I’d like to direct your attention to FUNimation’s Shinobi: Heart Under Blade, a live-action, anime-influenced extravaganza! In Japan in 1614, Shogun Ieyasu Tokugawa has finally brought peace to the land. Only one major loose end remains: a pair of powerful, arch-rival ninja clans based out of hidden villages, ones with warriors of such strength that they could be a threat in this new era of peace. After witnessing their power, he concocts a scheme to deal with the Koga and Iga clans: nullify a 400-year-old nonaggression pact between them and get the five top warriors on each side to fight each other under another pretense, hopefully eliminating both sides and thus his problem.
The characters in this picture are severely underdeveloped. There is minimal backstory on Gennosuke and Oboro and the history revealed in the voiceover narration is unnecessary and can be figured out elsewhere in the movie. Not only are the stories of the two lead characters sorely neglected, the supporting characters are little more than glorified extras. As a result, the warriors who die early in the tale aren’t given any room to breathe, and their demise doesn’t have the same impact that it would had their characters been properly developed. Since the main characters of this movie are ninjas with magical powers, it is easy to draw the conclusion that this movie would have a great deal of action. The fight scenes in this movie are gripping and exciting, unfortunately, they are also too few and far between.
Shinobi is one of the few live-action films I’ve seen that have nailed the style, pacing, and tone of Japanese anime. The film is saturated with epic melodrama and poetic dialogue and leaps into motion when blades are drawn and battles are fought. Enough blood and serious violence is present to merit an R rating, but there are certainly more graphic martial arts movies out there.
Because of this film’s more blockbuster feel, the entertainment value is rather high and definitely warrants multiple viewings. It is available on blu-ray, so all the high-def buffs out there, prepare to open your wallets because this movie is definetely worth a purchase. Thankfully, Shinobi features a notable 1080p/AVC-encoded transfer that leaves its muddy standard-def DVD cousin in the dust. I love the weighty action, the over-the-top fights, and the quiet character beats enough to suggest that any fan of anime or Asian cinema give it a try. Recommended.