Uzumaki is a lot like your classic adolescent fantasy protagonist, but the
trappings are ninja-related rather than the stuff of sorcery and knight
errantry. Growing up as an orphan, he is rash on the outside and sensitive on
the inside. Even though fans know his creation story quite well, it will be
revisited in detail and perhaps even altered when the junior ninja finds
himself whisked into an alternate world in Hayato Date’s Road to Ninja: Naruto the Movie (trailer here), which opens
tomorrow in New York.
father and mother bravely sacrificed their lives defending Konohagakure from
the rampaging Nine-Tailed Demon Fox. Even though his parents are immortalized
on the village’s Rushmore-like monument, Naruto is often shunned because they
were forced to mystically seal the demon within him. Naruto is usually a pretty
plucky kid, but he is going through a rough patch, making the absence of his
family particularly acute. In contrast, his crush-rival Sakura Haruno is
feeling especially embarrassed of her intrusive, ultra-square parents.
before you can “alternate Star Trek universe,”
the malevolent Tobi traps them in the Tsukuyomi world, based largely on their
deepest subconscious desires. Much to their surprise, Haruno is now the celebrated
orphan of the village heroes, while Uzumaki’s parents are alive and well.
Instead of martyrs, they are workaday ninjas and loving parents (who insist on
calling him Memna rather than Naruto). Everything looks the same, but most of
their friends have reversed their primary character traits. In a way, this
makes Road an easy series entry point,
since most of the backstory no longer applies.
Naruto franchise is classified as Shōnen
manga, which usually means a lot of fighting. Road is no exception, but its themes of sacrifice and parental love
give it more Capra-esque sentiment than you might expect. Since it was plotted
out by series creator Masashi Kishimoto, you know it is legit. It is a rather
self-contained story arc, but it arguably offers fans greater character
development. Frustratingly though, like many anime features, the big showdown
relies on a lot of flash-and-dazzle spectacle that largely becomes a blur of
fireballs and fix-demons. It would be more effective to bring things down to a
more personal level, like Mel Gibson and Gary Busey duking it out on Danny
Glover’s front lawn.
Kishimoto’s watchful eye, Date and company maintain the franchise’s quality
control. In fact, there are some great images of Konohagakure and its environs,
evoking Edo-era Japan and Tolkien-like fantasyscapes in equal measure. There is
more heart to Road than you usually
find in well established warhorse properties, which might be why it is the Japanese
box-office’s top performing Naruto feature
thus far. Nevertheless, it requires a predisposition to teenaged ninjas and all
the angst and combat they face. Solidly executed but probably not crossing over
from the fan zone, Road to Ninja: Naruto
the Movie screens this coming Sunday (8/31) and Monday (Labor Day, 9/1) in
New York at the Village East. For a complete list of cities and dates, check
the Eleven Arts website here.
Labels: Animated films, Anime, Japanese Cinema, Naruto series