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Japan 2005

Fantasy, Drama, Action, Romance

Ten Shimoyama

Joe Odagiri
Yukie Nakama
Kippei Shiina
Tomoka Kurotani
Tak Sakaguchi
Erika Sawajiri
Takeshi Masu
Mitsuki Koga
Houka Kinoshita
Shun Ito
Yutaka Matsushige

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Shinobi - Heart under Blade

Story: The Tokugawa regime did finally unite Japan and managed to establish peace. However, the present ruler fears that the extraordinary skills of two local Ninja-Clans could be used to start a revolution which could lead to another war. Therefore he somehow has to get rid of the clans.
The two Ninja-Clans, that are sworn enemies since 400 years, are the Iga- and the Kouga-Clan. The leaders of the clans do not know that in secret Gennosuke (Joe Odagiri) of Kouga and Oboro (Yukie Nakama) of Iga are two lovers. Yet, their love is put to a serious test, when the ruler of the country orders the two clans to choose their five best warriors each and let them battle in a duel to death. The winner has direct influence on which one of Tokugawa's sons will become the next Shogun.
As the leader of Iga Oboro is chosen, while Gennosuke leads the Kouga. The two lovers meet again on battlefield, but whereas Gennosuke is against pointless killing and rather wants to find out what Tokugawa is up to, Oboro accepts their fate...

Review: The expectations of this adaption of the anime "Basilisk", which the movie is somewhat loosely based on, were quite high, and this despite the fact that Ten Shimoyama is responsible for the film, a man who didn't make a name for himself because of his great works. Some of his movies include "Muscle Heat" and "St. John's Wort". Fortunately, Shimoyama manages to do the nearly impossible: he delivers an outstanding fantasy flick, that scores with a great love story, exceptional characters and their inventive super powers, as well as with well done action sequences.
At the same time, the plot around the dawn of a new era in which warriors like the Shinobi are not needed anymore also involves a lot of melodramatics. Which way are the ninjas supposed to go in the future? Are they even able to do something else than killing and if not do they have the right to exist in this newly found peaceful world, anymore?

"Shinobi" isn't incredibly philosophical and it doesn't claim to be historically correct either, yet it deals with the problem of a country that enters a new era pretty authentically. Lord Tokugawa wants to destroy the shinobi in order to be able to maintain peace in his land and as Tenzen of the Iga tells us, the shinobi are more than glad to die gloriously in one last battle rather than to live in a world in which they serve no purpose at all.
Only Gennosuke believes in another meaning of life besides fighting. First of all, there is his love for Oboro, naturally, but he also has left some common sense, which he could preserve despite of his training of becoming an undefeatable warrior. The more sad it is that his loved one doesn't fight against fate alongside with him, but instead is ready to fulfill her last duty as a shinobi.

What makes the movie so special are its numerous colorful and interesting characters. It's true that the movie with its merely 107 minutes running time (of which ca. 10 minutes are spent on the ending credits!) offers not enough space for every character to be elaborated in a satisfying way and there are a lot of which one would have liked to see and know more, yet the actors use their little on-screen time to play themselves into the memory of the viewer.
Since every one of the shinobi has some certain special skills, the movie reminds a little bit of "X-Men", which is as already told not surprising, as the movie is based on a comic itself. Or to be more precisely it is based on a novel of Futaro Yamada ("Samurai Resurrection").

It's just fun to watch the different characters and their individual powers. People like Tenzen, played by Kippei Shiina, who can't die or Kagerou who has been fed poison all her life long till she became a deadly, poisonous weapon herself, can really play themselves into your heart. Tomoka Kurotani furthermore bestows her character with the necessary cold eroticism and even though the idea itself might be found in several Animes, it is nonetheless implemented in the movie quite well.
Tak Sakaguchi ("Versus") plays Yashamaru, who always holds the "threads" in his hands and Erika Sawajiri lends Hotarubi her face, which sees Oboro as her big sister for whom she is ready to do anything.
Oboro doesn't look like a fighter and so it's no wonder that it is her gaze that can kill people. A good choice as Yukie Nakama's eyes are very unique. It's just a shame, that Oboro oftentimes seems to be too heartless.
About Gennosuke... let's just say that he is fast. And with fast I mean REALLY fast. Moreover, Joe Odagiri ("Azumi") seems to be the perfect choice for the role of the young bounden warrior, doing his job pretty well.

So it's no wonder, that the fights in "Shinobi" are a feast for the eyes and in addition are very varietal. The individual skills make every fight a new experience. One also didn't do so without some appropriate CGI-effects, of which most look very professional.
At the bottom line you can say that the movie stands out because of its astonishing cinematography. Beautiful landscapes, wonderfully composed pictures and nice camera angles make watching the movie a pleasure. The different costumes, the make-up, resp. hair styling, as an example I have to point out Gennosuke's odd hairstyle, always reminds you of the fact, that this movie is Anime come to life at its best.
Big thumps up for a great score by Taro Iwashiro ("Azumi"), too, which always creates the right mood. Be it the more dramatic or more action-orientated scenes, the music always hits the right notes!

As "Shinobi" is fully packed with characters, it never gets boring and there is always happening something on screen. The action sequences are scattered throughout the movie in a well balanced manner, the only sore point is that a real final end fight is missing.
If you think that the old, kind of "Romeo & Julia" story, is way too hackneyed to really care about it, making the love story too cheesy, you can rest assured. Even the "tough guys" among you will have no problem watching the movie. Some scenes between Gennosuke and Oboro are in fact a little bit cheesy, but they don't feel that way! Why you ask? That's simple. The movie takes place in a fantasy world in which the sometimes melodramatic ambience just fits in perfectly. Especially, the short scene between Tenzen and Kagerou is almost magical.

Why aren't there more movies like this? "Shinobi: Heart under Blade" delivers qualitatively great entertainment, that enchants the viewer with a colorful fantasy world, a good love story, nice action and amazing characters. Only "Azumi" comes to my mind that can cope with the Japanese Samurai-Fantasy-Anime genre "Shinobi" covers.
However, the movie isn't perfect at all. Some of the characters remain a little bit too shallow, some more action towards the end would have been nice, but the biggest flaw is that Shimoyama's work is just too short. On the other hand this speaks for the movie, as it shows that one really would have liked to stay in this fantasy world a little bit longer!

(Author: Manfred Selzer)
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