The ninja’s real ultimate powerIf you read a manual such as “Bansenshukai,” or “Sea of Myriad Rivers Merging,” published in 1676 in Japan, you get to understand that the role of a ninja was something above that of an assassin or a special agent.
The book, which is a collection of ninja knowledge called ninjutsu that includes espionage techniques, martial arts and philosophy, traces the origin of the ninja as far back as Fu Xi, the first of the Three Sovereigns of ancient China in the mid-2800s B.C. There is also a theory that the fourth century Prince Yamato Takeru in the official Japanese history “Kojiki,” or “Record of Ancient Matters,” was the original ninja. He infiltrated the enemy camp disguising himself as a maid and killed two enemy generals.
But the masked ninjas, who are in the imagination of modern people, appear in the records of the 14th century. During the Warring States Period when the shoguns of each region fought against and killed each other, the ninjas were promoted to the status of professionals. The province of Iga and the adjacent region of Koga became famous for their excellent ninjas.
Even after unifying all the Japanese islands under its rule, the Tokugawa shogunate maintained a secrete ninja group called the Oniwabanshu, or the Guardians of the Garden. According to “Art of the Ninja” written by Peter Lewis, there is a record showing that the ninjas infiltrated an American military vessel and stole documents in 1853, when the American fleet under Commodore Matthew Perry berthed near the Japanese coastline to demand the shogun open its ports.
Although the colorful legends of the ninjas ended with the introduction of modern warfare, the image of ninjas revived as the flower of popular culture in the late 20th century in Japan. Films on the ninjas, while not shown in Korea because they represented Japanese culture, attracted, along with kung fu movies from Hong Kong, large number of viewers all over the world. People still talk about popular ninja stars such as Sonny Chiba in the 1970s and Sho Kosugi in the 1980s.
Recently, it came to our attention that ninja characters help Korean film idols’ advancement into Hollywood. Korean director Shin Sang-ok accomplished a success by producing “Ninja Kid” with a small budget in 1995, and then he directed “3 Ninjas Knuckle Up,” the third in that series, himself. Actor Lee Byung-hun played the role of a ninja in the Hollywood blockbuster “G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra.” And, of course, Rain stars in “Ninja Assassin.”
There are people who criticize the fact that Koreans only seem to play the role of ninjas, but it should be noted that some Japanese wonder why they should be robbed of ninja roles in Hollywood by Korean actors. As Puccini’s opera “Madame Butterfly” helped sopranos of the East advance onto the world stage, the ninja characters in movies do the same for Korean actors.
The writer is the content director ]at JES Entertainment.
By Song Weon-seop