Mumon: The Land of Stealth
忍びの国 [Shinobi no Kuni]
Director: Yoshihiro Nakamura
Shinobi no Kuni, literally country ninja, is a jidaigeki (period film) about ninja or shinobi set during the late warring years of Sengoku period, as Oda Nobunaga is beginning to take control of the entire country. For international distribution, it is titled as Mumon: The Land of Stealth. Mumon, (played by Satoshi Ohno), a self-proclaimed ‘greatest ninja of Iga’ is a skillful but lazy ninja who only works to please his new wife, Okuni (Satomi Ishihara).
The fictional story is set in Iga province, which is feared even by Oda Nobunaga because of the reputation of its notorious ninjas. Iga’s ninjas sell their skills; their main employers are the clans & provinces Nobunaga invades. At the start of the story, Nobunaga invades Ise, a neighboring province of Iga and appoints his son, Nobukatsu (Yuri Chinen) as its new lord.
Mumon unknowingly started the wars between Nobukatsu’s Ise and Iga’s ninjas when he killed one ninja for a reward. However, this is an everyday life of ninjas, where the strong survives and the weak gets killed. Their lives are only for themselves and they assassinate anyone for money. Heibei Shimoyama (Ryohei Suzuki), who is the brother of the ninja Mumon just killed, becomes disillusioned with his people’s way of living, setting the events that lead to the war with Ise.
The film presents us with several moral dilemmas. On the one hand, the honorable samurai of Ise, represented by Daizen (Yusuke Iseya) & Sakyonosuke (Makita Sports), disregards honor by assassinating their former lord as Nobukatsu takes over. Another is the ninja’s way of life, having no pride or honor with an inhuman thirst to kill anyone for money.
Mumon’s characterization is comedic; his ways shows us his blind acceptance of the world he lives in. But unlike most of the ninjas sold at a young age to Iga who professed this way of life, Mumon embraces his humanity, painfully realizing the wrongs within Iga. And at the end of the film, Mumon finds a reason for his existence, something that separates himself with the inhumane society Iga’s ninja perpetuated. When the film starts to be serious, it shows touching scenes that feels straight to the heart.
The Iga ninja may have long gone, but as the film’s final message reminds us, they are men who still walk within us. And in our lives we encounter one or two – those men without a care for others and live only for themselves.