Movie review: “Shinobi: Heart Under Blade”

Although “Shinobi:  Heart Under Blade” was released in 2005 in Japan, I haven’t seen it until now.  I was actually in Japan shortly after the movie was released, and saw movie poster ads everywhere.  What caught my attention about the poster was that it showed a good-looking couple.  But what really stood out about the couple were their eyes.  Their eyes were gleaming, like people nowadays who wear contact lenses to change the color of their eyes.

shinobi_01

Why do their eyes gleam of a different color than the normal dark brown?  The answer is that their eyes have something to do with their special powers, which I won’t give away.  In this review, I’ll talk about the plot, the characters, themes, and the cinematography.  Overall, I definitely recommend this movie if you like movies about ninjas and fanciful fighting.

Set in the year 1614, Shinobi is about two opposing ninja tribes, who have been at war for over 400 years, but are under a truce from the command of the reigning shogunate, Lord Hattori Hanzou.  Wait, where have I heard that name?  Remember “Kill Bill”, when Uma Thurman’s character seeks out a samurai sword made by Hattori Hanzou?  Anyway, the emperor fears any rebellion that may enlist the help of either ninja tribe, and commands Lord Hattori Hanzou to lift the truce and have each tribe pick five of their best ninjas to battle the other tribe’s best five warriors.  The surviving tribe will determine a particular lord to serve under the emperor.  So the ninja tribes are just used by the emperor, as tools of destruction!

It’s under this plotline that our two main characters, Gennesuke (the guy) and Oboro live in.  They happen to meet one day, and fall in love at first sight.  However, they’re from opposing tribes!  So what we really have here is a Romeo and Juliet story.  The movie’s subtitle, “Heart Under Blade” describes that Gennesuke and Oboro’s feelings for each other are under pressure from their duties to their tribes.

Although the fight sequences are really cool to watch, what I really appreciated about this movie is the underlying theme of leadership.  The two existing tribe leaders choose Gennesuke and Oboro to assume leadership of each tribe.  When a leader chooses a successor, the successor must have some special talents that others respect.  Gennesuke and Oboro’s talents are  their special powers.  When you watch the movie, do you think that these characters have a power that is so much better than anyone else’s?  A second leadership theme is that followers will question a leader’s judgment, and you’ll see a few instances of this happening in this movie.

Another theme I enjoyed was a parallel with the ninja’s purpose of life and the Zentraedi’s purpose of life.  In Robotech/Macross, the Zentraedi were created as fighting machines.  In the TV series, when Zentraedi try to live in peace, some of them can’t do it, and just want to go back to fighting.  In Shinobi, some of the ninjas can’t imagine a life of peace; all they want to do is fight because fighting has been their way of life.

The cinematography is brilliant.  The movie uses slow motion where appropriate. Many scenes are breathtaking in terms of use of color and lighting.  The musical score is very fitting, and the end-credit song “Heaven” by Ayumi Hamasaki is a moving piece.

The Blu-ray DVD was released on May 13, 2008, and Amazon has it:
http://www.amazon.com/Shinobi-Heart-Under-Special-Blu-ray/dp/B0014567U2/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=dvd&qid=1251872574&sr=1-1

“Heaven” is available on iTunes!

Go see the movie!

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