Saturday, October 15, 2005


Misrepresentaion of ninjas

One of my students mentioned a new film to me on Thursday: Shinobi: heart under blade. She described it as a ninja love story, set in a forest. I was sold.

So yesterday, after looking up some ninja vocabulary on the web to help me understand the film a bit better, I went to see Shinobi: heart under blade. It blew.

To start with, I couldn't understand what the woman in the ticket booth was asking me about. After a couple of goes I realised she was telling me that the film was in Japanese and asking if this was OK. I don't imagine my expression of total incomprehension inspired great confidence in her.

Second problem, watching the film with Mike. I think the last film I went to see with him was Return Of The King, so I'd forgotten some of his cinematic idiosyncracies:

75,000 ORCS are spread out across the PELENNOR FIELDS like a
sea of black ANTS.

DENETHOR: Rohan has deserted us! Theoden's betrayed me! (yells) Abandon your posts! Flee! Flee for your lives!

Gandalf suddenly appears and strikes the gibbering Denethor unconscious with his staff. The breathless, dramatic silence which follows this moment is punctured by Mike shouting "Yeah, Gandalf!" I wince as Japanese patrons jump in their seats and resolve never to go to a cinema with him again.

Yeah, I'd forgotten that.

Anyway, the film: my understanding wasn't aided by the fact that the story seemed to be pretty stupid. The film is set in 1614, when two ninja clans are ordered to wage war on each other by the powers that be. The reason for this is unclear, but I would speculate that, Japan having emerged from a period of civil war and the Tokugawa shogunate having established control over the country, the Ninja are now viewed as a threat, rather than an asset.

What this amounts to is rather like a game of paintball, except it's being played by ninjas with stupid X-Men powers. We have a shape-shifter, a guy who can regenerate to recover from wounds, a woman who can inflict what looks like a rather nasty combination of osteoperosis and an epileptic fit with her eyes, a girl who can set insects on people.

I almost forgot- there's a love story going on. The reason I almost forgot this is that it was totally naff. The bird with the deadly eyes is in love with a young maverick ninja from the other clan. Their nascent affair is nipped in the bud when their clan leaders announce that they are at war. The title heart under blade refers to the kanji for shinobi (meaning endurance or stealth, central to the Ninja way.) Shinobi is made of the kanji for heart and blade, thusly:

I suppose the film was meant to focus on the ascendancy of the blade: the two lovers have to thrust their feelings aside and fight for their respective clans ("Sore ga shinobi da" says the young guy's clan chief, which roughly translates as "stop bitching and kill someone, you virile young maverick son of a gun.") They say a curt farewell beside a moonlit waterfall, before rejoining their comrades. After this it's a bit of a deathmatch; weird superhuman ninjas are dropping like flies, but somehow it's not really inspiring.

Inevitably, it gets whittled down to one survivor from each side- yes, you guessed who: the girl tries to split the guy's bones and veins within him with the magic power of her eyes, but finds that she can't because she's crying too much. The guy, meanwhile, has made it apparent that he will not try to fight her. After a brief internal struggle, the girl draws her blade and runs towards her lover, before throwing herself into his arms. There is a moment of ambiguity: has she, at the last, flung her blade aside to embrace the one she loves, or has she plunged it straight into his chest like a stone-cold ninja should?

Obviously, the answer is B; heart under blade, son! The guy has time to mumble something about being glad she killed him, before keeling over on his back. By this time, the shogunate has initiated the final stage of its solution to the ninja question. Both ninja villages are being bombarded to rubble, whilst the inhabitants (who are basically just padawans) are scurrying around and dying like puny insects. In order to save the villagers, the final ninja abases herself before an elderly Tokugawa Ieyasu (the ostensibly-retired shogun) and gouges herself in the eyes in order to prove that ninjas are no longer a threat. He orders the cessation of pyrotechnic destruction and both ninja villages are saved, albeit in somewhat reduced circumstances.

Having read my synopsis, you might be forgiven for thinking that this film was good. It wasn't! Such is the power of my masterly prose, I actually made it sound good, but the sad reality of this film is that it was a complete turkey. Were Shinobi: heart under blade my only source of ninja information, I would probably fall into the error of thinking that ninjas weren't cool. Happily, ninjas are cool, but this dog-crap film utterly failed to demonstrate it.

i could have told you that shit sucked from just seeing the trailer. see azumi. that shit sucks donkey dick too but at least the girl ninja kills her ninja lover in the first twenty minutes. all these new ninja movies are doing a disservice to the real deal sneaky sons of bitches still lurking in the woods of Mie. Lee Harvey DID kill JFK. Not many know it but he had ninja training while in the USSR--VMM
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