As the sun shines brightly over the village of Konohagakure, Rock Lee (Brendon Huor) trains tirelessly. By sunset he is physically spent, having endured a full day of rigorous activity. As he settles into an all too brief resting period, he is startled by a sudden noise deep in the woods. He rushes to investigate only to find Naruto (Donald Mills) splayed out on a patch of grass. The newly anointed “Hero of the Hidden Leaf” has opted to train instead of basking in his newfound glory. Such dedication is an inspiration to Rock Lee, who now finds his own daily training regimen woefully insufficient. Fearing that his abilities are stagnating, Rock boldly Challenges Naruto to a duel. Naruto heartily accepts. At noon the next day, the two meet up at a neutral location so as not to inflict damage on the village. As the duel gets under way, the intensity of it surpasses that of a mere sparring match.
Naruto Shippuden: Dreamers Fight -- Part One is the first half of a two part live action short film set in the “Narutoverse.” It’s a production from the Thousand Pounds Action Company, and features LBP Stunts Chicago team member Brendon Huor in a starring role. The term “fan film” would not be an apt description for Dreamers Fight, as the production displays a level of technical aptitude that is surely rare for such offerings. It functions similarly to any single episode of the series, namely the ones that tediously depict a drawn out and ever escalating confrontation between two high powered combatants.
One of the most striking things about Dreamers Fight is how it actually seems to occupy the same reality as the animated series it’s based on. The character designs of anime are usually much too stylized to render accurately in live action, especially in the case of something like Naruto. Fortunately, Brendon Huor and Donald Mills bare an adequate enough physical resemblance to the animated versions of Naruto and Rock Lee. The costume design is also faithfully reproduced in three dimensions. The opening moments give a few subtle visual cues as to the fantasy elements of the story. One shot shows trees against a night sky dotted with stars. It’s a brief, simply composed shot, yet it emanates a queasy surrealism.
The film uses a variety of techniques to replicate the kinetic energy of manga and anime. Since both of those related forms adhere to essentially the same rules, the visual cues in both revolve around forward movement and the smooth conveyance of visual information. In the midst of the action, the screen is split horizontally so as to show side profiles of both characters staring at each other intensely before the moment of impact. At a key moment, the background is illuminated with a harsh white light that consumes everything. Nothing is visible aside from the two characters themselves. Speed ramping is employed at appropriate intervals, and finishing moves are repeated at key moments.
Considering the limited resources, the visual effects are relatively seamless. I can’t imagine Naruto’s “Shadow Clone Technique” looking much better in a big budget blockbuster then it does here. In one moment, three clones are visible in the same shot. They all run towards the camera, bearing the visage of actor Donald Mills. During actual combat, the illusion is achieved by having Brendon Huor engage numerous attackers wearing identical costumes and hairstyles. It’s really impressive how director Chris Cowan is able to organize and focus all of these techniques towards a single, fully realized goal.
Naruto Shippuden: Dreamers Fight -- Part One is in the same class as last year’s Street Fighter: Legacy. The Thousand Pounds Action Company has managed to temper their obvious love for the source material with a keen understanding of its basic appeal. Naruto, like the many iterations of Dragonball before it, taps directly into the power fantasies of little boys everywhere. The vision on display was rarely tethered to any particular storytelling discipline, which is as it should be. Such properties needn’t be hindered by unnecessary attempts to make them palatable to outsiders. Children see things in sometimes comically literal terms, and allow their imaginations roam about with a nonexistent leash. Somehow, Chris Cowan has managed to apply a measure of cinematic discipline to Naruto without stifling its precocious energy.