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J-Drama ● Review: House of Ninjas

English Title: House of Ninjas

Japanese Title: 忍びの家 [lit. shinobi’s house]

Director(s): Dave Boyle, Murao Yoshiaki, Takimoto Tomoyuki

Screenwriter(s): Yamaura Masahiro, Oura Kota, Dave Boyle, Kimura Kanna

Studio: TOHO

Released: 2024

Runtime: 8 episodes, ~50m each.

Starring: Kaku Kento, Yoshioka Riho, Eguchi Yosuke, Kimura Tae, Makita Aju, Miyamoto Nobuko, Banka Tenta, Kora Kengo, Taguchi Tomorowo, Yamada Takayuki

My Verdict: Ninja family vs rival clan. Nicely shot. A few points regarding characters and conflict can be better, but intriguing and entertaining.

House of Ninjas

● The plot follows the Tawara, a shinobi family that is supposed to work for the government’s Bureau of Ninja Management (BNM). Six years ago, Tawara’s eldest son Gaku (Kora Kengo) died during a mission against the Fuma, a rival clan. Since then, the Tawara family has stopped operating but recent events compel BNM boss Hamashima (Taguchi Tomorowo) to get the Tawara family back into action.

● The main viewpoint character is the second son Haru (Kaku Kento). The father Soichi (Eguchi Yosuke) wishes Haru to take over the family’s sake brewery but he is unwilling. Meanwhile, younger sister Nagi (Makita Aju) and mother Yoko (Kimura Tae) are being kleptos partly due to boredom, youngest brother Riku (Banka Tenta) is kept out of the loop as part of the attempt to be a “normal” family, and grandmother (Miyamoto Nobuko) simply laughs everything off since she is retired and because she can.

● Haru gets involved with journalist Ito Karen (Yoshioka Riho) whose investigation may be tied to the reviving Fuma. Hamashima convinces Haru to investigate whilst also, separately, convinces a bored and therefore enthusiastic Yoko to deal with the problem. Soichi is not happy as he wishes his family to be left alone. Whilst Haru is the main viewpoint character, the series does not neglect the rest of the family and mostly provides a balanced coverage.

Ito Karen (Yoshioka Riho) and Haru (Kaku Kento)
Ito Karen (Yoshioka Riho) and Haru (Kaku Kento)

● As expected, each family member has some quirk and the family as a whole is dysfunctional. Although not a particularly original idea, the execution is good, partly due to the solid performances and partly because the dysfunction is not unrealistically intense.

● The characters, given the premise, are real enough. More importantly, they are relatable. Perhaps the ultimate weaknesses are that Nagi’s character arc is arguably neglected too much in the second half of the series and the grandmother is under-utilized, at least initially. It is apparent that she is supposed to be the most mysterious, which is fine, but her role (in relation to everyone else) could be better thought out.

● The conflict is not merely between the Tawara and the Fuma or between the family members, there is conflict between Hamashima and Haru as well. Indeed, Japanese or not, Hamashima is the stereotypical stickler for rules and is antagonistic in his handling of the Tawara family. Very rarely does anyone overtly stand up to him and so the conflict is too weak in that aspect.

Hamashima (Taguchi Tomorowo) and Soichi (Eguchi Yosuke)
Hamashima (Taguchi Tomorowo) and Soichi (Eguchi Yosuke)
Nagi (Makita Aju) and Yoko (Kimura Tae)
Nagi (Makita Aju) and Yoko (Kimura Tae)

● As for the Fuma clan, their resurgence is also not particularly original but it is intriguing. Instead of operating totally in secret, they run a cult-like organization that gains popularity and they use that as a means to execute their plan. Although this is a little too convenient as their history is not explained that well, it is interesting enough.

● The setting is supposed to be Tokyo and its surrounding regions. Sometimes, the location is a little unclear or any travelling done comes across as a little convenient. For example, the Tawara family home looks like it is in a rural area. This is deliberate to give a sense of tradition, which is fine, but even if it is meant to be a little mysterious, it is too unclear and yet conveniently reachable.

● The Tawara house is nicely designed. It is not quite a “character” like the Batmobile but it does have a presence, it helps set the tone and its space is mostly well-utilized. Although over the course of the series the home is mostly seen and its layout can be deduced or inferred, at least one or two uncut walkthrough shots in the earlier episodes would make the space clearer to the audience as well as add to the visual spectacle.

● The story tries to give a sense of ninja clans keeping to their traditions in today’s world. Although their keeping away from modern technology is obviously deliberate and appreciated, it might be more realistic if there is just a little use of it.

● Those who are looking for lots of overt action, this isn’t that type of series but there is enough. If anything, there can be a little more sneaking around and doing things by stealth.

● Visually, it is nicely shot. The palette and lighting are perfectly executed. The colors and contrast have that solid and saturated look but not overtly rich like a fantasy K-Drama. (There is nothing wrong with that but it isn’t a K-Drama nor does it need to be like one.)

● There is the use of bifocal shots which is cool. The edges of the object can be cleaner which admittedly may be difficult since it is bifocal—it is not jarring but it is noticeable.

● There is also the use of wide shots with the object center of frame that convey a surreal stillness. Although not overdoing it is appreciated, the stylization can go a little further.

● Music by Jonathan Snipes is amusing, using at least one song from the 60s rock band The Zombies. The soundtrack at times takes a funky and jazzy approach. It mostly fits although it sometimes draws too much attention to itself. At other times, it plays on being comical even though the series is not overtly comical.

● Overall, it is a well-produced and entertaining series. As mentioned above, some points can be better executed but the pacing and plotting are generally good. It is not intensely thrilling but it is always intriguing and amusing enough, so it consistently holds one’s attention throughout.

Grandmother (Miyamoto Nobuko) and Riku (Banka Tenta)
Grandmother (Miyamoto Nobuko) and Riku (Banka Tenta)

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