Everybody knows that I am a complete freak for ninja movies. Good, bad, laughably terrible -- I love them all... Unless they're bad bad. I mean "so bad that they pass the freakishly funny part of being bad and turn into a train wreck that took out your entire immediate and extended family in one giant, bloody pile of wreckage and body parts." In case you were wondering, yeah, Azumi 2 is one of those bad bad ninja flicks... But Shinobi - Heart Under Blade is not. It's actually pretty fun and not really "bad" at all. Not even laughably bad. But it ain't perfect and it ain't ninjabangtastic, but it is a fine little movie on its own. Plus I just love saying the word "shinobi". Shhhhhhhhhhhhhhinobi.
Director Shimoyama Ten apparently loves anime, and apparently his favorite movie of all time is Ninja Scroll (a damn fine animated flick indeed). What Ten apparently loves just as much as Ninja Scroll is making his own live action version of the anime classic. That is not to say that Shinobi is a direct rip off of Ninja Scroll, but it does borrow/rip-off some of its major elements. Though for that matter I guess it rips off Naruto and any other fighting anime too, but using Ninja Scroll as my example is a lot less gay.
Shinobi - Heart Under Blade goes a little something like this: After a long conquest of the nation of Japan the Shogunate is finally secure, but the rivalries of two clashing ninja clans (which have been used and abused by those in power for a looooong time now) could cause instability and eventually destroy the peace that was finally earned. But these two clans (the Iga and Kouga clans) really can't see past their generations of hatred towards each other, and no peace treaty can ever really be signed between them (think Hatfields and McCoys [except with less rednecks and more katana-wielding bad-ass ninjas]... both sides hate the living fuck out of each other, and would kill a member of the opposing side if they met them on the street. Yet nobody can really remember what even started the hate and the lack of love between the two sides). So the Shogun comes up with a cunning plan: sic the bitches on each other and let them all die before any rebels can hire them to turn on the government. The long-held, fragile peace between the two clans (that prevented an all-out war) is lifted and they are encouraged to send their best fighters to a no-holds-barred face-off which would more than likely take all the fighting capacity (and spirit... and life) away from both factions.
This is when it gets tricky for both sides. Oboro and Gen-no-suke are two of their ninja clans best warriors, and they are in love. Unfortunately they're not from the same clan and a pretty cliched Romeo and Juliet relationship is soon kept hidden from everyone around them both. What's even trickier still is the fact that both hottie Oboro and manly Gen-no-suke are put in charge of their respective tribes and forced into leading their teams to the challenge started by the Shogun. Gen-no-suke is in a panic (what's a boy to do if his ninja clan wins and his booty call is cacked?!), and tries to talk reason to his fellow warriors, but all they know is hatred and a lifetime of unexplained bitterness towards their enemies (fully understandable -- kind of like my feelings towards Natalie from The Facts of Life). Oboro on the other hand is a bit more bendable the the will of her people (just like a woman) as she almost fully accepts her new role as matriarch of her sect, and keeps repeating that she and Gen are probably only meant to be together "in their dreams". This kind of gets annoying as she starts to sound like a broken record after a while when Gen is fighting against all odds just to make peace, but I digress.
So anyway, the two clans' ninja groups head off to meet, but being ninjas they're not above pulling some sneaky shit on the other group as they progress towards the capital. This is when the kick-ass ruggedness begins -- the ninja fights!... Well, sort of. The cool thing about Shinobi - Heart Under Blade is that each warrior has his/her own badass, super, ninja power in the same vein as all the ninja (ninji?) in Ninja Scroll: Insect control, poison bodies, shapeshifting, unkillableness, etc. Its pretty sweet to see them in live action form as each fighter goes balls-out ballistic in order to swiftly dispatch his/her enemies as fast as possible... But therein lies Shinobi's biggest flaw: each fight is over waaay too quickly and special powers are used only once. Even if a ninja used his/her power to royally fuck up an enemy and survived their first fight, they would not use them again in the next fight. You WANT them to use them again, preferably in a new way (kind of like what Naruto goes to great pains to do: each ninja will think of a new, more interesting way of using their special powers each time they pull them out, but I digress once more). It's kind of like me getting into a fight with Carl. Both of us has our own special move, and we're both really tough sons of bitches. If we were to ever go all out and attack each other I would first try my patented "Rossman knee-crotch eliminator" move and more than likely Carl would try to use his "mailbox to the face" maneuver. EVEN IF both of us would connect with our respective attacks more than likely the fight WOULD NOT end there. We'd continue on and I would probably adapt my "knee-crotch eliminator" into a two-knee assault, and Carl would more than likely up his mailbox move with either a child or a small automobile. My point is that one attack should NOT take down a professional warrior (especially a ninja or a pirate), and special moves are meant to be seen at least twice per movie/TV series, and each time they're seen they should be bigger and way fucking more cooler.
Where the fuck was I? Oh yeah, the ninjas fight and the lovers lament.... Without fully giving away the ending, let me just say that the Shogun has a few more dirty dirty deeds up his sleeves, and it spells bad times for both clans. Whattacock. Though I will say that the ending isn't gay in the least. I will tell you that the two enemy ninja clans DO NOT team up to fight a common foe. That would just be, wow, way too fucking ninja-gay (and speaking of ninja-gay, how the hell could that "shaved head with a knot of hair in the back" have EVER been in style? Gayest historical haircut ever).
So to summarize, cool visual style, beautiful cinematography, great orchestrated musak, fun story, hot ninja-babes, and spiffy ninja-fights... but very little ninja-meat. This thing was just barely an hour and a half (credits are well over 10 fucking minutes, so I'm sure the official release will say something like "170 minute runtime"), but it seemed much shorter. It's so full in those 90 minutes that it feels like it really could have been fleshed out at least another half an hour. Why even bother making a live action ninja movie if you barely have any fighting in it and you kill off almost everybody in rapid fire succession? Why? It just leaves you wanting more (and unfortunately we won't be getting any more since pretty much everybody is dead in the end).
Oooooh yeah! I think the Rossman's right about one thing... We need to fight more! Real fights, with fists and other not-nailed-down objects that are lying around!
I remember that one time that we got into a brawl because--... Uhhhh, so we got into a major fight and the Rossman started throwing books and tvs and silverware and shit at me as he kept running around the house like a scared little bunny, hiding behind whatever furniture I didn't destroy yet. And I was just marching towards him, batting everything he dished at me out of the way with my trusted aluminum bat I named "the Smasher." I beat his ass black and blue... Uh, that sounded bad, but I beat the shit out of him and killed his robot, and I think even the MegaPlayboy too (hey, he shouldn't have been standing on the other side of the front door when I threw that sofa through it. In the end I... really, I have no idea what happened after that. When the Blind Canadian Rage hits I just give in and usually wake up three days later, naked, with at least two new tattoos somewhere on my body.
Arrrrrrrr... This movie reminded me of that time long ago, when I was but a young scallion who had stowed away on me first ship bound for the Orient. We made port in some Japanese bay, and I took my shore leave, and me monthly wage of eight potatoes, and went out into the town looking for some lovely geisha arse. Arrrrr. I found meself a brothel not far from the docks, grabbed meself the first fine-lookin' filly I could find, and began humpin' the whore in the brothel restroom in a cramped little crapper that was nothing more than a cubicle with a hole in the floor. It was about the time that the Skipper started to rupture his undersea volcano that the little lady then started moaning like a bear caught in a trap, and she reached down into the hole in the floor, grabbed a pile of the stinks, and began rubbing it all over her silky, white body like a moisturizer of the damned!
Arrrrr.... After I wiped the blood off me fists, and removed the tooth jabbed into me knuckle, the Skipper was assaulted by the meanest bouncer I have ever laid eyes on: some black-garbed, hooded, crazy man with a sword as long as an elephant's wang!
Arrrr. That mad, little Asian boy started bouncing all over the place like an Oriental Mexican jumping bean! The little wanker was throwing stars made of metal, and smoke bombs all over the place, but the Skipper was used to dodgin' pointy objects trying to enter me body without an invite after spending months at sea with dozens of lonely seamen sharing a bunk with me. After the bouncer got a bit winded, I stabbed him 25 times with his own sword, and then threw his body on top of the bloody whore in the stall behind me, and she writhed around in a disturbing display of Asian ecstasy, apparently getting off yet again due to the bleedin' corpse that landed on her. Arrrr. Pirates 1, ninjas 0.