Tuesday, April 11, 2006


To my western-eyes, Shinobi is a cinematic blown-glass bauble mixed with the ingredients of Zhang Yimou's Hero, Bryan Singer's X-Men, and The Bard's Romeo and Juliet. The film sets its sights at being purely an entertaining genre flick, and then goes about it with a melancholy grimness. This is nicely at odds with with its own nature, but works here for the most part anyway.

The Iga and Kouga clans have been training magical Shinobi warriors for centuries, and have been the centerpieces of rising and falling kingdoms. They have warred with each other as much as for their Shogun, and there is no shortage of vendettas between the two clans. After an age of war, a Lord of Lords unites Japan under one leader and brings peace to the land. Understanding the power the Shinobi have, he first places the two clans under a forced truce. Still afraid of the enigmatic magician-warriors, and not having any purpose for them anymore, he hatches a plan to have both clans wipe each other out. Meanwhile, Gennosuke, the grandson of the Kouga leader and Oboro, the granddaughter of the Iga leader have secretly fallen in love with one another and married. They have the desire, but no clue how, to bring about true peace despite the centuries of bad blood between the clans. The Lord of Lords' plan is to have each of the clans pick their best 5 warriors and head to the capital to fight to the death for demonstration to his Majesty. Gennosuke and Oboro are the leaders chosen for each side. Two pacifists in love with each other are leading 8 blood-thirsty warriors to self-destruction. A fact made more frustrating because both are aware how much the warriors want to fulfill their purpose, even if that purpose as no use or meaning.

Shinobi has some very colourful cinematography and more 'majestic-bird-of-prey' shots than The Beastmaster. It also has a comic book sensibility mixed with a healthy dose of Kierkegaard. You know, when a warrior has no purpose in the world, well, what then? Having a softspot for this type of 'End of the Shogunate' era (nineteenth century) Chambara picture, you find the theme is a common one. Here however, instead of a stately, restrained film, it is an explosion of fantasty CGI involving poisonous mists, shapeshifting, clothing that kills, and other mystical acoutrements. This visual style sets it clearly apart from Akira Kurosawa or Toshiya Fujita: Realism is not the aim here, just slick visuals which move the story along conterpoint to the melodramatic love story. It suffers perhaps from too many supporting characters (which the director feels the need to flash a text label for each at the beginning of the film). Many of the warriors do not get much chance to strut their stuff, but too much Higlander-esque one-on-one dueling would get tiresome after a while, and Shinobi flits along that line quite well.

The computer problems have been taken care of! (Huge thanks for Dave's time and expertise!) Come out and enjoy the Ninja-melodrama. Cocktails at 8. Trailers and Showtime at 8:30pm.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

so that's how it looks like to a westerner. did you enjoy it though? i think that would be what the director wanted. i sure did.

"It suffers perhaps from too many supporting characters (which the director feels the need to flash a text label for each at the beginning of the film)"

This might be the case but the style of character introduction is also widely used in many manga over at China/Japan each time a new character comes up (esp for the more serious/fighting mangas). Just in case you weren't aware.

2:15 a.m.  

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