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Last checked: March 16, 2015
Ninja Scroll (獣兵衛忍風帖, Jūbē Ninpūchō) is a 1993 Japanese animated action thriller film, set in feudal Japan, written and directed by Yoshiaki Kawajiri. The character designs were done by Yutaka Minowa. The film is in homage to the Ninpōchō series of ninja novels by Futaro Yamada. The main character, Kibagami Jubei, is an homage to the famed Japanese folk hero Yagyū Jūbei Mitsuyoshi. The critically acclaimed film was released on June 5, 1993, and received a Western release on December 6, 1995.
A Japanese animated television series named Ninja Scroll: The Series aired in Japan in 2003 and ran for 13 episodes. The series is partly written by Yoshiaki Kawajiri, but remains only a spiritual sequel to the film because the story stands alone; however, many references suggest that it is indeed a continuation from the movie.
Ninja Scroll is set in feudal Japan. Five years before the start of the film, the Yamashiro clan's chief retainers (vassal lords) dig gold out of a secret mine behind their lord's back. The lord of the Yamashiro clan wants to have the gold for himself, but his forces are not strong enough, so he cannot act alone. He also cannot go to the government first, because they would take the gold if they knew about the mine. He orders his ninja team, led by Gemma Himuro, to kill the chief retainers, claiming he would then report the mine to the government. Jubei Kibagami and Shinkuro are members of this ninja team. After the chief retainers are murdered, the Yamashiro lord does not report the mine to the government. Later, Gemma orders Shinkuro and others to kill Jubei, hoping they would all kill each other, thus eliminating everyone who knew about the mine. Reluctantly, Jubei kills Shinkuro and the others in self-defense. While Gemma is riding along a pass, Jubei springs from the snow and cuts off his head to avenge Shinkuro and the others. Jubei then becomes a wandering swordsman-for-hire.
Sometime later, Gemma is inexplicably able to reincarnate himself, and over the next five years, becomes leader of a demon ninja group known as the Devils of Kimon, who in turn work for the mysterious Shogun of the Dark (really the lord of the House of Toyotomi), which holds a grudge against the current government, the Tokugawa shogunate, and wants to overthrow it. Gemma tells the Shogun of the Dark the location of the secret mine. Meanwhile, Tokugawa government spies are trying to determine where the mine is. The Shogun of the Dark sends the Devils of Kimon to protect the Yamashiro clan from the government spies and government intervention in return for gold from the mine. The Yamashiro clan sends a large shipment of gold to the Shogun of the Dark, but the ship is wrecked in a storm on the coast near the village of Shimoda, in Mochizuki clan territory. Gemma and the Devils of Kimon are sent to recover the gold. They wipe out Shimoda village by poisoning the wells to get rid of any witnesses. They make it look as if a plague has killed the villagers. The next night, a team of Mochizuki Koga ninja is sent to investigate the plague in Shimoda village, but on their way they are slaughtered. The only survivor is Kagero, who is captured and is almost raped by her assailant, a huge stone golem called Tessai. Rescued by Jubei, Kagero escapes to continue her mission, while Tessai vengefully pursues Jubei. Tessai succeeds in ambushing Jubei but is killed.
Tokugawa shogunate spy Dakuan, who had been observing Jubei, reveals that Tessai belonged to a supernatural ninja group known as the Devils of Kimon, who will constantly attack him to avenge the death of their comrade. Calling his bluff, Jubei is fatally poisoned by Dakuan in an attempt to force Jubei into his employ, the reward for his service being 100 pieces of gold and the antidote to his poison, which will kill him in under a day. The two unite with Kagero to determine the Devils of Kimon agenda and how it relates to the mysterious plague in Shimoda. Dakuan continues the main investigation on his own, using Jubei and Kagero as decoys, who must constantly fend off deadly attacks from the remaining members of the Devils of Kimon, the leader of whom is reputed to be Jubei's old nemesis Gemma, who was killed several years previously. Later on, Dakuan reveals to Kagero that the poison in Jubei can only be cured if she sleeps with him, much to her shock. During this she is abducted by the Devil Shijima, but is later rescued by Jubei.
The Devils of Kimon recover the gold and move it by cart to nearby Kishima Harbor, to have it picked up by another ship and sent to the Shogun of the Dark. Jubei, Kagero, and Dakuan attempt to stop them, but Kagero is fatally wounded by Gemma, who was impersonating her lord – the Mochizuki clan leader, Sakaki Hyobu. In her dying moments, Jubei rushes to Kagero's aid, who confesses her love for him and the two share a kiss before she passes away, curing Jubei of his poison. Enraged by the death of Kagero, Jubei fights through the enemy forces to get to the ship as it is casting off. Dakuan has also sneaked on the ship; he overhears the Toyotomi retainer and Gemma discussing the Shogun of the Dark's plan for the gold. The Shogun of the Dark plans to use the gold to buy advanced guns from Spain and to overthrow the government. Gemma, however, intends to steal the gold for himself and use it to raise the largest ninja army ever, ultimately ruling the country through fear and intimidation. Gemma kills the Toyotomi retainer, and takes over the ship. Meanwhile, Jubei and Dakuan sneak into the hold of the ship, and in a fight with Zakuro, the ship is set on fire. Gemma goes down to the hold, and in a final battle with Jubei amongst the flames, he falls into the molten gold. Jubei and Dakuan escape the burning ship while Gemma's gilded body sinks with the rest of the gold to the bottom of the sea.