Naruto’s All Grown Up Now

One of the posters for The Last—Naruto The Movie—.

One of the posters for The Last—Naruto The Movie—.

Jack Bauer consistently has twenty-four hours to save the United States of America from terrorists. Flash Gordon had fourteen hours to save the world from Emperor Ming’s forces. And Naruto had twelve hours to save world the from the moon crashing into it. Someday there’s going to be a film or TV show where the protagonist has one minute to save the world from an existential threat.

I’ve enjoyed the manga and anime renditions of Naruto since 2001, but haven’t seriously read or watched the series since 2008. By that time I found the author, Masashi Kishimoto, straying from the core narrative of the series far too often and failing to capitalize on the more interesting ideas he presented. However, when the manga series concluded on November 10, 2014, I couldn’t help but feel a part of my youth had also come to a close. Yet, there was one last avenue to explore before the series truly finished. It was the film The Last—Naruto The Movie— that bridged the gap between the second to last and final chapters of the manga. Not to go into great detail about those two chapters, particularly the final one, but I can say without a doubt it satisfied a wish of mine since I first laid eyes on the series. Thus, seeing how the film brought readers to that conclusion fascinated me to no end. Yet, to say I was excited to see the film is overstating my zeal, but at the same time I wasn’t abhorred with it either. It still suffered from many of Masashi Kishimoto’s flaws as a writer in the second half of the film, but used two wonderful hooks in the opening act to engross audiences. However, despite the issues I had with the writing, the action was well done and of all things gave one of my favorite characters of the Naruto franchise a great deal of agency, which was something I felt she lacked in many of the chapters of the manga that feature her.

I intend to expand on this further when I revisit the Naruto manga series, but to put it simply, around 2006 I became frustrated with the manga series. This came from how I felt the author was bouncing between two different protagonists, Naruto Uzumaki and Sasuke Uchiha, far too often, as well as returning to the same plot point multiple times from different perspectives. True, there are series that use both these tropes effectively, but in this particular series they were handled quite poorly. In fact, by the third time the latter happened, the return to the same plot point that is, I had become tired of the trope. My frustration came to its peak in 2008 when I saw the author incorporating interesting ideas into his series, but the story was progressing in such a way it was apparent very few of those ideas would come to fruition. Yet, as disappointed as I was—and still am—Masashi Kishimoto was able to craft introductions to his story arcs that were, frankly, quite compelling more often than not. Had it not been for the solid openings he wrote, I doubt I would have continued reading or watching the series past 2006.

Having spent a fair amount of time away from the series gave me the chance to come to terms with the aspects of the franchise that disappointed me and enjoy one final romp with The Last—Naruto The Movie—. While I’m certain my previous interactions with the franchise colored my expectations before watching the film, I was genuinely entertained by it. As with the manga and anime series, the film had two outstanding hooks in the opening act, which kept a fair portion of the film engaging. These were the ideas the moon was going to crash into the earth and the budding romance between the protagonist and heroine. Both of these worked well for the purpose of the story, though I was much more interested in the blooming romance between the protagonist, Naruto, and the film’s heroine, Hinata Hyuga. Yes, I am aware Sakura Haruno is the heroine in the larger franchise, but the film took a bold approach by taking a second tier character, Hinata, and making her the heroine. Yet, what was truly fascinating about this romance was how well the antagonist’s objective, having the moon crash into the earth, meshed with it.

The two competing goals work well with each other narratively, but because they fundamentally clashed with each other—Naruto and Hinata exploring their feelings for each other, and the antagonist, Toneri Otsutsuki, needing Hinata to destroy the world—made the first half of the film extremely engaging. As the film had certain trappings of a romantic work, we knew at one point or another Naruto or Hinata has to confess his or her feelings for the other, but we also knew Toneri needed Hinata to enact his plans. Thus, it became a race to see which happened first. This created some wonderful tension between the main actors, Naruto, Hinata, and Toneri, and the buildup to the climax between these competing goals burned at a slow enough pace to make viewers of the film anxious about the outcome. Yet, this feeling was spoiled about halfway into the film.

The image I've waited so long to see, Naruto and Hinata getting married.

The image I’ve waited so long to see, Naruto and Hinata getting married.

While I don’t wish to divulge the exact details, there was a pivotal scene that involved the three characters mentioned above. Once this scene passed, though, the flaws of Masashi Kishimoto as a writer begin to show, keeping in mind he had a large hand in writing the screenplay. This was true not in the sense he completely shifted the narrative from Naruto to Toneri—one has to admit when there are multiple layers to a story, sometimes the focus needs to be shifted to account for lulls—or because there were ideas that never came to fruition, but instead Kishimoto’s flaws as a writer were apparent in how there were a number of cuts referring us back to earlier events and expanding upon them. While I enjoyed the first use of this technique, as it provided more background information about Naruto and Hinata’s feelings for each other, the later uses upset the progression of the story.

For example, there was one scene when Naruto, Hinata, Sakura, Shikamaru Nara, and Sai were exploring the remains of an abandoned city. There they encountered, for lack of a better word, a phantom. Subsequently, Hinata had a premonition and then passed out. While only receiving a glimpse of the premonition at first, later in the film, when the information became essential to the story, we had the chance to see exactly what Hinata saw. Since I don’t have any qualms about this storytelling technique as I’ve seen Masashi Kishimoto use it repeatedly in the past, the number of times he used that technique in this film was a minor annoyance. It’s not as though the information needed to be withheld until it became pertinent, and seeing it in full when it first occurred could have actually been much more stimulating as it could have generated questions for the viewers about the nature of Toneri’s Tenseigan.

However, the second half of The Last—Naruto The Movie— was less about the compelling narrative created in the first half, but rather about bringing the story to a close through the action. In the past Studio Pierrot, the animation company that produced the Naruto anime series, has made superb choices when animating the action of TV series and many of them found their way into this film. While I have no specific examples from the film, I could follow all the action on screen at any given time. For a film like this it was important if only because knowing where the characters were in relation to one another and what their goals were during the action was essential. A good parallel would be Sylvester Stallone’s The Expendables 3. The action at the end of that film took place in many parts of the same building, but we were able to follow what each group of characters was doing because the director used long takes, a steady camera, and wide shots, among other filming techniques, to keep the action flowing between the different groups even though there were multiple cuts between them. The same was true with The Last—Naruto The Movie—. While there was a lot of action on screen, the animators were wise to keep everything clear and concise.

Yet, what I enjoyed the most about The Last—Naruto The Movie— wasn’t necessarily the action or the compelling first half, but rather how Hinata was given a great deal of agency. She is one of my favorite characters in the franchise, and for much of what I’ve read, she had very little in terms of the choices she could make. True, there were moments in the series when the spotlight was on her, but her presence hardly influenced the story. To my surprise, though, she was given a great deal to do in this film. While it’s rather obvious she was the one to initiate many of the romantic aspects of the film, more significantly, when it came to the overarching conflict, she played a larger part in thwarting Toneri’s plans than the rest of the characters. It was the latter reality that made her presence in the film delightful as it removed her from the far too often used damsel in distress trope—though there are traces of it still present here—and gave her an opportunity to influence how the story progressed. Though the focus on her may have only been roughly twenty minutes, those twenty minutes in the spotlight satisfied my urge to see Hinata take the reins and exert her will on the progression of the story.

I’m not going to lie here, The Last—Naruto The Movie— fulfilled a wish of mine I’ve held since 2002. Thirteen years is a long time to wait to see Naruto and Hinata finally act on their romantic inclinations towards each other and my patience paid off. As a whole, while not the best film I’ve seen, the first half was very captivating. It set up the story and the conflicts to come appropriately and when the action began, we understood what the costs of failure were, both romantically and for the plight of the world. Placing Hinata as the lead heroine as opposed to Sakura was also a bold move on Masashi Kishimoto’s part. It made sense, too, considering he closed the Naruto manga series showing the characters well into their adult lives and who they were married to. Every Naruto fan should watch The Last—Naruto The Movie—, as it’s a good bridge between the events in the final chapters of the manga series and because it’s entertaining. Creative writers who are not particularly interested in the Naruto franchise should also consider watching the film as well, not for the entertainment value, but as learning tool to find out how not to write a story in order to improve your storytelling skills.

Work Info
Title:
The Last—Naruto The Movie—
By: Masashi Kishimoto
Under: Toho
Official Site: http://www.naruto-movie.com/index.html
More Info: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Last:_Naruto_the_Movie

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