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Ninja Scroll [DVD]
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A ninja-for-hire is forced into fighting an old nemesis who is bent on overthrowing the Japanese government. His nemesis is also the leader of a group of demons each with superhuman powers.
A peak achievement of Japanese animation (anime), this propulsive mix of samurai action adventure and supernatural fantasy from writer-director Yoshiaki Kawajiri (Supernatural Best City) is defiantly animation for grown-ups, complete with fountains of blood, plenty of naked flesh, and (in both the subtitled and dubbed versions) some decidedly strong language. (Students of Japanese language could pick up some useful expressions.) The plot sounds like a 16th century variation on the X-Files: an entire village has been wiped out by a mysterious plague and an anti-government conspiracy of invulnerable demons seems to be responsible. A wandering ninja, Jubei, and his female counterpart, Kagero, team up to defeat the plotters. Jubei is a classic reluctant hero, agreeing to participate in the mission only after being fed a slow-acting poison; the antidote will be supplied after he cooperates. And Kagero, a looker whose embrace is lethal, is a femme fatale with a difference that seems distinctively Japanese: sexual contact itself is poisonous, especially for a warrior with a pure-soul. --David Chute, Amazon.com --This text refers to the UMD Mini for PSP edition.
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I can normally take or leave most ninja anime, I love mecha and enjoy most sci-fi, horror and Miyazaki stuff, but ninjas don't normally push my buttons. Ninja Scroll though, is a pleasant exception.
This 10th anniversary edition contains two discs with different versions on each disc. Disc 1 has the 4:3 ratio pan and scan version and disc 2 the 16:9 anamorphic version.
Disc 2 also has several soundtracks including DTS 6.1 and proper DD 5.1 EX tracks. Plus a number of other interesting extras, especially the interview with the director.
I won't go into the plot as several other reviews describe it in plenty enough detail already. Although I will say that the plot is very good, it moves along at a sensible pace with a good balance between dialogue and action and unfolds cleverly, giving the viewer snippets of what's going on along the way and piecing it together thoroughly at the end.
Ninja Scroll is very Japanese, more so than a lot of other anime, and makes many cultural references throughout. This, I think, gives the story more depth and weight and makes it less fantastical (even though it's about ninjas and demons). But through this 'Japaneseness' the film fully deserves it's 18 certificate as Ninja Scroll is very violent and has many other scenes and themes of an adult nature as a warning to those who decide to watch it lightly.
Jubei and Kagero, the lead male and female, are excellent characters and they develop and interact very well and much thought has been put into them. But that's not to say the other's are bad or underdeveloped, as entire animated cast is excellent. Throughout the film there are many characters and sequences that will completely take you by surprise, these are a joy to watch even on repeated viewings.
The animation, as expected on a film like this, is superb, fluid movement and excellent detail everywhere.
The only disappointing thing I found with this DVD set was the sound. Listening through my home cinema separates I found that the DD 5.1 EX track made very little use of the extra speakers. The sub effects were pretty much non-existent and only little more came through the surround speakers. The scene at the beginning when the ninjas are jumping through the trees was good with the sound of movement all around you but other than that there isn't much to shout about.
A 13 episode TV series sequel to the film following the further exploits of Jubei was released in the late 90's and is now available on DVD and Ninja Scroll 2 is currently in pre-production.
An obvious film to watch it you're new to anime and thoroughly recommended to everyone, you'll love Ninja Scroll!
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