Review for Naruto The Movie: Road To Ninja
There are plenty of great stand-alone films, but when it comes to movies that adapt or spin off from long-running franchises, especially the Shonen Jump series there are less outstanding films to talk about. After all, when you have a long running series like Naruto, the best that you can hope for from a spin-off movie is 90 minutes of fun, action packed filler. That’s usually what you get. But once in a while, you get a film from a long running series that transcends its origins, becomes a valid piece of cinema in its own right, and becomes the odd one out in your collection, the film that you own despite having no desire to buy into the series that it spun-off from. I have no intention of watching the Bleach TV series more than twice, but you’ll have to pry the first film, Memories of Nobody from my death grip. When it comes to One Piece, it’s Baron Omatsuri and the Secret Island which goes where no One Piece movie before or since has gone. Then you have shorter shows like Tenchi Muyo which unexpectedly give us Tenchi Forever, and the philosophical and reflective Patlabor movies following the wacky comedy drama of the Patlabor series. All else may be swept away in the inevitable floods when oceans rise, but I’ll be holding onto Road to Ninja as the one piece of Naruto worth keeping.
When Manga released it in the UK, on DVD and Blu-ray, the review disc was the dreaded DVD, and a film this good needs to be kept in as good a quality as possible. A timely sale meant that I opted for the Australian Madman disc. You can try it now, but with Madman having jacked up their shipping charges, it’s cheaper to buy the UK Blu-ray at retail than it is to import the Australian disc at sale prices. It’s less damaging to the environment too.
The war continues, and in their latest battle, Naruto and his friends have just defeated the resurrected forms of Akatsuki. That’s worth celebrating, and proud parents in the Hidden Leaf village are lavishing praise on their offspring. For orphan Naruto, that only serves to remind him just what his life has been without. And then Madara appears before Naruto and Sakura, and unleashes his latest plan, with a new ninja power. Suddenly, the world has changed, literally so. It’s still the Hidden Leaf village, but everyone is behaving oddly. Kiba likes cats, Shikamaru is an idiot, Hinata is a bad-ass, and Rock Lee is a pervert. But more fundamentally, in this world, it’s Sakura who is an orphan. It was her parents that sacrificed their lives to protect the village, and she is lauded as the child of heroes.
Given her recent friction with her parents, she’s keen on the idea of spending some time in a world without them, but Naruto has no intention in staying in a fake world, especially one that is part of Madara’s schemes. Only in this world, his parents are still alive. Fake they may be, but it’s still a compelling development. But there’s trouble in this world too, a masked ninja seeking a secret scroll with devastating power. The masked man might just be Madara again, and Naruto’s willing to fight, but his parents are surprisingly protective of their ‘son’.
The film gets a 1.85:1 widescreen 1080p transfer on the disc. The image is clear and sharp, the animation smooth and fluid, and there are no problems with compression or aliasing. There is a hint of banding in darker scenes, and some shimmer on fine detail during pans and scrolls, but it’s never distracting. It’s what you would expect for a Naruto movie, the comparatively simplistic character designs not exactly offering a theatrical level of detail, the clumsy blend of traditional 2D and 3D CGI is still apparent, but the film really impresses during the action sequences. Road to Ninja makes effective use of its colour palette to deliver some atmospheric scenes as the story unfolds, and generally it’s on a par with the usual Naruto features.
You have the choice between DTS-HD MA 5.1 Surround with optional translated subtitles and a signs only track. The subtitles get a nice, small white font which is readable at all times. I only watched the film in the original Japanese for this review, and can’t comment on the dub. The dialogue is clear throughout, and the action scenes get effective support from the surround audio. Also the film’s music really does work well with the story to establish mood and carry the emotional weight of the story. The subtitles are timed accurately, and oddly when compared to the DVD, are free of typos.
Road to Ninja comes in a BD Amaray case, with some character art on the inner sleeve. You also get some different artwork on an o-card slipcover. The disc presents the film with an animated menu.
In terms of extras, you get 2 Movie Trailers running to 3:06, two Movie Promos running to 1:14, and Movie Commercials running to 1:50. You also get around 6 images in an Art Gallery. Finally, following an Australian Anti-piracy thank you, you get trailers for Kill La Kill Volume 1, Karneval, and Code:Breaker.
Damn you Naruto! You’re just a shonen series, designed to appeal to the young teen male demographic, full of action sequences and levelling up, pontificating villains and relatable heroes. You’re not supposed to elicit tears, and tug on the heartstrings. Road to Ninja does just that, and it is the best Naruto movie hands down. This is one film that appeals to the emotional side of the audience, and it’s all the better for it. To have a good movie, you have to care about the characters, and in the usual, disposable filler movie, we have 90-odd minutes to get to know a guest character to root for, as the main cast will not see any peril, and neither will their characters develop over the runtime. Road to Ninja is about Naruto, and it’s about Sakura, two characters that fans have been invested in since the start of the series, so this film instantly has a lot more weight behind it. It doesn’t hurt that with the story coming from Masashi Kishimoto, the film may as well be canon.
Not that there isn’t any action. Far from it, as the film kicks off with a full on battle with the resurrected forces of Akatsuki, with a chance for the usual Hidden Leaf ninja to shine. But success in this battle once again brings into focus the difference between the orphan Naruto, and his friends that have families that love and cherish them. It sets up the tone of the film, but really this aspect of the Naruto story has been prevalent since the start of the series, been revisited time and again, and like all such heroes, Naruto’s tragic past defines him. This film examines the core of his character in a different way, almost a Capra-esque way, by showing Naruto what his world would have been like if things had turned out differently.
The usual Naruto comedy is apparent in just how this world is different, how the characters that we’ve come to know and love have turned out given a different history. Personalities are different, there’s no little culture shock, and lots of silliness ensues as Naruto and Sakura get to know the new versions of their friends. But the film’s emotional weight really comes into focus when Sakura and Naruto go to their respective homes in the parallel world, Sakura to learn that she lives alone, an orphan in this world, and she’s quick to take advantage of her liberated status. Naruto on the other hand goes home to discover the parents that he never knew, who in this world raised him, nurtured him, and loved him. What’s interesting is that he doesn’t accept it straight away. There’s the instinctive mistrust of a world created by Madara, the expectation that it must be a trap that will turn sour. But there’s also a resentment of a world where things did turn out right for another Naruto. It takes time with his ‘parents’ for the cynicism to thaw, and there is a vicarious joy in seeing him finally get the family that he never had.
Of course this wouldn’t be a Naruto movie without villains to fight, battles to wage, and there is still Madara’s plan to defeat. He’s using an arch-villain of this world, a masked ninja to further his ends, and while he may not be corporeal, the masked ninja certainly is, and he has to be defeated before Naruto and Sakura can return to their world. The masked ninja gets a good build up and development, but I have to say that the penny dropped as to his real identity a little too soon for me; the voice is unmistakeable, and I would have appreciated it a little more if the secret had been kept till the end of the film.
The film’s ending could have been bittersweet for Naruto, but the film has one final moment, one final scene that will have you biting down on your lip to stop it quivering. Road to Ninja: Naruto the Movie is all about the characters, which for a Naruto movie is unprecedented. It’s a good story, told well, with all the familiar elements that you’ve come to expect from Naruto, but plenty more besides. It is the best Naruto movie yet, and the only indispensible one to complement your series collections. How better to not dispense with it than in Blu-ray form? This is very much the disc to have.