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Shinobi: The Law of Shinobi
  |     review    |     notes     |     availability     |


• Followed by a sequel, Shinobi: Runaway.
• The English audio dubbing on ADV's "literal translation version" was conducted without consideration for matching the onscreen lip movements. Also, the actors improvised at times, most infamously during a rape scene which they basically play for laughs.
The end credit sequence includes outtakes, rehearsal footage, and stunt work.


Region 1 NTSC
ADV Films
Japanese and English Dubbed Language Tracks
Dolby Digital 5.1
Removable English Subtitles
Literal English Translation Version, Trailers

Year: 2002
Director: Kenji Tanigaki
Producer: Seiji Chiba, Yukio Nihei
Cast: Kenji Matsuda, Maju Ozawa, Kazuyoshi Ozawa, Houka Kinoshita, Kyousuke Yabe, Chika Inada, Tarou Itsumi
The Skinny: Two low-level ninjas try to overcome "cannon fodder" status in this low-rent action flick from Japan. The performances by the two leads and the script's valiant attempt at dramatic depth almost compensate for the shoddy production values and questionable action sequences. Still really, lowered expectations and an extreme love of all things ninja are a must to truly enjoy this film.
  Review by Calvin McMillin:

     Shot on digital video, Kenji Tanigaki's Shinobi: Law of Shinobi follows the exploits of Kagerou (Kenji Matsuda), the top pupil in a secret ninja clan. Being the number one student would be quite the accomplishment if it weren't for the fact that Kagerou was born into the lower Genin caste of ninjas, as opposed to the high-level Jonin class. Briefly, the ninja hierarchy works like this: the Genin are the foot soldiers while the Jonin are the master strategists. Thus, the Genin's lives are pretty much marked for death. Disturbed by the futility of it all, Kagerou seeks to overcome his station in life and finds an ally in Aoi (Maju Ozawa), a fellow Genin who is treated poorly by most of the other shinobi simply because she's a woman. But Kagerou has a friendly history with Aoi and trusts her implicitly, which makes her the perfect sidekick. And when a war erupts between rival factions within the clan, this somewhat dynamic duo seizes the opportunity to change their fates. One problem: a lot of people want them dead. Cue the slicing and dicing.
     Shinobi: Law of Shinobi isn't exactly high art. A lot of times it feels like a cheesy B-movie, which is understandable considering its direct-to-video status. A big budget isn't necessary to make a quality film, but it doesn't hurt in helping amp the believability meter. The lack of funds is evident in the setting; most of the film's scant running time is spent in the forest with little attempt to approximate any historical time period. Also, the wardrobe doesn't seem even remotely accurate. For the majority of the picture, Kagerou wears the ninja equivalent of an Adidas track suit, rather than something more in tune with our expectations of "Shinobi wear." Director Tanigaki was said to have collaborated with Ryuhei Kitamura on Versus and Donnie Yen on the Princess Blade. Knowing that, most people are going to come into the film looking for some solid martial arts action. And at times, Shinobi does provide that, but for the most part, it's so ineptly shot that it's hard to make sense of the action.
     To be perfectly honest though, certain aspects of the film do elevate the material above pure B-movie camp. Kenji Matsuda almost seems to be acting in another, better movie than some of his castmates. Matsuda's ability to infuse his character with a supreme sense of confidence and his knack for taking everything fairly seriously make the character a standout. His swordsman means business, a trait that intensifies any swordplay sequence his character is involved with. Maju Ozawa does well as the feisty, rebellious Aoi, and there's good chemistry between the two leads. Their constant back-and-forth bickering is pretty entertaining to watch, especially since the actors are able to convey a genuine affection for each other. In an interesting move, the filmmakers actually try to infuse a sense of dramatic importance into the story, by allowing the characters to muse on the futility of the ninja lifestyle. Although the grave ponderings might seem incongruent with the B-movie feel, the attempt to give the story more depth saves it from being a completely mindless (and thus, pointless) crapfest. Are those positives enough to recommend the film? Let me put it this way: if you really like ninjas, then this particular example of Japanese V-Cinema will make for an entertaining distraction. But if ninjas don't really do it for you, then neither will Shinobi. (Calvin McMillin, 2005)

image courtesy of ADV Films Copyright 2002-2017 Ross Chen