Adapted from the novel by Futaro Yamada, "The Kouga Ninja Scrolls", SHINOBI HEART UNDER BLADE (aka. Kouga Ninpouchou Basilisk, 2005) is an action-fantasy-romance epic directed by Shimoyama Ten and written by Kenya Hirata. Yamada's novel has also been adapted into the manga series and later on to the anime series "Basilisk", and while that animated feature focused more on action and its characters, this live-action version focuses more on the tragedy of star-crossed love experienced by the heirs to the Kouga and Iga ninja clans. Based on the Japanese feudal legend and winner of the best actor and best new actress awards, "Shinobi Heart Under Blade" is set after Japan's Sengoku period and features stylized action, amazing characters and the tragedies of war.
It is said that descendants of the "Shinobi" are still living in Japan up to this day.
1614 in the Tokugawa period. Leyasu is the supreme ruler of Japan. Two feuding ninja clans, The Kouga Manjidani and the Iga clan have enjoyed a peaceful truce for a number of years. The two clans are responsible for producing ninjas with nearly superhuman skills and powers for the use of warlords throughout Japan for generations; Leyasu perceives the threat posed by the ninjas if they rebel. The Hattori Hanzo attempts to consolidate Leyasu's rule by lifting the truce, and orders each clan to come up with five of each clan's best warriors in a contest to decide who would be heir to Leyasu's throne. Kouga Gennosuke (Joe Odagiri, Azumi) and Oboro (Nakama Yukie) are designated as new leaders of each clan and both of them are one of their clan's best warriors. The two are also secretly promised to each other for marriage and now caught in the turmoil of political manipulations, the two are destined to meet each other in combat--a fight to the death.
For one to truly appreciate this film, one has to have an understanding of Japanese customs, traditions and their unrelenting loyalty to their supreme ruler. For them, the Shogun/Emperor is like a living God-man and a united Shogunate is the supreme ruler of the land. The Shinobi are the elite ninja clan--trained from birth in the art of combat. Now that Japan is under a peaceful rule, there may be no need for the elite ninja, and the Shinobi may have no place in this new world created by the Shogun. The fear of the Shinobi is inherent in Leyasu's advisors, for if their goal is peace and prosperity, how can war-mongers fit into this new world?
Aside from the politics involving the Shogunate, "Shinobi Heart Under Blade" also pitches in the tragedy of love during a time of war. It was quite unfortunate that the truce had been lifted before Oboro and Gennosuke could make their loved public. The star-crossed lovers are actually the film's main focus, as it efficiently expresses the "Romeo and Juliet" backdrop as the two are reluctant to face each other in a fight. However reluctant they may be, their clansmen are itching to be on each other's throats. The film also gives hints that Oboro's grandmother and Gennosuke's grandfather were caught in a similar situation when they were young. While the tragedy of doomed love is indeed the film's central focus, the film also has some dazzling high-flying ninja action as its major selling point.
The characters in "Shinobi" are similar to the manga and anime series in "Basilisk"; while the ten warriors from each clan in the anime series were arguably more drawn out and developed, the live-action movie's feel a little more real and granted, a little more tame than the anime series that had scenes of sex and nudity. The characters in "Shinobi" are colorful and well designed but not as cartoonish as those in the manga/anime series. The Kouga clan boasts of warriors who has special powers; Saemon (Hoka Kinoshita) is a man who can change his voice and physical features. Hyouma is a blind man who can see beyond normal sight, the venomous beauty called Kagerou (beauteous Kurotani Tomoka, Samurai Resurrection) who also harbors feelings for Gennosuke and Chikuma (Mitsuki Koga) who is an agile weapons user. The Iga clan also matches the skills of their Kouga counterparts; Tenzen (Kippei Shiina) is a warrior who is almost immortal. Hotarubi (Erika Sawajiri, Ghost Train) is Oboro's body guard who can manipulate mystic dust. Yashamaru (Tak Sakaguchi, Versus) is a warrior who uses thin whips that can cut solid objects and Mino Nenki (Shun Ito) is a beastly warrior who can track anyone with his keen sense of smell. The film does fail on thoroughly fleshing out the other warriors as with the anime series, but it does succeed in bringing out its themes of tragedy, loyalty and duty proficiently.
The ninja action and fights looked very beautiful with some enhances by CGI; accompanied by awesome set designs and nifty cinematography, "Shinobi" is a sight to behold. The beautiful forests, castles, mountains, waterfalls, are so delightful. The film is a visual and aural feast for the eyes. With the music (Heaven is performed by Ayumi Hamasaki) and soundtrack rightfully complementing its mood. In the action standpoint, the film utilizes nearly-Wuxia-like wirework and complex moves further enhanced by the wizardry of camera trickery and cool production values. The battle between Yashamaru and Chikuma are among the film's best action highlights. Those with a repulsion to wire-fu and mystical action sequences may get a little turned off but believe me when I say that the scenes are sharply executed, nicely paced that they prove invigorating. The film modernizes action effects wizardry blended with a more jidai geki-like feel.
The direction by Ten Shimoyama is competent and solid. While I do admit that the film was a little too short, and that its supporting characters didn't reach their full potential, the film did manage to draw upon the strength of its rather simple premise and that is the tragedy of star-crossed lovers. Some may argue that the film's script is a little hollow and that it missed some opportunities, but the film still manages to bring its romantic angle full circle that I managed to look beyond some of its small flaws. "Shinobi Heart Under Blade" manages to bring an epic feel to its limited script, and brings a substantial resolution in its climax. It manages to ask certain questions in the face of becoming obsolete--what should one do…prove one's loyalty and be true to duty or disobey and rebel? Adapt or hide from the changing times? Face it head on or run?
Shimoyama Ten's ninja fantasy ninja epic is an exciting experience that delivers the goods--that is an emotional tale about star-crossed lovers and the courage to face the odds. "Shinobi Heart Under Blade" combines ninja action, emotions and tragedy, in a very nice package.
Highly Recommended! [4+ Stars]
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Shinobi - Heart Under Blade or Kouga Ninpouchou Basilisk - The Live-Action is a 2005 Japanese ninjutsu romance film directed by Ten Shimoyama and written by Kenya Hirata. The story is an adaptation of the novel, The Kouga Ninja Scrolls by Futaro Yamada, which depicts the clash between two ninja clans, Iga and Kouga, and the fated love between Gennosuke (Koga) and Oboro (Iga). The theme song of this movie was the number one hit, HEAVEN, by Ayumi Hamasaki. This movie won both best actor and best new actress awards at both the Kinema Junpo Awards and Yokohama Film Festival in 2006 according to the Internet Movie Database.
On February 6, 2007, Funimation Entertainment released the film in the United States. The contents of the DVD is a 2-Disc Set with the main movie available in Japanese and a new dub from Funimation themselves. The 2nd Disc contains Special Features and making-ofs. All of the films are subtitled in English.
Also a manga and an anime called Basilisk are based on the same novel, and bear the same character names as in the novel and the movie. Although their characters in the film are highly altered from both the original novel and the manga/anime series.
Equal partsRomeo and JulietandCrouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon,Shinobioffers breathtaking cinematography, appealing actors, and ninjas. What more could a movie fan ask for? Released in 2005,Shinobiis set in 17th century Japan, which is dominated by two powerful clans. Oboro is a member of the Iga clan, while ...