To the guy who created digital blood effects, Ninja Assassin is a thank you. This is where your thought and technology is finally put to good use.
Without you, audiences would have never seen someone’s head sliced in half at the jaw with a throwing star. Humans would die the instant they shed as much blood as any character in this movie. Gunfire would only produce a small squirt instead of the fountain it does here. A guy’s head inside a dryer flopping about would not have the same effect either.
This is a completely ridiculous film, so why the writers Matthew Sand and J. Michael Straczynski try to take any of this seriously is a mystery. From the opening scene, where an unidentified ninja wipes out an entire Yakuza clan, slicing and dicing with the best of the them, one expects a cheeky spin. From there, another attack, where another victim ends up with his head inside a dryer at the Laundromat. In some way, that is a “spin,” if you enjoy painfully bad puns.
Then, the movie flat out dies. We are introduced to our main character Raizo (Rain) as a child, training inside one of those Japanese dojos that only exist in the movies. He is beaten relentlessly by his master who trains him in the way of the ninja. The clan carries out assassinations of famous figures, of course in the most spectacular way possible for maximum film effectiveness.
There are countless scenes of Rain battling his clan brothers, learning the ways of the ninja, in an apparent means to make this all seem plausible later. It is hard to imagine anyone taking this material even remotely seriously, so while these scenes are effective at showing Rain’s growing rebellion, they do little for the potential entertainment value.
When this one is finally allowed to let loose, it delivers on completely new levels of movie absurdity, playing slightly on the comedic value. Rain battles ninjas in the middle of a busy street, where drivers are angrier that ninjas are blocking their paths than trying to kill people. They scream obscenities as they pass, and don’t even stop when they blast a ninja with their fenders.
There is a very funny piece of imagery where a main character’s vehicle is parked at a hotel, littered with shurikens from a previous brawl. The clan is also presented as creature-like, a funny little vertical pan revealing to the audience that the murderous ninjas are like the Predator, clinging to a wall, waiting to pounce.
Nothing tops the finale though, where government forces raid the dojo, blowing up buildings with rocket launchers, mowing down surprised ninja with turret guns, and engaging in close combat. It is as monumentally stupid as it sounds, and the editing renders much of the choreography unintelligible, but artistic or not, it is loads of goofy fun. Ninja Assassin never loses its momentum once it kick starts itself.
If the opening sequence were the only part of this disc being reviewed, the VC-1 encode from Warner would be a new contender for the shining example of Blu-ray technology. Facial definition is rarely rendered this cleanly, sharpness is flawless, and the saturated color delivers a dazzling array of shades. Flesh tones are spot on, and the black levels are as rich and deep as one could imagine.
Much of that scene is shot in close-up, and for the most part, those remain consistent for the entire transfer. Dazzling facial textures are just outstanding across the board. Once distance comes into play, the video begins to struggle. The first long shot of an outdoor environment, around 9:49, shows blown out highlights and weak definition. The little café off to the left is mostly a mess of color.
Black levels always remain firm, any crush an intentional effect due to the significant lack of light in most of the action scenes. An escape from a prison complex is rough going due to this. Ringing can be severe, especially apparent in the training sequences indoors. The contrast derived from the black gis and tanned environment leads to small halos.
Grain is hardly noticeable for most of the film, leaving this encode free to focus on the high fidelity detail. It generally provides, although not always consistently. From the opening scene, the movie moves into an office, and while facial detail and clothing texture is evident, it is not as defined or as striking. Regardless, this is a fantastic transfer, and any eventual re-release with a slightly healthier bitrate could stand to enter reference territory.
It is hard to imagine what this audio mix is missing. This one is aggressive from the opening frames, whizzing shurikens flying through the frame in multiple directions. The score hammers the low end with beefy, clean jolts. When the movie sags, so does the audio, with limited ambiance. Considering what is coming, these segments act as a breather.
Dialogue remains prioritized even under heavy action, important due to how much is actually going on. Even when characters are away from the main battle (as Rain is being rescued from a prison), you can still hear gunfire in the surrounds rattling around the environment.
Where the good stuff is happening, this track goes ballistic. Gunfire loves the subwoofer, producing an enormously satisfying jolt every time a bullet is fired. Clean highs capture swords clanging in every channel. Perfectly done pans, regardless of direction, always impress. The street fight with cars passing by is quite immersive. Even the driver’s taunts are placed in a specific discrete channel.
The finale, with its hilariously overdone shoot-em-up choreography, offers explosions, sickles being whipped around the frame as they approach their target, and sprouting flames catching in the LFE. Clarity is wonderful, and nothing sounds distorted or overly dominating. Balance is excellent.
Myth and Legend of Ninja is the first bonus feature, a 19-minute look at ninjas, their place in pop culture, and where all of this started. The Extreme Sport of Ninja looks at how training for the fight scenes was done, and the styles utilized. Training Rain looks at the actor’s regimen and preparation.
A sneak peek for the upcoming Clash of Titans remake is next, followed deleted scenes that run nearly eight minutes. BD-Live connectivity remains.