Shinobi: Heart Under Blade
Director: Ten Shimoyama
Writers: Kenya Hirata
Novel: Futaro Yamada
Production: Shochiku Kinema Kenky-jo
Starring: Yukie Nakama, J Odagiri, Tomoka Kurotani, Erika Sawajiri, Kippei Shiina, Takeshi Masu
Country: Japan
MPAA Rating: R
Running time: 107 min
read my spoiler disclaimer

by Andrew James
     Most likely this will be the best film I see at The Toronto After Dark Film Festival. An absolutely gorgeous piece of cinema that had me riveted to my seat for the full two hours. Probably the only movie I will rate a 5 out of 5 for the audience choice award (but we'll see!).

      Shinobi is touted as a Romeo & Juliet story but with super-powered ninjas; two warring clans with star-crossed lovers caught in the middle. But, the love story is only there to add some dramatic flair and keep some cohesion to the story. Mostly, this movie is a series of major ass-kicking showdowns between various characters. Which I will get to in a minute.

      The most strking thing about Shinobi, is the stunningly beautiful cinematography. For those of you who are fans of Yimou Zhang's Hero or House of Flying Daggers, this is movie that you will agree with thoroughly. Although not quite as on par with the likes of those films, it has some very similar aesthetics that are extremely appealing to the eye. I can't stress that enough.

      The film also reminded me in a lot of ways with the X-Men series. In Shinobi we focus mainly on ten warriors (five from each clan) all with unique abilities similar to an X-Men character. In fact, one guy even dresses like a bear or woverine and has four claws that come out of each hand. Others have super speed or one in particular (my favorite character) has long wires or "hairs" that fly out of his long sleeves and can hit people, tie them up or use them to swing around from branches (ala Spiderman). Some other abilities I don't want to give away, as they are supposed to be surprises when they happen. But I can't stress enough how cool these fight scenes are. They look perfectly executed and the CGI is flawless. There are a lot of them too. And these fights aren't one or two minute show downs; each of them can last up to ten minutes; each with some brutal consequences.

      One small side-note about an idea I hadn't seen before. Since there are so many characters, and the names are not easily remembered (at least for a western audience), sometimes the director gives us the character's name and locale to remind us who they are and what they are doing. I appreciated this fact and it was done in a very stylistic way that was not intrusive, but added to the enjoyment of the film.

      There is of course the deeper story of honor and vengeance and "War. What is it good for?" But what sticks out are the brilliant battle scenes and the stunning landscapes and cinematography. The final climax to the film is gripping, telling and very powerful. A statement of ultimate sacrifice, love and honor the likes I have never seen.

      Without getting into the metaphorical meaning of the story, there isn't much to say. It's fighting and awesomeness galore and I can't wait to watch this again. It is a film I will surely buy on DVD when it is released one day. Watch the trailer below to get just a snippet of some of the battle scenes. I urge anyone who liked Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon or Hero to check this out. I think I liked this one even more than either of those; though that's a tough call. Hunt this one down when it hits the states, you won't be let down. Again, wow!

Press "PLAY" to watch the trailer

Links: - full cast and crew
Official Site