I got this Blu-ray disc a while ago from Funimation but I was never able to watch it since I didn’t have a player. Recently I bought a Playstation 3, so I test drove its high definition video skills with this movie. Unfortunately, I forgot to set the display to 1080i! orz
The year is 1614. Japan has been united under the Tokugawa Shoguns and the land is beginning to feel at peace. Two remote ninja clans, the Koga and the Iga, are ancient enemies but have long been bound by a peace agreement forbidding them to fight. The heirs to the leadership of both clans have fallen in love – but a tragic fate awaits them.
A cruel plot is set by the Shogun to wipe these two clans from existence by breaking the peace agreement and forcing the two clans to battle. Five ninjas of each the Koga and Iga clans will battle against each other to the death. As a great war begins it brings the two young heirs together again. But this time as enemies.
Shinobi – Heart Under Blade is based on a novel from 1958 called “Koga Ninpocho” which spawned the more recent anime and manga versions, which went by the name “Basilisk.” I haven’t touched the manga and I only got through a few discs of the anime, so I don’t know how either ends. The movie is the only version that I’ve actually gotten all the way through.
I bet most of the people reading this will be at least somewhat familiar with the Basilisk series, so I’ll be comparing the two quite a bit. For starters, the movie has a lot less characters. I think the anime had 10 ninja for each side that were battling each other. The movie condenses the number to 5 each. This means some cool ninja from the anime were left out, like the hair ninja and the fat inflatable ninja. Fat ninja, we hardly knew ye!
In order to fit into a movie, the ninja skills are hardly ever explained. Like Hotarubi’s skills are really ambiguous until another ninja is randomly attacked by a billion butterflies. Also, I think some of the ninja skills were switched around (I don’t think Oboro had random bone-breaking stare skills). I guess in the context of a Japanese film, these shortcomings make sense since the intended audience is probably fully aware of story already. It’s like expecting everything in the Harry Potter movies to be explained. There’s an expectation that the audience knows a bit about the story from the get-go. But when you watch it as a non-Japanese person, stuff seems confusing.
Another huge difference in anime vs. movie plot is that Gennosuke and Oboro both know about the contest much earlier, and they actually talk to each other about it in a scene. This removes a lot of the tension in the anime of both parties being unaware of the impending crisis while their peers try and keep it a secret while killing the guys on the other side. I guess it had to be done for the sake of time, but I thought that tension was one of the more interesting plot devices of the anime.
Despite the differences, the story manages to be pretty interesting. The movie turns into a cat and mouse chase and battle movie. There’s a lot of CG that’s used for the ninja skills. A lot is kind of ridiculous, but also necessary, I suppose. There is some neat bullet-time-ish stuff later in the movie that is visually awesome. In the end, the movie should probably be judged by its fight scenes. Luckily, there isn’t a disproportionate amount of emo crying by Gennosuke (though his actor does seem kind of moody and yelly most of the time). The fighting makes up for this, though.
I also have a minor gripe that Hotarubi is totally more cute than Oboro. In the anime, Oboro was really moe, and Hotarubi was tougher. It seems they made a role reversal in the movie version. I can’t imagine why Gennosuke wouldn’t just dump Oboro for the cuter Hotarubi. Except that Hotarubi’s teeth are really kind of gross. The teeth will always get you!
I wonder if I would’ve liked this movie better if I had never seen the anime version of Basilisk. The anime did such a good job of telling the story that I might have become spoiled. If you only have two hours, go for the movie. Otherwise, I’d suggest investing time in the anime version.