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After more than four hundred years of war between the Shinobi warriors of the Manjidani Koga and Tsubagakure Iga clans, the Lord Hattori Hanzou decrees that they must live in peace. Both clans live hidden in the woods and mountain without confrontation and without training ninjas in the shadow art of Shinobi. In 1614, the Lord of the Lords is convinced that the clans are dangerous threats for keeping peace in his lands, and his advisor plots a Machiavellian plan to destroy their best warriors in a contest. Meanwhile, the young Iga Oboro and Koga Gennesuke fall in love for each other. When Oboro's grandmother and leader of Iga clan Ogen and Gennesuke's father and leader of the Koga clan Danjo kill each other, Oboro and Gannesuke must lead their warriors in the ultimate battle of the Shinobi clans. Written by
Claudio Carvalho, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
I FINALLY got my hands on the DVD, and watched it a few days ago. I must say that I hyped this movie to myself for quite a while as I waited and waited for the film to arrive on subtitled DVD. Seeing the movie posters at the cinemas just made me salivate, and as such my view of the film was slightly slanted, and also of slight disappointment.
The film follows the story of the two tribes of Ninja - Iga and Koga, who have obeyed a non-aggression law for many generations. In a period of peace after Japan's own warring states' period, two ninjas from opposite sides meet and fall in love. In true Star-crossed Lover tradition, they have to keep their romance a secret. However, inevitably fate steps in to pull them apart, in the form of a shady tournament, designed by the Shogan's advisors.
The romance of the film takes center stage, and it fits well with the sub title "Heart Under Blade". The two main characters, leaders of their clans have to balance their love, and their responsibilities, as the Shogun's plot unfolds.
The Characters are very interestingly designed, and colourful. They all possess unique skills, and have very anime'esquire costumes and fighting styles. Much of the fighting is a combination of CGI and wire-work, and some of it is incredibly cool. The low budget effects will no doubt be critised by many who are used to ILM level of graphics, but while companies like ILM strive to make the fantastic, "real", Shinobi's effects are beautifully stylised. Regardless of how they look, their fresh and innovative look more than makes up for any lack of polish.
Character design in this film may be great, but sadly the personalities underneath have not been as fleshed-out. Except for the main characters, we are given as much as we need to know about each character to accomplish the end goals of the story, and not much more. Even the main pair felt a bit empty, and perhaps some more exploration into their feelings would have built their characters more. Seeing them hug and canoodle certainly showed that they were in love, but in the end I didn't feel it like I had hoped I would.
That said, the acting in the film is quite good. Taking cues from its comic and anime origins, the characters are even larger than life when in motion, and villains and heros are very archetypal, lending them comic-book credentials that probably would have been insufficient in a more serious film.
Perhaps it is the comic book acting, but at times the film, like many lower budget Jidaigeki, looked a little "television". I can only assume that this was due more to filming technology than quality. However, many people that love Asian film will tell you that to fully appreciate it, you have to look past the budget and see its heart. While Hollywood film tries to use the glare from all of its gloss to hide plot and character inadequacies, Asian film doesn't usually have that luxury. What it does often have though are ideas.
Shinobi does things that I have never seen a Hollywood film even try (except for a strange Spiderman like sequence which may have been in the source material anyway), and as such is something to see. It owes an awful lot to anime, and it is indeed based on one. From the character designs of the Androgenous razor whip wielder, and the silent hulking doppelganger, to the Ninja Gaiden like battle sequences, this film is an anime and ninja fans guilty dream. Plus with all of Yukie Nakama's conflicted and fragile expressions, you can't help but wish you could just give her a big cuddle! 7/10
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