When the advertisements for a new Naruto movie started coming out last year, including that special manga chapter and full color spread, and when it was announced that Masashi Kishimoto himself would be doing the story, I had high expectations. His storyline for the Naruto manga (from which the Naruto and Naruto Shippuuden anime are based, of course) might not be very unique nor expansive, but his vision of his Shinobi-filled world and the breadth of characters involved are impressive. He also expends a lot of effort on character development for a few noteworthy characters in the series. So I expected a mixture of all these positive aspects in the ninth film of the Naruto franchise.
The Naruto Road to Ninja timeline occurs sometime before the current Great Shinobi War that is rocking the Naruto world. Madara – or more appropriately, Obito – experiments on a shorter, limited version of their planned Infinite Tsukiyomi genjutsu on Konoha, targeting Naruto. Sakura somehow gets involved, so the duo is pulled into an alternate world where, for the most part, people and some events are the opposite of how they are in reality. This makes for a very interesting situation where Hinata is a very aggressive alpha-female and Sasuke is a playboy (not to mention he isn’t an exiled Shinobi), and it also presents a unique experience for both Sakura and Naruto. Sakura experiences how it is to live alone and without the constant bickering of her parents, who in this world are dead, and her father was the fourth Hokage who heroically gave his life in service of the village. Naruto’s parents are alive and well, offering him a brief taste of what it would have been like had Obito not attacked the village with the Kyubi at the very start of the series.
Does it sound fun? Perhaps. A major Naruto movie from Kishimoto himself should be a lot more than fun, however, so I waited for the fights to start and the plot to kick in fully. As it turns out, that was it. A straightforward plot that was very simple but provided a lot of room for character focus, juicing Naruto’s situation as an orphan as much as it can. On the other hand, Sakura is forcibly made to understand the value of family which she takes for granted. This facet involving Sakura seems a bit forced for convenience. In the series we see very little of her parents and her relationship with them, but here we find how Sakura nearly hates their constant attention.
As the duo try to find a way home they are faced with the main scourge of the world they were transported in, a masked man with unknown origins who, like Naruto, is the Jinchuriki of the Kyubi. To make matters worse, Obito lends his assistance to this masked man, giving him some of the Rinnegan’s powers on top of control over nine spirits which seem to be direct counterparts of the nine tailed beasts of Naruto’s own world. Here’s another facet I was uncertain how to process: the nine spirits this man controlled were (probably) analogous to the nine Bijuu of Naruto’s world, but he also had the Kyubi? Well, at least it makes for a great excuse later on in the film where the spirits get to fight some noteworthy opponents.
This masked man attacks the alternate dimension Konoha and leaves it destroyed much the same way Pain left it decimated in Naruto’s world, and Naruto decides to chase after him when he takes Sakura, admitting to his newfound “parents” that he was not their son Menma. Here, Naruto notes the major difference between his real parents and his parents in this world: their attitude towards sacrifice and trust. As Naruto arrives where the masked man and Obito are waiting, the Akatsuki arrive, but in the Limited Tsukiyomi world, the Akatsuki are Ninjas for hire, and Tsunade paid them to assist Naruto and safeguard Sakura. A fight ensues between the masked man, his nine spirits, and Naruto and the Akatsuki. Naruto voices out what the audience probably thought: it was quite awesome to have the Akatsuki fight by his side. Yet another notable scene was where alternate dimension Itachi faced Obito, and the latter simply backed out from a potential showdown. He didn’t want to mess with Itachi even in another dimension.
The masked man reveals his trump card, the alternate dimension Kyubi, and it’s revealed that he looked exactly like Naruto save for dark hair. Here the analogy is perhaps where Naruto was the greatest hope of his world, here he was the greatest threat. The final fight between the two begin, and as Naruto is overwhelmed by the power of the (un)masked man’s Kyubi, his own Kyubi offers unlimited assistance just this time only. The potential for a devastating Kyubi versus Kyubi fight was great, but I’m afraid the one-on-one was short-lived and lackluster. At one point Naruto’s parents Minato and Kushina arrive to help, going against their earlier decision not to face the masked man. With their combined efforts the masked man is defeated and is revealed to be Menma, the child of Naruto’s parents in the alternate dimension. Please do not ask me how in the world they never noticed their own son gone for so long that he’s become the greatest threat in their world. Naruto and Sakura return to their own world as the Limited Tsukiyomi ends, having learnt lifelong lessons and some of their innermost wishes granted if only for a short while.
A few highlights made the film bearable: the film explores the intriguing genjutsu that is the Tsukiyomi; it showed viewers how Naruto’s life would have been with his parents; it showed a few laughable inter-dimensional differences (particularly involving Naruto’s friends); and it featured a number of good fights – not great fights, but good enough. Some plot holes were quite apparent though: having Sakura tag along to experience the opposite of Naruto’s experience felt like an excuse; the nine spirits also felt like an excuse to have the Akatsuki fight someone or something; and the masked man being Menma and his parents not knowing was the most glaringly off-putting factor. Of course, most of these inconsistencies can be said to have been caused by the Limited Tsukiyomi, but really, how does that justify mediocrity?
The film attempted to capitalize on Naruto’s inner struggles and this was in fact the major theme of the entire movie – to the point that he was made to experience a life where his parents were alive and he even fought his alternate dimension self. That said, Sakura’s inclusion into the genjutsu was dubious at best. In retrospect, the film begs the question on what Obito wanted to truly gain from trying the technique in the first place.
On its own, the film felt like filler episodes squeezed into a full-length movie. It was a subterfuge at best with lots of interesting facets but not enough substance. It does, however, reinforce Naruto’s character and resolve before he enters the Final Shinobi War against Obito. In that regard, the film filled in the last gaps of lingering doubt there may have been in Naruto’s heart before he set out to wage war against some of the most powerful beings his world has ever seen. [by G Dino]