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A view from the Blu (-ray) on DVDBeaver by Leonard Norwitz


A Little Background     Openers     


    Modus Operandi     The Scorecard:     

Emotive Connection      Audio     Operations    Extras     The Movie     Equipment




Shinobi (Shinobi: Heart Under Blade (Special Edition) [Blu-ray]

(aka "Shinobi: Heart Under Blade ")

(Ten Shimoyama, 2005)







Review by Leonard Norwitz



Theatrical: Shochiku

Blu-ray: Funimation Entertainment



Region: A

Runtime: 102 min

Chapters: 21

Case: Standard Blu-ray case

Release date: May 13, 2008



Aspect ratio: 2.35:1

Resolution: 1080p

Video codec: AVC



Japanese Dolby True HD 6.1; English Dolby True HD 5.1



Feature Film & Bonus Features: English



• Behind the Scenes:

• Storyboards

• Weapons Introduction

• Shinobi Art - Manjidani

• Shinobi Action – Sumpu Castle Fight

• Original Trailers & TV Spots

• Funimation Coming Attractions



The Film:  7.5
You might think of Shinobi as Romeo and Juliet set in medieval Japan. Two ninja families, long at each others' throats, live in hidden villages. One, the Iga, live in a relatively wooded area alongside a lovely stream; the Koga are mountain people, living in cliffs, not unlike the Pueblo Indians of North America. One day, by chance, Gennosuke (Jo Odagiri), the favorite son of the Koga comes across the favorite daughter, Oboro (Yuki Nakama) of the Iga. They declare their love for each other, fully aware that their destiny lies elsewhere. This turns out to be an understatement.

The time is 1614 and the ruling administration has long known of the remarkable fighting skills of a shadow people whose whereabouts are unknown but whose martial arts skills are legend. In fact, the Tokugawa Shoguns been able to keep the peace for the past 400 years, but now they feel threatened by these shinobi, and plot to bring about their demise. Their plan is simple, depending on the shinobi's lotalty, honor, and their one reason for living: to fight, for they have trained since birth to hone their special skills, which are more like superpowers than mere martial arts. Crouching Tiger's Li Mu Bai would indeed marvel at their abilities. The Shogun declares that each clan will choose their five best fighters to have it out in the forests, plains and mountains - to the death. The one left standing is promised to have some remote impact on the line of royal succession. While it is clear to us and to some of those chosen – not least Gennosuke and Oboro – that something is amiss here, the others are driven, like lemmings, to their ultimate destinies.

Like Shakespeare's play, the story of Shinobi is permeated with tragic ironies. Unlike Shakespeare, the movie version does not dwell on the lovers, but on magic and politics. The romance is taken for granted – and may, for American audiences be felt to be lacking and so the tragedy is that much less felt. That said, the various duels and fights of one against many are staged with imagination, and their outcomes are rarely obvious.


Image: 8.5 (8~9/9)
The score of 8.5 indicates a relative level of excellence compared to other Blu-ray DVDs. The score in parentheses represents: first, a value on a ten-point scale for the image in absolute terms; and, second, how that image compares to what I believe is the current best we can expect in the theatre.

The photography and production design is exceptional. Color and contrast: likewise, leaning in many scenes toward a vivid saturation in keeping with the magical aspect of things. The picture is a little soft, but filmlike. In comparison to Shochiku's Region 2 SD-DVD, it is much, much sharper. I was quite disappointed with the Japanese DVD when it came out a couple years ago and worried that the problem might lie with the original film elements. Rest assured – not so.




















Audio & Music: 8/8
Funimation offers not only the original Japanese audio track, now in Dolby True HD 6.1, but an English dub in 5.1. The audio is good, without bringing down the house – but, then, Shinobi is really not the kind of movie where bombast is much present. Instead, the audio mix concentrates on creating atmospherics, like the rushing of a stream or the swishing of a falcon's wings as distinguished from the flight of a shinobi through the forest.

Operations: 7
Straightforward, easy to use, unremarkable. One nice thing that I'm seeing more of lately: the ability to return to the main menu from anywhere in the bonus features. I deducted points only for the lack of imagination for the menu graphics. The 2-disc Region 2 SD DVD did have good English subtitles for the feature film, which are quite different from the present BRD. I found the new translation clarified some of the politics.


Extras: 5
While the 2-disc Region 2 "Iga Tsubagakure Special Edition" had English subtitles for the feature film, it had none for the bonus features, some 80 minutes worth are here on the Blu-ray. The material is interesting but not deep; the image is in variable quality, but satisfactory 480i.



Bottom line: 9
At the time of this writing, Funimation is enabling retailers to offer this Blu-ray DVD at a fantastically low price, evidently to introduce English-speaking audience to their line-up which, funnily enough is mostly anime – making Shinobi an odd choice for the purpose. (By the way, this product is listed all over the place as a "Special Edition". No such designation appears on the cover. Evidently the word "special" in this context applies to the price, not the content.) The Funimation BRD is a great looking DVD, even if not demonstration quality, and beats the original Region-2 SD DVD by a greater margin than is usual for such upgrades. Thumbs Up!

Leonard Norwitz
May 18, 2008








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