What They Say:
In the world of the Ninja, skills as a fighter play only a small role in determining one’s rank among the order of Shinobi. Kageru is from the village of Shiroyama. He is strong, fast and extremely intelligent – the best in his class. But therein lies the problem, for Kageru’s birth predestines him to the lower class of Shinobi. His friend Aoi finds herself in the same situation, and together they will be forced to question not only themselves, but also some of the most sacred edicts of the Shinobi hierarchy.
They must choose between their mission and their lives, and between their destinies and the Law of Shinobi. Kagerou and Aoi soon become fugitives, pursued by the Shinobi of Shiroyama, and assassins hailing from all the families of Iga. The chase is on. Kagerou and Aoi are left to search for both the sincerity of their allegiances as well as asylum from their hunters. Such are their lives as Runaways.
Contains all four Shinobi movies:
The Law of Shinobi
A Way Out
The release contains both an English and Japanese 2.0 track. For the purpose of this review the Japanese track was used. The track is a basic one with no real frills with the sound split among the front three speakers and no real use of directionality. The track was free of dropouts or distortions and was otherwise solid as the dialogue never was lost during action scenes. The English track was also spot checked and was free of distortions and dropouts where sampled.
The video is a step back in that the presentation is 16:9 letterbox format. The video encode has a good deal of problems of which noise, aliasing, color blur, dot crawl, and shimmer. There is also a softness to the picture and it looks like the low budget had the crew using the cheapest film they could find. There are also points in the film where different types of cameras are used and the change in film stock is noticeable during scenes those scenes.
The packaging is a standard two disc case and each disc has two of the movies on it. The cover has a close up of a shinobi in mask dominating the majority of the frame. At the lower half there is a cast line up with the two main actors front and center and most of the rest of the main supporting cast spread behind them. The background is a reddish-orange and the top of the cover has a small yellow banner proclaiming that this is a four movie set. The back continues the reddish-orange color and there is a black and reddish hue image of Kagerou cutting down one of his rival shinobi. The top of the cover also continues the yellow banner proclaiming this to be a two disc set. The label for the first disc has an image of Kagerou and Aoi looking like it was taken from an action scene in the film. The second disc has a static image of Kagerou and Aoi standing back to back at the bottom and five of the main characters from the third and fourth films in black and red at the top of the disc.
The menu for the first disc has an image of Kagerou on the top left half. There is an earth tone marble back ground behind him. The bottom half of the screen is white with two vertical yellow lines and a faded pink in front of each selection. The selection highlighted is indicated by a bright yellow line that runs to the left edge of the screen. The second disc has an image of Aoi against the right of the upper also against the same earth tone marble back ground. The second disc uses the same white lower half and yellow indicators as the first disc. The menu is quick to respond to selections and to initiate the film selected.
This feature contains no extras.
Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers):
The world of the shinobi is wrapped in darkness where loyalty to one’s clan is the ultimate rule and any violating it will be severely punished by all shinobi clans. In this world the lower ranking shinobi are born and raised knowing that they do not have control over their own fate and that their death is inevitable. Their skills can only delay that fact, not prevent it. In such a world the freedom to love who they choose is as forbidden as betrayal and the class system can lock one in so they cannot fulfill all their potential.
During an era of war one such Genin (lowest ranked shinobi) is Kagerou from Shiroyama village. Kagerou is recognized by the leaders in the village for the skills he possesses and is trusted to carry out any mission given him. When Kagerou is given a dangerous assignment he chooses to take his childhood friend Aoi with him as she is the only person he trusts. After finishing their mission the two discuss their station in life. Both are orphans whose parents were killed in service to the village and neither one wants the inevitable death their station will bequeath on them.
Kagerou also has trouble getting along with the other regular members of the village as they are envious of his abilities. When Aoi’s cousin is attacked and killed before Aoi by the Genin leader who both envies Kagerou and lusts after Aoi she flees the village. This act brands her a deserter and a group of shinobi set out to kill her as their law requires. Kagerou is sent out by the village elder to bring her back but discovers that the boss may have ulterior motives of his own with what he has assigned to Kagerou. Eventually Kagerou and Aoi make a decision that they will continue their life as deserters despite the consequences this may bring on them after they meet up.
Kagerou’s only hope turns south as the village leader who knows the truth behind Kagerou’s mission (and is accepting of what he is doing) is assassinated by Rokkaku-a scheming member of the Jonin class-and blame is placed on Kagerou for the murder. Kagerou and Aoi’s life will be difficult as they have been reported as runaways and a meeting between Rokkaku and the leaders of others from the twelve shinobi clans guarantees they will not be welcome in any other village. Kagerou is then put in between a rock and a hard place as he appears to gain an ally he does not trust as some of those in his home village with a deep grudge set upon him. Even his skill may not be enough to survive the encounter.
As this is going on the depths of the shadows of the shinobi world will be laid bare as various schemers plot to consolidate power over the 13 clans in Iga. The lines will become blurred as the two leaders trying to grasp power for themselves start maneuvering their pawns across the board. What part does Kagerou play in the schemes and what will happen to Aoi when the two powers decide she is the key to controlling Kagerou? Does even the most skilled shinobi of the age have the power to protect the one person he cares about in his life or will he discover there are limits even he can’t surpass?
Shinobi is a decent though roughly average series of movies that follow 2 people who have come to question their place in life and whether their commitment to each other is greater than their commitment to the life they have been raised in. The films seem longer than they are as some of the plot could have been condensed. The action scenes are well choreographed but the low budget for the films doesn’t give much space for spectacular wire work so the action tends to feel a bit repetitive even when it is not.
Shinobi is a collected release of four films in a series that began in 2002. The budget for the films was low but the cast and crew do a good job most of the time of knowing what their limitations are and shooting in such a way that those limitations aren’t as obvious. The films feel like they could have been shortened to two or three films and still produced the same effect. The films are rather average with little to make them stand out positively or negatively. They are hard to watch in a marathon session though due to the lack of any really memorable events. Still, it is a good value for an acceptable collection of films.
Japanese 2.0 Language, English 2.0 Language, English Subtitles
Content Grade: C-
Audio Grade: B
Video Grade: D+
Packaging Grade: C+
Menu Grade: C
Extras Grade: N/A
Released By: ADV Films
Release Date: March 29th, 2009
Running Time: 320 Minutes
Video Encoding: 480i/p MPEG-2
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 Widescreen
Samsung 50″ Plasma HDTV, Denon AVR-790 Receiver with 5.1 Sony Surround Sound Speakers, Sony PlayStation3 Blu-ray player via HDMI set to 1080.