Takashi Miike’s “Ninja Kids!!!” (忍たま乱太郎) – 2011 NYAFF and Japan Cuts Review

A story about an awkward, bespectacled boy trying to make his way through school, meet new friends and find his way through life sounds like a straightforward feel-good Disney kids’ movie.  But “Ninja Kids!!!” is anything but straightforward with one Takashi Miike at the helm – the prolific Japanese director behind “Ichi the Killer,” “13 Assassins,” “Sukiyaki Western Django” and all sorts of other insane works.

The equally prolific child actor Seishiro Kato stars as Rantaro, a boy who is sent by his farmer parents to boarding school and fulfill the dream that Rantaro’s father couldn’t achieve: to become a ninja.  But just when the viewer is set up for a pint-sized version of Tak Sakaguchi’s “Be a Man! Samurai School,” Miike tosses in whacked hairdos, dog poop, farts, snot jokes and even ramen noodles.  One wonders, with a plot twisting and turning as much as an errantly-sailing ninja star whipping through the wind, if Rantaro and his fellow first-graders will ever develop the chops to become ninjas.  This question is eventually put to the test when the crafty kids enter a showdown against some adult ninjas…who also happen to be very, very stupid adults.  If you ever felt ostracized at school, or if you always thought kids were smarter than grown-ups (or perhaps even both), then “Ninja Kids!!!” is the movie for you. Feel-good it is, Disney it is thankfully not.

“Ninja Kids!!!” makes its world premiere at the 2011 New York Asian Film Festival on Sun., July 3, at 7 p.m., and screens again as part of NYAFF and Japan Cuts on Sat., July 9, at 6 p.m.  For tickets, go to the Film Society of Lincoln Center and Japan Society websites.