The year is 1614, and the Iga and Koga clan are keeping the ruler of the Tokugawa shogunate from moving society forward by remaining isolated in small villages across the land. The head of the Koga clan, Danjo Koga (Minoru Terada), and the head of the Iga clan, Ogen (Riri), are summoned by the shogun and are told that they must assemble the five best warriors of their respective clans in order to battle each other to the death. However, the shogun hasn't issued such an order just to see which clan is stronger, or to end their ongoing feud, but more so to have each clan eliminate each other so that his reign isn't threatened. Danjo picks his five best, headed by Gennosuke (Joe Odagiri), and Ogen picks her five best, headed by Oboro (Yukie Nakama). Both clans have an interesting cast of characters with abilities that range from taking on the appearance of ones enemy, delivering a kiss of death, to a character that uses his long hair as a weapon. Unbeknownst to each clan, Gennosuke and Oboro have been having a secret romance with one another and have even made plans to marry. Gennosuke, realizing that he may soon be pitted against his beloved, is completely against the idea of going into battle. When his chief goes head-to-head with Ogen from the Iga clan and doesn't survive the encounter, he begrudgingly leads his crew into battle with intentions of making it to the shogun to question his orders. Oboro feels the same way as Gennosuke, but as the two clans members continue to battle one another and people begin to die, her hatred begins to consume her. The two clans fight their way through the land and soon Gennosuke will be face-to-face with the woman he loves. Will their love be strong enough to ignore the bloodshed of their fallen comrades?
Shinobi: Heart Under Blade is truly a love story at it's core, but that doesn't mean it's without some really cool, comic-book style action. Each member of each clan has a unique ability that is shown off with style and decent special-effects. From the very beginning you know that the love shared between Gennosuke and Oboro is doomed, but you're left watching and wondering how, if possible, will they be able to overcome their forced situation. The storytelling is really the strength of Shinobi for me, because as a viewer, you're instantly pushed into their romance and hope that they can find a way. The action of course is a visual treat, with our two main protagonists having some of the more intense abilities, which I hate to ruin for any potential viewers. The film as a whole rides that fine line between being too comically cheesy at times and taking itself too seriously, but in the end, I think it does a great job of striking the right balance.
I always felt that Shinobi was going to be one of those silly movies that relied on fancy special-effects in order to reel people in, possibly because of the way it was marketed, but I was definitely wrong with that perception. I'm glad that I took the time to see what this movie was all about, because the mix of various elements actually made for a surprisingly entertaining viewing experience. (Lee)