Director: Ten Shimoyama
Starring: Jo Odagiri, Yukie Nakama, Kippei Shiina, Erika Sawajiri, Renji Ishibashi, Tak Sakaguchi, Yutaka Matsushige
Based on the novel, ‘The Koga Ninja Scrolls,’ this film is somewhat abridged version of the events in the story. Basically, the Shogun pits two rival shinobi clans against each other in order to wipe out both villages that are deemed a threat to the government. The young leaders of each group are lovers and reluctantly lead their groups into battle while at the same time balancing their responsibility to the clan with their love for each other.
The film itself has high production values and the camera work is very clean. The principal leads, Odagiri Jo and Nakama Yukie both do fairly good jobs of bringing in angst and a casual attractiveness to the roles, making both fairly likable, if not identifiable. The film plays out to be more a drama with only a few instances of action scenes sporadically spaced out. The film details much in the way that times are changing and the necessity of shinobi under the employ of a Lord is greatly diminishing. The young lovers find it very difficult to remain trustful of each other as their opposing clans are actively pursuing and killing the opposing side. The action was apparently choreographed by the team behind ‘Versus’ and genre fans will probably enjoy what they see here. The action is a mix of martial arts and CGI assisted stunts. It is very elaborate, with quite a bit of wire work meant to display the superhuman abilities of the shinobi. It comes together in a very kinetic and, for me, entertaining way. Clocking in at 107 minutes, the film does feel a bit long, especially for those looking for action scenes.
The music of the film is heavily orchestrated by Iwashiro Taro composing the score. Anime fans may know him best from his work in Rurouni Kenshin: The Movie. He has heavy emphasis on dramatic sounding pieces meant to coincide with much of the angst driven scenes. In conclusion, the film score is effective and correctly conveys the mood of what Shimoyama Ten seemed to want the audience to feel. The ending theme was ‘Heaven’ sung by Hamasaki Ayumi.
In conclusion, I felt that the film didn’t really do anything change the way I view films but it is a good example of some of the younger talent emerging in Japanese film. I had a fairly enjoyable time on my initial viewing and have since watched it a few more instances. The story will be familiar to many with its Romeo and Juliet overtones, but while that does not necessarily make the film suffer, it does add some predictability to the story. Absolutely worth a watch, because of the high production design and well done fight scenes that are undeniably Japanese, Shinobi will please many viewers in the long run though it hardly offers anything new to the genre.