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Shinobi: Heart Under Blade (Shimoyama Ten 2005)


Shinobi: Heart Under Blade


Genre: War and Love Ninja-style

review in one breath

This well-rendered tale covers the last days of the centuries old feud between Japan's two most formidable ninja clans, the Koga and the Iga. After bringing peace to a unified Japan, Tokugawa Ieyasu deems both clans of warrior ninjas a threat to his hard won stability, and commands that they face each other in a battle to the death. Trained since childhood as assassins, most gladly dash into battle and thus toward mutual annihilation. Only a secret relationship between the two clans' leaders provides any hope for their villages' survival.


This is a highly polished and stylized historical piece (jidaigeki) starring some of the major talent of the day. It is directed by Shimoyama Ten (???) and easily represents some of his best work yet (compared, for example, to Muscle Heat (!!) and Otogirisou). It casts major names such as Nakama Yukie (Ring 0's Sadako!), Odagiri Jou, Shiina Kippei and many others in some rather fascinating roles. In fact, the characters here range widely from historical figures to the purely legendary. And it is the legendary characters which I find very intriguing.

This tale takes place at the advent of the Tokugawa Era, a critical period in Japan's history where the various daimyo and clans of Japan are finally united (either willingly or forcibly) under the leadership of Tokugawa Ieyasu (???? 1543�1616), the first Tokugawan shogunate. Much of this film's depiction of Tokugawa Ieyasu and his early court are historically accurate, including the roles of Hattori Hanzou (???? 1541�1596), Yagyu Tajima (???? 1571-1646) and Yagyu Jubei (???? 1607-1650). Also historically accurate are the depictions of (the existence of) the Koga and Iga clans, both amazingly infamous for being the sources of Japan's most formidable ninja warriors. But while the elder leaders of these clans depicted here are historically accurate, from this point on we quickly slip into legend.

But I confess, it is exceedingly difficult (for me) to know precisely where history ends and legend begins. This is a tale about the amazing prowess of the Koga and Iga ninja, and so of course, the supernatural powers they display are clearly the stuff of legend. But what about some of these ninja characters? For one thing, the historical treatment of the other characters in the film lends some weight to the impression that these ninja may also have had an actual historical existence. The film itself identifies them as equally auspicious as the historical characters, solemnly displaying their names in archaic Japanese when they are first introduced in the narrative. And this is not the only place where some of these names can be found. But as of yet, I have not been able to locate any academic/historical sources with which to decide whether or not this is sheer fiction or perhaps historically-grounded legend.

You may be wondering why I am talking to myself at length on this issue, but once you see this film and the intrigue and respect granted some of these ninja characters, you too will undoubtedly struggle over this same question.


This narrative seems to have three distinct yet well-interlocked themes.

First, it is an historical piece dealing with the decline of the prominent ninja clans following the peaceful unification of Tokugawa Ieyasu's accomplishments. It is historical fact that Ieyasu employed the Koga and Iga ninja (separately and at different times) to secure his control over rival daimyo. It is also correct that Ieyasu's regent, Hattori Hanzou, had direct involvement with the Iga ninja clan. (Hattori governed the Iga province.) AND it is correct that the role of the infamous ninja quickly and irrevocably declined following the Tokugawan unification. Thus, this tale, in essence, creatively explores these three truths, and (fictionally) hypothesizes as to why the ninja virtually disappear historically. Namely, Ieyasu, recognizing that the Koga and Iga are nothing but weapons of war, decides to rid himself of their violent potential by repealing the centuries old prohibition outlawing any feud between them and then commands they face each other in a battle to the death.

Second, this is an all-out, full-throttle expose of the legendary powers of particular (and renowned?) ninja from both clans. This is the part which really gets me thinking... but I won't start talking about that again. Once the historical setting (mentioned above) is established, this film turns to is primary interest, NINJA BATTLE!! This is VERY cool stuff both visually and conceptually, drawn in top-notch CG technique. YOWZA!! Some of the powers and characters here seem so pre-established (and thus presumably familiar to the average Japanese viewer) that I really wish I had a better understanding of what's going on here. *sniff*

And lastly, this is a LOVE story between the (OMG SEXY!) Oboro (Nakama Yukie) and Gennosuke. These two young, uh, ninja... accidentally meet and fall in love. Both, however, find themselves the leaders of their respective clans just as Ieyasu's demand for clan warfare is proclaimed. This then becomes, is several ways, a Tokugawan tale of Romeo and Juliet... except for the fact that both Romeo and Juliet can easily CRUSH YOUR SKULL with a giggle. (!!)

Although this film seems to market itself in terms of the "love story" aspect (eg, what's up with the DVD cover graphic?), don't be fooled. Very few precious moments are spent developing such (weepy) relational aspects. Instead, this film is far more interested in testosterone (and estrogen!) fueled ninja battles which will simply need to be seen in order to be believed.


Very. Cool. Indeed.

Major thumbs up for the historical relevance and mega thumbs up for mind-blowing ninja magic. (And one reverent, appreciative bow for the HOT babes!)

This is a relatively new release (and for some reason does not yet appear in JMDb, although IMDb lists it) and thus is not yet released in a subtitled version. This will, however, given its production quality, cast and intriguing narrative, undoubtedly soon appear on a video shelf near you.

This is definitely a fun and surprising film, well worth watching.

Version reviewed: Region 2 DVD (with optional English subtitles)

cultural interest violence sex strangeness
More than enough accurate history to fuel your imagination! Death by... NINJA!! Okay, nothing here. But sexy Kagero may have caused my little ninja to move... Where does history end and legend begin?


This is one of my favorite movies.
Its like the best of Naruto and X-men xD
I love it!

i like this movies so much, actions, attack skills, places, tone colors and outfits, i'm really hope they make drama series of Koga n Iga clans like in PS2 games SHINOBI.....


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