PictureShinobi springs into 2.35:1 action at 1080p using the MPEG-4/AVC codec. It's a fine transfer but it's not all rosy and this probably has more to do with the artistic nature of some scenes within this film.
It has some great detail on show, from the depth of the small villages with the children playing and training to the women sowing and spinning. The landscape sequences, from a hawks eye view, are splendid and stretch well into the hazy distance again showing some great features and at times gloriously bathed in some very rich colour as the reds and golden browns of the leaves are on show. Colours on the whole are firm and solid with the hues and texture of clothing coming across particularly well. Skin tones are pretty much spot on if not verging on the red from time to time. Sometimes however these distance shots incorporating some mist laden mountains show banding and gradients and it does become a little distracting at times.
Throughout most of the fighting sequences, apart from the initial challange the Emperor oversees, colour seems to have been drained from the print almost to the point of exclusion. During these moments the film flattens somewhat and portrays no hint of dimensionality whatsoever. Of all the times to implement such a technique, this was certainly not the best. Whites are strong and contained, but black levels do suffer.
There are many indoor scenes and scenes in the outdoors where some battles commence and these scenes suffer because of lack of adequate contrast. Blacks are somewhat crushed and the detail is all but lost in those shadows. Again this flattens the image and because this is not consistent across the whole of the feature again it becomes a little distracting and disappointing.
SoundThere are two tracks here for your amusement, an original Japanese TrueHD 6.1 and the dubbed TrueHD 5.1 mix. Again I chose the Japanese version but comparisons between that and the English offering shows that the Foley and score come across pretty much the same with that additional channel mixed in the Japanese variety not really adding too much the overall enjoyment. Dubbing is not too bad but still a little distracting I found.
The haunting score mentioned earlier drifts from the frontal stage, widening as the passion contained in the scene, but not our actors, develops. It's mainly string based and these strings come across wonderfully with their higher tones pin sharp and well defined. The dialogue is firm and centred and always easily heard and distinguished from the variety of other subtle sounds.
The stage comes alive though when battle commences with the ring of steel upon steel crisp, the steerage of effects as objects move from one speaker to another perfectly and easily handled, pans are superbly rendered with objects perfectly placed in the audio field. Surround use during these moments is excellent and in constant use; not overpowering though but suited to the nature of the action on screen. LFE use during these moments is deep and extensive yet never booming nor going too low it will rattle your windows. Again LFE use is mixed well and suits the nature of the action.
Small subtle sounds from the wind in the trees, the rippling of water, the creak of branches as a warrior lands or springboards from one to another are detailed and defined, never getting lost or confused within the overall mix.
- VFX Behind the Scenes. - 0:41:14
This small featurette discusses the extensive use of CGI in Shinobi and particular attention is paid to the use of 'Digital Doubles', the technique used to merge a live actor into his CGI counterpart. It's what you would expect with motion capture, storyboards and animatronics. At the end there is a rather lengthy presentation by the effects team to a lecture theatre in Japan. Although initially interesting this quickly loses its appeal as it's a very dry affair.
- Storyboard Collections. - 0:38:15
A collection of 17 scenes are shown with the storyboard also on screen. This goes on for far too long and really only a few scenes were required to get the general idea of what they were trying to achieve.
- Director's Storyboard Collection. - 0:03:09
Similar to the last extra however framing information is also contained on these storyboards. Although much shorter I felt this was a better addition to the one listed above. I had never seen or thought about framing within the storyboard itself until I saw this.
- Weapons Introduction. - 0:08:52
An introduction into some of the many weapons used in this film, the shuriken darts. The gesturing which Yenzen uses is an interesting affair in so far that it's a Seikh's weapon of choice and here it ends up in the Japanese countryside.
- Shinobi Art: Manjidani. - 0:08.47
Predominantly concerned with the pre production on the small Shinobi village of Manjidani which was to be built extending from the face of a cliff. After this set was demolished by the winds though the director changed his ideas and produced a similar village at the same location but not one as ambitious. It was interesting to see what could be achieved just one month before shooting took place.
- Shinobi Action: Suapmu Castle Fight. - 0:04:41
Earlier in these extras there is extensive discussion on CGI and in particular how it was integrated into one scene. This scene is again discussed but this time from the live action point of view; where the actors should be standing, how they should move, where the camera should pan. It's an interesting little piece but I feel would have been better suited integrated into the main CGI feature earlier for comparison.
As well as these featurettes there is also 2 Shinobi trailers plus a number of smaller TV spots. There are also trailers for 8 other Japanese productions, mainly anime. The extras we do have are not that unique by any stretch of the imagination and mostly cover ground already contained on better discs out there. They're not a bad watch as such, just not a very riveting one either and as such all will be watched once then discarded.
VerdictOn the whole I would have to say I did enjoy Shinobi but if there was a directors commentary to get through then I think that a second sitting may have been pushing it a little. It's obviously a firm favourite for lovers of martial arts films and one I could recommend from that point of view.
It was though trying to be so much more than that and whilst that was a noble attempt it does fall at a few hurdles; the main actors never really have any chemistry between them and the characters themselves would have benefited from some more detailed back-story.
A rental at best for most people then but a few will pick this up and enjoy the transition from animation to live action. I will look forward to more of these coming out of Japan I just hope that they spend a little more time on characterisation and a little less on wirework.
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- VFX Behind the Scenes. - 0:41:14