Naruto The Movie: Ninja Clash in the Land of Snow Review
Note: If you’ve never seen the Naruto series, then you can find all you need to know about the show before watching Naruto The Movie in the first three paragraphs of my Naruto Series01 Part 01 DVD review.
Ever since the Naruto anime series debuted on Japanese airwaves back in 2001 it’s been a resounding success with viewers both at home and abroad, so it was inevitable that TV Tokyo would make the move to the big screen. Bringing on board the TV series’ scriptwriter Katsuyuki Sumisawa with talented director Tensai Okamura to deliver an action spectacle that could match some of the series more outlandish battle sequences, Naruto The Movie: Ninja Clash in the Land of Snow was a resounding success at the box office, and paved the way for a series of commercially successful sequels.
Naruto The Movie kicks off with our plucky hero Naruto and his team compadrés in a movie theatre checking out the latest Princess Gale action film on the orders of team captain: Kakashi. It turns out that the team has been hired to protect and escort Princess Gale’s star: Yukie Fujikaze to the Snow Country where the producers have decided to film the latest sequel. There’s just one snag; Yukie stubbornly refuses to go to the Snow Country and even goes so far as to quit her job and attempt to run away, only to be found and dragged onto a boat set sail for the Snow Country. What the filmmakers don’t know is that Yukie actually is a genuine princess, one who fled her kingdom in the Snow Country after her uncle: Doto hired a team of three ruthless ninjas and staged a coup d’etat, killing Yukie’s father: Sosetsu in the process. Since then Doto has squandered the Snow Country’s limited resources into the ground, and is desperate to get his hands on the rumoured secret treasure that Sosetsu left behind – but only the princess has the key that can open this treasure. So Doto and his ninja cohorts wait and plot their attack on Yukie and her bodyguards.
If you’re familiar enough with action anime films I’m sure you’ll notice that synopsis is extremely generic, we have a disillusioned misanthropic princess whose selfishness and self pitying nature clashes heavily with the optimistic idealistic Naruto, setting up a serious of argumentative encounters in which Naruto can pull off some “inspirational” moments and eventually change the princess for the better. It’s been done to death in the TV series, and it’s not given enough of a spin to work on film. Also, the device of having Team Kakashi act as bodyguards/escorts is quickly becoming a cliché within the shounen anime genre too – heck they used this device for the first story arc of the TV series.
I must admit I’ve come to expect little more than some half-arsed generic storyline from these shounen series film spin offs, as without the original manga writer making any real contribution to the script, the filmmakers are left in the unenviable position of coming up with a story that doesn’t conflict with the anime/manga series’ story arcs, and making sure the characters don’t interact or act in a way that fans would want to be followed up on in the series. This leaves just the action and comedy for the filmmakers to grab a bit of creative leeway and go to town. Unfortunately, the comedy in Naruto The Movie is quite weak – you can see most of the gags coming a mile away and they barely raise a smile when delivered. Things are not helped by Okamura taking the story a little too seriously as well, which is weird as he’s demonstrated an affinity with quirky comedy in the past with his short “Stink Bomb” in the anime anthology: Memories. Drama was clearly the primary driving force for the filmmakers, and the film definitely suffers for it.
At 82 minutes long, there’s not much time for many action setpieces in Naruto The Movie, but here is where Tensai Okamura shines by pacing the ser pieces effectively, building up & up to a series of well staged confrontations between Team Kakashi and the rogue ninjas in the Snow Country. Here the violence is ramped up nicely (within reason) and Naruto, Sakura and Sasuke are all given their own little sequences where they get to kick some ass. Also with a considerably larger budget to work from, Okamura has full reign to increase the detail in the animation and throw out some pretty large scale ninja techniques. Kakashi comes out the best in this regard, but fans of the series will no doubt be a little disappointed by how little they’ve given Sasuke to do in the film. At times he feels needlessly shoehorned into a scene just to get his name into the credits.
Still, that 82-minute runtime and the expensively animated action sequences do ensure that Naruto The Movie’s shortcomings in the areas of script, story, and comedy, are easier to sit through. So both hardened fans of the show and complete newcomers who just want to watch a simple ninja action film, shouldn’t be too disappointed.
PresentationPresented anamorphically at 1.83:1, the transfer is very hit and miss. First the strengths: Colours are rich, bold and pretty clean: There’s some grading in places and a little chroma noise, but generally the colour reproduction is very pleasing. Likewise the contrast and brightness are both excellent. Compression is ok, but there is notable mosquito noise around edges throughout the film. Likewise you can see thick edge enhancement halos around the lines of the image – and here’s the kicker: When comparing MangaUK’s transfer to the r2j DVD release, it’s clear they’ve used the same masters with exactly the same amount of noise and Edge Enhancements, but the UK DVD is noticeably softer – in fact the image is so soft it almost appears blurry at times! So we get the same amount of EE, but a much softer image! The UK transfer is also a NTSC – PAL standards conversion. Luckily for Manga, the r2j costs an arm and a leg and does not come with English subtitles. To see the difference, check out the following comparison grabs. Note that the r2j grabs have been blown up from NTSC 480p to the PAL 576p resolution (at no loss of detail). Click on the thumbnails to see the full size grabs:
On the audio front there’s a choice of 4 tracks: The original Japanese DD2.0 surround & DD5.1, and a dubbed English DD 2.0 surround & DD5.1. Unfortunately I think there’s a good chance the 5.1 tracks are stereo up-converts, as for the most part the audio placed on the front stereo speakers is repeated on the rears. Also, the r2j Japanese DD5.1 audio track sounds far superior in just about every aspect you can think of, and its rear channels are mixed completely differently to the MangaUK release.
Listening to the Japanese DD5.1 track I felt the bass was a little loose and could do with tightening up a bit to give the action a bit more punch. Dialogue is clear and audible though, and the stereo soundstage is reasonably wide and dynamic. The rear speakers are not used in all the action sequences, and are mostly used for ambient effects, but when they do spring into action they are generally well implemented. In comparison the Japanese DD2.0 surround track is much more restrained and the bass is weaker and just as loose, but the dialogue is again clear and audible and the dynamics are about on par. Ironically the rear speakers are more active on this 2.0 track than on the 5.1.
The English tracks sound pretty much identical to their respective Japanese counterparts, but the dialogue in both tracks is mixed way too loud, drowning out the more subtle audio effects. Another nuisance in the English tracks is that the score and the closing song have been fiddled about with. The Japanese version ends with the song “Home Sweet Home” by Yuki Isoya, but in the English it’s a cheesy raaawk track called “Never Give Up” by Jeremy Sweet. As for the score, for the most part they’ve kept the original cues composed by Toshio Masuda (who also scores the TV series), but occasionally they will change the original score to a piece composed by Jeremy Sweet, or simply add a score cue onto a scene that features no score in the original Japanese track. Sometimes Sweet’s compositions stick out like a sore thumb, clashing with Masuda’s sound.
Optional English subtitles are included, with no spelling or grammatical errors that stood out at the time of viewing.
ExtrasAside from trailers for various Anime series that MangaUK are distributing, the only extra feature on the disc is the 11 minute long: ”Sports Festival” Featurette that ran before the feature film during its theatrical release in Japan. It’s a mildly amusing jaunt where Naruto is trapped in a sports event and in desperate need of a toilet break, while the viewer is treated to a roll call of all the characters that had appeared in the anime at the time Naruto The Movie was shown.
Unfortunately the featurette’s 1.82:1 transfer is non-anamorphic and, while the image quality isn’t too far from the feature film’s in terms of colour, brightness, and contrast; the transfer is heavily interlaced and looks pretty bad on a progressive display. Audio is a choice of poor quality Japanese DD2.0 and slightly better quality English DD2.0 and optional English subtitles. Again the r2j comes off far better with the presentation of this featurette, with a decent anamorphic image and choice of high quality Japanese DD2.0 and DD5.1.