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"Shinobi: Heart Under Blade" Soars Above Expectations

by on November 7, 2008

Four hundred years ago in Japan, the Tokugawa shoguns rule the land, leading to a time of peace. But there are still two clans of ninjas with a burning desire to fight. The shoguns have deemed them weapons: not civilians but swords. These two clans, the Kouga and the Iga, have been forced into an era of peace due by the legendary Hattori Hanzo. Two members of the clans, in turn, have been forced into roles of leadership, forcing their forbidden love onto the battlefield. Forget Romeo And Juliet as Shinobi: Heart Under Blade gives us “Romeo VS Juliet.” Round 1, fight!

Every once in a while, you get Romeo and Juliet remade, or adapted, into different formats. You have that ’90s version starring Leonardo di Caprio that had the word “sword” written on every gun; you have Jet Li’s Romeo Must Die; you even have Mobile Suit Gundam Wing playing the story out amongst giant robots and intergalactic strife. In Shinobi the two roles are filled by Gennosuke of the Kouga and Oboro of the Iga. These clans have their ancient tiff, and are pitted against each other by the head of the Tokugawa Dynasty. Each side has to choose their warriors from the annals of character stereotypes, such as Final Fantasy‘s Sephiroth and Wolverine of the X-Men, and are forced to fight for supremacy. These lovers are forced to decide what’s more important; their ninja strengths or their bond of love.

The fight scenes (and, inherently, they include the expected ninja antics) are very well done but rarely bring anything new to the table. You have ninjas doing their best Spider-Man impersonation (swinging from tree to tree), one ninja doing his best Wolverine impersonation (with three blades coming out of wrist-mounted weaponry), and various other techniques that aren’t truly unique. Sure, it’s rare to see somebody be attacked by mind-controlled butterflies, but if it was underwater, Aquaman would have done the same thing with shrimp or something.

Of course, at the heart of the story is the heart of the heroes, which doesn’t disappoint. If you have a girlfriend, you could potentially watch this with her, while zoning out during the slow drama and paying attention when people get gutted. Me? I watched it alone … but on a glorious HDTV on Blu-Ray.

Yeah, who needs human contact when you can replicate it with high-def?

The Blu-Ray edition of this movie is simply beautiful. At times, I wanted to eject the disc, put it on my Macbook, and take some screencaps for computer wallpaper, before remembering that Apple has yet to jump onto Blu-Ray. Visually, both of the villages of the tribes are rendered in either blues or red, and just give a serene visual.

It comes packed with extras, which doesn’t always mean great extras. Select storyboards show how close the film was to what they envisioned. A 40-minute “VFX Behind The Scenes” show how they filmed a few scenes, added in the special effects and digital actors, and composited them, which will, admittedly, be interesting for those on the movie-making side. An introduction to the various weapons used by the clans does show that some items are very accurate, while some have actually been modernized, and some just admittedly don’t make sense. There is also a short location feature showing off the formation of one of the villages, and how it was rebuilt after nature said “screw you” to the production crew. Also, the stuntmen, cast, and directors show how one scene of an early fight was filmed. Finally, you get the standard bevy of trailers, TV spots, and promos for other shows.

Like ninjas, but want something better than the Naruto drivel that has overtaken Toonami? Throw in Shinobi: Heart Under Blade for a good diversion.

Chris Wood previously reviewed the DVD release of Shinobi for Toon Zone; Maxie Zeus and Duke reviewed Basilisk, an anime series based on the same source material.

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