On the surface, Suffering of Ninko tells the tale of a devout Buddhist monk who finds that he is irresistible to women, and even some men. Directed by newcomer Norhiro Niwatsukino, the film utilizes captivating Japanese woodblock animations, traditional art and age-old folklore to create the new mythical tale of Ninko.
The story of Ninko ends up being much more than what you’d presume — it’s not just a monk being chased down by topless women, or his running away screaming from their advances. As the film continues, Ninko is driven closer and closer to insanity by his admirers’ endless pursuing and his own repression of his desires. After a daunting encounter with a masked woman who lures him into the forest, Ninko decides to go on a journey to redeem himself and purge whatever evil that he believes is inside of him. And that’s when everything gets worse, of course.
His journey in the latter half of the film crosses paths with Kanzo, a blood-thirsty samurai. Together, they arrive at a deserted village where Yama-Onna, a spectre, has been seducing its men into the forest and draining their energy one by one. Ninko is struck by this Yama-Onna, who seems like his very own counterpart — what exactly is the difference between him and this evil, supernatural being?
Up until this point, I had no issue sympathizing with Ninko, who seems like the epitome of a devout Buddhist monk, mercilessly cursed to appear irresistibly attractive to other men and women. Unlike the general population, and being the pious monk he is, Ninko is absolutely repudiated by this fact. Yet, we can’t ignore that he can’t seem to get the images of topless women out of his mind, even when he meditates, or that he has done little to actually fix his curse.
Through Ninko, director Niwatsukino probes at the taboo topic of sexuality and in particular, the repression of sexuality. Is Ninko’s suppression of his sexual desires any better than giving in to them? Suffering of Ninko provides no easy answer or message, but its use of Japanese folklore, traditional art and unabashed nudity certainly makes the film an exhilarating experience.