Shinobi: Heart Under Blade


The Shinobi were a people who lived deep in the mountains of Japan. Feared for their superhuman abilities, they were highly sought after during times of war. However, peace has spread across the land in the setting of this film, and their unrivaled skills make the rulers uneasy.

imageThere are two rival clans of Shinobi, the Iga of Tsubagakure and the Kouga of Manjidani. They have been at peace for a long time, a peace brought on by Hattori Hanzo. These two clans are not a peace loving people, however, as their way of life is combat. So, when the truce is revoked by the powers that be, the two clans are elated to be able to once again battle each other to prove the superiority of their clan.

But I am getting ahead of myself. The story is not simply of two rival warrior clans, but of a romance, reminiscent of Romeo and Juliet, between the successors of each clan. Gennosuke, the grandson of the patriarch of the Kouga clan, and Oboro, the granddaughter of the Matriarch of the Iga clan, wish at first for peace so they may be wed in the open. This is, however, where the Romeo and Juliet similarities break down. As the clans prepare for war with each other, Oboro is convinced that she must fight to honor her clan, while Gennosuke alone seeks a peaceful solution.

imageThe visual effects of this movie are, in a word, stunning. The colors are sharp, vivid, with the colors of Autumn accented by incredibly skilled camera work, and perhaps some special effects, as it hardly seems possible that anything could be as breathtaking as some of these images. The costumes, of course, are impeccable, really bringing a sense of the time period, without relying too much on the expected attire. Based on Kurosawa’s films, I have a general idea of what to expect, and this movie did not lack in any regard. Though genuinely unique, the costumes invoked the period with precision.

The sounds were without much charm, however. Given the lack of explosions and other things that go BOOM (except cannon fire, which I’ll mention later) most of the audio effects were the typical swooshing of blades, and, frankly, swooshing of anything that a Shinobi moved. Be it arms, knives, swords, or sleeves.

imageThe story was remarkable. The characters memorable, and very well developed. I’ve done a little research, and it turns out much of the story-such as the Shogun, Tokugawa, and others–were actually historical figures of the time. This lends another layer of depth to the story. There were numerous references to ‘star crossed lovers,’ which I think was a little over the top considering the great divergence from the classic Shakespearean romance.

My largest complaint about the story was towards the end. This is a bit of a spoiler, so skip to the numbers if you don’t want to hear it. The cannons I mentioned earlier were sent to the Shinobi villages along with the Shoguns army to destroy the clans while their strongest were out fighting. What I couldn’t figure out is how in the world they managed to sneak an army and a battery of cannons to these villages full of superhuman Shinobi. As if that wasn’t unbelievable enough, when the attack started, the Shinobi, who were earlier shown jumping through trees, off of mountains, and other such feats reserved for the Bionic Woman, or Superman, literally did nothing to fight the attack. They ran around in circles like they had never received a day of combat training in their life, despite the fact that combat training is the only thing any of them had ever done.

Now for the numbers!

Entertainment: 9.0
There were a few moments that were simply unbelievable given the story. You can’t sneak up on a ninja. Especially not with a friggin’ cannon. But other than that, the story was amazing, despite it not being the Romeo and Juliet it so desperately wanted to be. The shots were awesome, the fighting was incredible, and very unique.

Technical Extras: N/A
This was just a screener dvd, it had no extras or anything of the like. I guess, the subtitles count, though there wasn’t an option to turn them off. I’m going to stick with N/A on this one.

Overall: 9.0

Solid movie, I would recommend to anyone who likes Kurosawa, Samurai movies, anime, Kung Fu, Kung Fu on strings, or general ass kicking action movies. The romance is a big plot line, but it doesn’t take away from the fighting at all, so you may even be able to convince your romantically inclined ‘other’ to watch it with you!

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