Naruto Shippuden Movie 5: Blood Prison (Cert 12)
1 Disc (Distributor: Manga Entertainment) Running time: 98 minutes approx.
We’ve reached film number eight in the Naruto catalogue but the fifth to carry the Shippuden suffix, which also makes up part of a five disc box set of the Shippuden movies to date. Unfortunately Manga is only releasing this film as a single entity in DVD format alone, so Blu-ray fans are expected to shell out for the pentalogy set if they want to see this film in HD.
Of course the film needs to be good enough to warrant this expense, even for the most hardcore Naruto fans so let’s take a look. It kicks off with an attempt on the life of the Raikage of the Hidden Cloud Village and the murders of jonin from other villages. The wanted posters arrive at the Hidden Leaf Village and the photo fit looks rather familiar –yes, Naruto is the prime suspect and is immediately apprehended and transported to the infamously harsh containment facility known as Blood Prison, where his chakra is immediately sealed by the prison leader Mui to prevent Naruto from using it to escape. Of course this doesn’t prevent our hero from trying anyway, earning himself a stint in solitary for his troubles.
Still fuming from being framed yet unable to prove his innocence Naruto befriends a fellow inmate Ryuzetsu, a female ninja from the Hidden Grass Village posing as a male. She is on a personal mission to avenge her childhood friend Muku, Mui’s son who was sacrificed to a powerful container called the Box Of Paradise which is said to grant wishes. Ryuzetsu however says the Box is dangerous and needs to be destroyed but Mui is hell bent on opening it, but needs a powerful chakra to achieve this – Naruto’s Nine Tailed Fox spirit being his primary target for such a power source.
On first inspection this appears to be your typical Naruto film, following a rather familiar path in terms of narrative and story structure, throwing in a plot twist or two to shift the goal posts regarding the antagonist’s motives, ending with a punch up of colossal proportions and topped off with a hearty moral monologue from our orange suited star ninja. But it takes a few chances by deviating slightly from this well practiced procedure with a second act that puts the action aside in order to fully explore the new characters’ backgrounds and relevance to the main plot.
Don’t panic, there are a few bursts of activity leading up to this, mostly initiated by Naruto’s attempts to escape and later riot to act as a distraction for Naruto to sneak into the underground chamber where the Box Of Paradise is supposedly interred. However this story takes a few unique turns and has an emotional centre which demands moments of reflection and introspection which makes for a more interesting info dump than the usual mid battle tirade most exposition is shared.
As we learn everything that occurs here happens for a reason, from being manipulated to strictly selfish motives but as the truth is gradually revealed the main players take on a different light and we find ourselves having to shift our sympathies and interests to their causes. And this doesn’t arise from a sudden change in heart from bad to good, rather the purposes are kept hidden for personal reasons, creating a natural distrust towards these characters.
Ryuzetsu is one of the more interesting females to join the fray, being a ninja proving to be a boon in separating her from the usual damsels in distress Naruto and co. are usually tasked with protecting/saving. Her steely demeanour and upfront toughness hides the heart rendering spur for her personal mission but she is determined not to rely on Naruto to fight her battles for her, since she can pack a mean punch of her own. Ryuzatsu also has the distinction of being a support character who shares the emotional weight of the story along with the eponymous star to create a fresh dynamic to drive the plot along.
This actually makes this sound impressively deep for a Naruto film and in some ways there is a maturity hitherto unseen in previous films to engage us on a higher emotional level, suggesting writer Akira Higashiyama was keen to avoid the usual clichés and plot developments. He may still have been beholden to certain conventions to not scare off the younger fans or those who want uncomplicated escapism, but it is refreshing to have something from this long running franchise take a bold step towards introducing ideas with more substance than the usual.
However there appear to have been some sacrifices made on the production front which is especially evident in the first hour or so. While the artwork and backgrounds are the detailed excellence the characters are very sloppily animated and from the onset even Naruto himself looks to be off model and lacking in any facial movement when talking. In the second half when the action kicks off, we see a return to the “old” Naruto look along with a marked improvement in the animation.
The final enemy that needs defeating is an unusual design which I am sure many will find underwhelming in lieu of the story which precedes its arrival. Similarly we see the manifestation of Bee’s Eight Tailed Spirit (which I don’t recall seeing before in the TV series thus far) that also fails to excite as a fearsome beast of unstable power, spoiled by sharing its owner’s faux rapper personality!
Blood Prison is a mixed bag in that it takes huge strides to not fall into the same tired formula as the previous Naruto films only falter a little in the final stretch but deserves kudos for a valiant and entertaining try. It won’t make any new fans jump on the Naruto bandwagon but will without keep the diehards happy and hopefully signals a bolder and more mature direction for the film spin offs.
English Language 5.1
Japanese Language 5.1
Chunin Exam On Fire! Naruto vs Konohamaru
Interview with Junko Takeuchi
Message from Masashi Kishimoto
Rating – ***
Man In Black