the movie was written by Kazuki Nakashima, the American release was re-written by Leo Chu and Eric Garcia. This has led to two very different versions of the film (I’ve yet to see the original Japanese version and can’t really comment on the differences until then).
The movie opens with Batman trying to take down Gorilla Grodd along with his usual allies (Nightwing, Robin etc.). However, he gets caught in Grodd’s Quake Engine Time Displacement Machine and gets sent back in time to Feudal Japan. Through the following course of events, Batman discovers that Cat-Woman has also been sent back to Japan along with his allies who arrived 2 years earlier.
It is further revealed that several of Batman’s familiar foes including the Joker & Harley Quinn, the Penguin, Two-Face, Poison Ivy and Deathstroke have become powerful feudal lords in Japan. To make matters worse, Joker is currently the top feudal lord and plans to take over Japan. Batman and his allies then discover that Gorilla Grodd used his genius intellect to help all of Batman’s foes take over Japan but was betrayed by the Joker.
This then leads to Batman forming an uneasy alliance with Grodd to take Joker & his traditional foes down and prevent them from re-writing history.
From here on, the movie becomes riddled with plot twists and is filled with double-cross after double cross. While the premise of the movie is definitely very eye-catching, there is actually not much to write home about in terms of character development. There aren’t any strong or hidden motivations to explain each character’s actions other than the fact each person is either a De facto good guy or bad guy. Despite the number of twists, this is a classic old school good guy vs bad guy movie and there is no layered storytelling. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing and works in the movie’s favour.
Where the movie really shines is in its visuals. Much like Afro Samurai, the character designs and animations are gorgeous to look at. This really stands out in the superb action sequences and particularly towards the latter stages of the movie leading up to a spectacular climax. The straightforward story telling intentionally takes a backseat to let the visuals and action sequences steal the limelight.
Batman Ninja is most definitely an entertaining watch and has something unique to offer to regular fans of the dark knight. The interesting quirks of the movie such as the existence of a Bat Clan in feudal Japan were also something that I enjoyed. Going into this movie, I didn’t really know what to expect and I suppose that was a good thing.
The trailers certainly looked impressive and promised something gritty and spectacular. It certainly was a spectacle although not necessarily dark, going by recent batman movie standards. The final result is something very enjoyable and some of the action sequences are so over-the-top and different; certainly not the kind one has come to expect from batman films over the years.
This is definitely worth a watch for all fans of the dark knight and works well as a one-off experiment.
Looking forward, it’s about time DC started focusing on some lesser known characters for its stand-alone films. There is a sense of fatigue and the fact that perhaps we’ve seen the same characters way too many times in the recent past. While there might be the legitimate fear that such a film might not sell well, they could adopt a similar approach to the one used in Justice League Dark; by pairing a well-known character such as Batman with lesser known ones.
Such an approach could work really well and keep things fresh. Re-visiting some classic properties such as the DCAU is also something they could consider. Interesting times certainly lie ahead for DC fans !!