Ren and I recently watched the Smithsonian Channel documentary Ninja: Shadow Warriors on Netflix. Since we both train at the Bujinkan (known for its ninjutsu), we figured a ninja documentary would be interesting. Being as most of Drake’s fighting style comes from things I’ve seen or learned in the dojo, I also hoped a documentary would give me a little more context.


The documentary was interesting, but not stellar. Its main focus was on one ninja master named Tanba who lived in the 1500s. To make a long story short, Tanba wanted to protect his people and his area from Nobunaga’s conquest.


The trouble with the story was that it was hard to separate fact from fiction. They weaved a lot of speculation in throughout it, but weren’t always forthcoming about what they made up and what they had reason to believe actually happened.


On top of that, I was disappointed that the documentary never mentioned Masaaki Hatsumi, the Soke of the Bujinkan. Instead, it focused on Jinichi Kawakami and led viewers to believe that he’s the current undisputed ninja master. That’s not really the case at all, and the fact that they didn’t even acknowledge it made me question what other things weren’t being fully presented.


After spending a little time with my friend, Google, I also learned a lot more about Kawakami’s background than the documentary even alluded to. The most interesting tidbit I found was that Kawakami says he learned ninjutsu from a medicine man in a park as a kid. I also learned that Kawakami doesn’t intend to pass his art along to a new Soke because he believes ninjutsu has no place in modern society.


Current issues aside, the documentary’s redeeming feature was some of the historical context it gave. It was very interesting to see how tatami mats (which are still used in Japan today) were developed to help people hear ninja trying to sneak around at night. There were several cool things like that sprinkled throughout, so I’d recommend watching it for that alone.


Overall, the documentary could have certainly covered a lot more. Since they decided to include Jinichi Kawakami, they should have delved more into some of the present aspects of ninjutsu, or at least a little more of his back story. The speculation littered throughout also made it difficult to accept everything they presented as fact at face value. Tanba’s story definitely had some entertainment value, but that was about it. As far as watching the documentary for research or an inclusive view on ninjutsu, it was a bust.


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