‘House Of Ninjas’ Review: Fascism Meets Anarchy In Netflix Show About Japan’s Best Open Secret


Ninjas are supposed to be made of some of the most elite warriors in Japan. Their work is apparently so secretive that it’s impossible to tell if they actually existed in real life or if they are merely an exaggerated work of fiction that has been repeated so many times that it’s been accepted as myth and history. And despite their complicated and rich lore, they’ve been mostly treated as a joke by the world of entertainment. I mean, the few memorable portrayals of ninjas are Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (are they actually ninjas?), Ninja Assassin (the ninjas in this movie essentially had superpowers), and Batman Begins (sure, it’s realistic). However, House of Ninjas will have you believe that that’s all part of the plan and a way to control the narrative around ninjas while giving you a healthy dose of action, family drama, politics, thrills, and chills.

Dave Boyle’s House of Ninjas, which he has crafted with Masahiro Yamaura, Kota Oura, and Kanna Kimura from a story by Takafumi Imai, Kento Kaku, and Yoshjaki Murao, tells the story of the Tawara family. They are apparently the last living Shinobis (“ninja” isn’t the correct term), and the descendants of Hattori Hanzo are as follows: Soichi (the father), Yoko (the mother), Nagi (the daughter), Gaku (the oldest son), Haru (the second son), Riku (the youngest son), and Taki (the grandmother). But they aren’t on active duty after Gaku’s death and are trying to live a “normal life.” However, the rise of a new evil called the Gentenkai, led by a mysterious cult leader named Tsujioka, reignites the Tawaras’ battle with the Fuma clan. While Soichi is adamant about not wearing the iconic outfit and wielding a blade, all the family members begin to make their way back into the world of shadows, due to the BNM’s (Bureau of Ninja Management) nudges as well as Karen’s journalism. And the revelations that come out of this endeavor have the potential of shaking the core of the Tawaras and Japan.

The more I think about the storytelling of House of Ninjas, the more I am blown away by the writers’ sheer mastery. The first three episodes play out like a superhero comedy, where the Tawaras are trying to attain some semblance of normalcy while the scent of action beckons them. There’s some romance, courtesy of Haru and Karen. The BNM feels pretty light-hearted, especially because it has a section that oversees the representation of ninjas in popular media. And the threat of the Gentenkai doesn’t seem all that imminent. But then the next three episodes feel like a conspiracy thriller. The Tawaras and the BNM begin to symbolize fascism and oppression, while the Gentenkai begins to appear like a storm of anarchy that’s going to destabilize the socio-political fabric of Japan. And the way it’s all intertwined with the personal journeys of the characters is heavy. After all that, the final two episodes get truly cerebral by talking about whether or not kindness is a form of weakness, the ease with which younger generations can be manipulated by exploiting their loneliness, godmen, and more (I say “more” because I don’t want to spoil anything for you).

House of Ninjas is a split-diopter festival. I think there’s more than one in every episode, and it’s used pretty deliciously. The ones where Haru tells the truth about his hand in Gaku’s death and when Haru faces Tsujioka are burned into my brain. The action sequences are exquisite, and they morph according to how well you know the characters of the show. The initial set pieces feel a little distant, as if you are watching them unfold from afar. But as you get closer to the aforementioned character and learn more about the world they inhabit, everything from the sound design to the choreography gets more immersive. The final back-to-back fight sequences are top-tier stuff. The sheer number of stunt people, the atmosphere, the editing, and the camerawork in those scenes are fantastic. The pacing is amazing. The use of silence to let certain pivotal moments breathe is nothing short of genius. Every set—the Tawara household, the BNM headquarters, the apartments, the Gentenkai HQ—exuding so much personality is proof of the show’s high level of attention to detail. Some of the low-light scenes could’ve been done better, but, at the end of the day, since the positives outweigh the negatives by a mile, I don’t mind it too much.

The cast of House of Ninjas is perfect. Kento Kaku delivers such a restrained performance throughout the show to convey the level of guilt, repression, and burden that Haru is carrying. There’s a world-weariness to his character because he has seen so much violence, and that’s contrasted by his need to preserve his innocence. It’s a great push-and-pull, thereby making Haru a great protagonist. Yosuke Eguchi is quietly comedic as the typical father figure who thinks he knows his family but is actually in the dark because he is too busy maintaining a facade. That said, when he unleashes the beast, he is awesome. Tae Kimura is hilarious in an over-the-top way. She seems like she has stepped out of a ‘60s screwball comedy. That said, when she needs to show that it’s just Yoko’s way of processing the loss of her son, she does tug at your heartstrings. Aju Makita does a great balancing act of being both an adorable sister and a lethal fighter. Nobuko Miyamoto is a scene-stealer. Every time she is on the screen, she lights it up. Tenka Banya is brilliant, despite being the only kid in the show. His amusement and curiosity are infectious.

Coming to the rest of the cast of House of Ninjas, I don’t think I have enough words to explain the joy I felt while watching Takayuki Yamada in action. I have grown up watching and re-watching Crows Zero (I think there is an explicit reference to the movie in the show), and seeing him as this clairvoyant cult leader, who just so happens to be a god-tier ninja, spewing all kinds of knowledge about life and upending the world order, was incredible. Tomorowo Taguchi is initially funny, but he turns out to be quite a formidable and manipulative figure. You don’t see him explicitly switch sides, but before you can realize what has happened, he becomes one of the antagonists of the show. Tokio Emoto is the comic relief. Everything, from his body language to his reactions, is meant to make the audience laugh. Given how bleak the show gets, I understand his inclusion, and since Emoto is so good, I don’t mind his presence. Riho Yoshioka is the audience surrogate, and she aptly channels everything that a layman will feel if they are thrust into a world of shinobis. Kyusaku Shimada doesn’t have a lot of screen time, but boy, is he impactful. The same can be said about Bambi Naka (whose character’s name may or may not be a reference to Naruto’s Ayame), who is a force of nature. Kengo Kora is splendid, and that’s all I will say to avoid spoiling his character’s arc.

To be fair, I’m still wrapping my head around the balance of the intimacy of the family and personal drama and the relevance of the show’s portrayal of politics and religion. I won’t say it’s something particularly new, but the way it’s integrated into this particular fictional world is fascinating and gripping. In addition to that, I have to give Netflix a round of applause for hosting two amazing action series within a span of two months. In January, they gave us The Brothers Sun, which was steeped in Chinese culture, and in February, they gave us House of Ninjas, which is brimming with Japanese culture, history, and mythology. And both of these shows have fight sequences that’ll give the blockbusters of the year a run for their money. I don’t know how profitable shows like these are for streaming platforms, but if they expect me to dedicate 8–9 hours of my life to bingeable series, I want more of this! So, go and watch House of Ninjas so that I can get more of this.

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Pramit Chatterjee
Pramit Chatterjee
Pramit loves to write about movies, television shows, short films, and basically anything that emerges from the world of entertainment. He occasionally talks to people, and judges them on the basis of their love for Edgar Wright, Ryan Gosling, Keanu Reeves, and the best television series ever made, Dark.

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