Shinobi: Heart Under Blade Review

I finally got around to seeing Shinobi: Heart Under Blade, after many years of almost seeing it but getting distracted by other things. I just re-joined Netflix, and am using it to catch up on movies that I haven’t seen for one reason or another but want to, such as this one.

In short, I found it pretty dissappointing.

The premise is interesting enough- the Warring States period has come to an end and the Tokugawa Shogunate decides that these superpowered ninja it’s been using as weapons are now a liability which could be used against the Shogun. Since there are two clans, Kouga and Iga, they tell each clan to have their best people try to kill each other as a “contest”, which is simply a way of getting rid of the strong so the Shogunate can then wipe out the rest of the clan members with minimal resistance.

All in all, a good premise to stage a bunch of ninja fights around, and this might be why the novel version called The Kouga Ninja Scrolls has been made into a manga and anime as well.

To add to the drama, the core story is about the second-in-commands of the two clans who have fallen in love with each other in a Romeo and Juliet situation and now have to lead the two ninja squads trying to kill each other.

Again, a well-used premise with built-in emotional conflict that should make for a strong story.

So, with this in mind, why didn’t I like it?

There are a couple reasons. First, this film version is actually pretty dull. The fights would be neat if I hadn’t actually watched Naruto, but having seen Naruto (which the film seems to be trying hard to present itself in the style of), I’m more interested in the story and characters. This is a problem, since the film is trying too hard to be deep and artsy and really skimps on the characters and keeps the story dead simple to the point of being actually dull. Most of the film is pretty images and our two lead moping around because they know they’ll have to kill each other eventually. (Oh, my life sucks…So sad….)

Second, the ending just kinda sucks. The leads do stupid things for stupid reasons, and then it sorta works out by chance although there is no logical reason it should have. The director also plays very fast and loose with the concept of simultaneous action in a way which I didn’t like and find slightly dishonest. (Or at least illogical.)

Third, and this is just a personal thing, it seemed to be trying to go out of its way to present several of my favorite historical characters Yagyu Munenori, Yagyu Jubei and Hattori Hanzo as complete dicks. I suspect this is on purpose, since these men are all presented in romanticised historical fiction as being heavily connected with the Ninja clans they’re trying to kill in this story. I think the author was trying to put a different spin on them, which is reasonable, but as these are some of my favorite historical people, I also have a right not to like it. (Imagine if someone did a pirate movie that had someone playing Captain Jack Sparrow in it, except now he’s a cruel drunken rapist who acts nothing like Captain Jack Sparrow from the other films. How you’d feel about that is about how I feel about this portrayal of those characters.)

I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised, I tried reading the manga adaptation called Basilisk a few years back and didn’t care for that much either. (It was a messy collection of weird sex and violence scenes.) Still, it’s another film off my list that I wanted to check out. Here’s hoping the next one’s better!

Rob