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Shinobi (Radiance Films) Blu-ray Review

    Ian Jane

  • Shinobi (Radiance Films) Blu-ray Review

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    Released by: Radiance Films
    Released on: May 27th, 2024.
    Director: Satsuo Yamamoto, Kazuo Mori
    Cast: Raizo Ichikawa, Yunosuke Ito, Shiho Fujimura
    Year: 1962-1963
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    Shinobi – Movie Review:

    Radiance Films gives the first three series in the Shinobi (or Shinobi No Mono) series their English friendly Blu-ray debut with this collection comprised of the first three films in the series. Originally released to Japanese theaters in the 1960s, this series was the one that was really responsible for kickstarting the ninja film explosion that would follow in its wake. The films are often unflinchingly violent and almost perpetually exciting but they also manage to tell some pretty interesting stories underneath all the intrigue and secrecy.

    Shinobi: Band Of Assassins (1962)

    This first entry, directed by Satsuo Yamamoto, introduces us to a young man named Goemon (Raizo Ichikawa) who is the most talented of all the ninjas in his province. When the local evil warlord, Nobunaga Oda (Katsuhiko Kobayashi), decides he wants to enslave the population and take everything he can for his own, Goemon becomes involved in a secret ninja plot to assassinate him. It won't be an easy task though, as Goemon is being watched everywhere he goes and there are literally gangs of enemy ninja coming the countryside in search of him.

    This first film is a great introduction to the series and to the culture of the ninja as well. Like their samurai brethren, these ninjas subscribe to their own code and belief system and while it's certainly more lose than the Bushido Code, it does cause those who go against it great shame. This is one of the problems that our hero runs into as he goes about his task. He's conflicted as to what he should do and how he should do it, while at the same time he has to be careful not to put himself into a tricky situation or one of the enemy ninjas will surely take him out.

    Ichikawa, best known for the Sleepy Eyes Of Death films, is great in the lead. He's suave without being too much of a stud and his unlikely 'pretty boy' good looks make him an interesting choice to play a ninja. He handles it all rather well, however, and once you get used to him in the role you can't really imagine anyone else doing it with quite the same sort of flair. There are a lot of great fight scenes and scenes of ninja subterfuge here, but it really just sets the stage for what's to come. The film also features a small supporting role from the legendary Tomisaburo Wakayama, best known for his work in the Lone Wolf And Cub films.

    Shinobi: Revenge (1963)

    The second film in the set, directed again by Satsuo Yamamoto, basically picks up where the first one left off. When the movie begins, Nobunaga Oda believes that he has been successful in eradicating all of the Iga Ninjas, therefore making the country his for the taking. This would be a pretty lousy sequel if he were right! Goemon, now the last surviving member of his clan, just wants to live out the rest of his days in peace and quiet with this lovely bride and his young son, but that's not how it's going to play out. The fickle finger of fate points at him and due to circumstances outside of his control, he's forced to go back to his old ways and once again, Goemon is back on the hunt.

    This second film is a more intense one than that which came before it. Here Goemon is on a mission of vengeance of sorts, and once he puts his black pajamas back on and gets into it, anyone who stands between him and his goal of completing his quest is going to find themselves very sorry. Ichikawa is once again very good in the role, playing the more brooding aspects of the character quite well and doing just fine in the combat sequences. There's a lot of emphasis here on the ninjas' techniques, their sneaky ways and their ability to hide pretty much anywhere, which helps to differentiate it a bit from the first movie. This second film also ups the carnage and bloodshed quotient noticeably from the earlier picture.

    Shinobi: Resurrection (1963)

    This third film brought in a new director, Kazuo Mori, but retained Ichikawa in the lead. Again, it picks up where the last film left off, just as Goemon was about to be boiled alive and sent to a horribly painful death. Of course, you can't keep a good ninja down and he makes his way out alive. Thankfully he's able to hook up with none other than Hattori Hanzo who helps him get back on his feet so that he can bring down the evil warlord that tried to kill him in the last picture.

    This is another entertaining film in the series and while the whole 'he escaped the boiling death' explanation that we're given is more than just a little bit hard to swallow, the film offers Ichkawa plenty of opportunity to hide in the shadows and cleverly assassinate people. It doesn't have quite as much flair or style as the second film in the series does, but it's still a ridiculously entertaining movie. This entry stays close enough to the formula that was starting to develop that it can cater to the film's fan base while still trying to stretch out a bit and try some new things (not all of which work - Goemon should not have a sidekick!).

    Overall, these are impressive films. They offer plenty of action and intrigue and a wide array of interesting characters. The production values are impressive, with some great costumes and set design on display and the cinematography is frequently breathtaking. The battle scenes are often epic in scale and intensity.

    Shinobi – Blu-ray Review:

    The three films in the Shinobi collection arrive on Blu-ray from Radiance Films in AVC encoded 1080p high definition transfers framed at 2.35.1 widescreen, with the first two movies sharing a 50GB disc and the third film on its own 25GB disc. The black and white transfers look excellent, showing minor print damage here and there but nothing distracting. Contrast looks really solid and we get nice, deep black levels. The transfers, which were supplied to Radiance Films by Kadokawa, show strong detail and depth and there’s nice texture evident throughout. There’s no evidence of any noise reduction or edge enhancement to complain about either. These new transfers offer impressive upgrades over the past DVD editions that Animeigo put out years ago.

    The only audio option on the discs is a trio of 24-bit DTS-HD 2.0 Mono tracks in Japanese with optional subtitles provided in English only. The audio on the second film is a little wobbly sounding at times and there’s some minor sibilance evident throughout each of the three movies in the set but overall they generally sound just fine.

    On disc one we get an interview with Shozo Ichiyama, artistic director of the Tokyo International Film Festival, about director Satsuo Yamamoto. Here, over fourteen minutes, he talks about Yamamoto's life and career and the importance of the Shinobi series, noting that most of his work was in the contemporary drama field rather than in period films. He talks about how he came to know and appreciate the director's work, some of the stand out films in his filmography, his background, how he got into filmmaking, his work with Toho, his work directing stage plays, the state of the Japanese film industry after the Second World War, his part in the strikes that affected Toho in the late forties, how he then went on to start his own production company and quite a bit more.

    On disc two, we get a visual essay on the ninja in Japanese cinema by film scholar Mance Thompson that runs eighteen minutes. This goes over the reality of the history of the ninja as well as the ninja movies that popularized the ninja around the world. I also goes over the history of ninja movies, going back to their origins in the early 1920s, their popularity in Japan and then abroad decades later, how ninjas have been portrayed on the big screen and how this has changed over the years, details on some of the bigger players in Japanese ninja movies over the year and where the Shinobi movies fit in with all of this.

    Up next is an interview with film critic Toshiaki Sato on star Raizo Ichikawa that runs for fourteen minutes. It goes over the biographical details of his life, how he got his start in the business, his rise in popularity and the image he portrayed on screen, his connection to Shintaro Katsu, different directors that he worked with over the years and his death at a young age due to cancer.

    The second disc also includes trailers for all three films in this collection.

    Radiance also includes a set of six postcards of promotional material from the films, a limited edition booklet featuring new writing by Jonathan Clements on the Shinobi no mono series titled ‘A Band Of Assassins,’ Diane Wei Lewis on writer Tomoyoshi Murayama with a piece titled ‘Tomoyoshi Murayam – Modernist Master’ and a piece titled ‘A Film Made With Zoom Lenses’ by Yasukaze Takemura alongside cast and crew details for each of the three movies and, of course, the obi strip that has accompanied all of Radiance Films’ releases thus far. The two discs each get their own clear Scanavo cast that comes complete with some reversible cover sleeve art. These cases fit inside a nice rigid side-loading box featuring some great artwork on both the front and back panels. Limited to 3,000 units, it’s a very nice looking set.

    Shinobi - The Final Word:

    Radiance Films’ Shinobi boxed set is excellent, presenting three very entertaining and intriguing ninja movies in very nice presentations and with some great extras and deluxe packaging complimenting the features. Highly recommended!

    Click on the images below, or right click and open in a new window, for full sized Shinobi Blu-ray screen caps!

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