Fantasia Film Festival Review: Crazy Samurai Musashi

Year: 2020
Runtime: 92 Minutes
Director/Writer: Yuji Shimomura
Stars: Tak Sakaguchi, Kento Yamazaki, Arata Yamanaka, Shinji Sasahara, Satoshi Shimizu, Sai Akihiko, Zuimaro Awashima, Nobu Morimoto, Kazuto Nakamura, Fuka Hara

When you hear of a premise of an action film that involves insurmountable odds for the protagonist; it sounds quite tantalizing in terms of how much violence and bloodshed it consists of. Films like Takashi Miike‘s samurai action masterpiece “13 Assassins” (2010) had thirteen protagonists (consisting of 12 samurai and one hunter) fighting an army of two-hundred soldiers; Zack Snyder‘s graphic novel adaptation “300” (2006) had three-hundred Spartans fighting seven-thousand Persians. So when you hear of the premise of “Crazy Samurai Musashi“, it would make action fans salivate all over their laptops. But what makes this film stand out in comparison to the ones mentioned?

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Firstly, the crew of Musashi consists of veteran stuntmen and martial artists including lead actor Tak Sakaguchi (best known for his martial arts prowess and lead roles in “Versus” (2000) and “Death Trance” (2005) and others) and stunt coordinator/film director Yuji Shimomura (best known for his work on films like “Versus”, “Re:Born” (2016) and various videogame projects including “Onimusha” and “Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain”). Secondly, unlike other films with action scenes filmed traditionally i.e. with stunt doubles and editing, the majority of Musashi is filmed in a singular, elongated take that last seventy-seven minutes. That sounds like a major feat to pull especially when the filmmakers are saddled with a low budget. And lastly, the premise of the film (which was devised by acclaimed Japanese director Sion Sono) is that our main protagonist fights over four-hundred opponents (although it is said that in the marketing materials that he fights around five-hundred and eighty-eight people). That not only sounds insurmountable but downright impossible. Will the film succeed in providing a thrill ride with all that promise?

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It is with mild disappointment to say that “Crazy Samurai Musashi” is at best, a mixed bag. Starting with the positives, Sakaguchi handles the action choreography and stuntwork way above par for a project such as this. The dexterity, the charisma and the stamina that he has makes it easy for the audience to engage with him.

“The film is admirably executed within a single take, the choreography still has to be varied to hold the interest of the audience and unfortunately, the action gets old fast.”

The propulsive score by Hidehiro Kawai (who is the nephew of acclaimed composer Kenji Kawai) provides much-needed bombast to the film while the staging of the action (choreographed by Isao Karasawa) is legitimately captured in a single take as it shows no signs of trick editing or fakery i.e. the camera travelling into a dark spot to disguise a cut. The filmmakers also know that the premise is ridiculous on face-value so there are minute yet welcome flashes of humour peppered throughout; showing that the film is never meant to be taken seriously. Moments like whenever Musashi rests from a fight, he always manages to find a source of water to drink or clean his sword; or when Musashi contemplates how many people he has killed so far and how many more there are to go.

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Which comes to the negatives. While the film is admirably executed within a single take, the choreography still has to be varied to hold the interest of the audience and unfortunately, the action gets old fast. The choreography by Karasawa is fluid and effective but when it is stretched to seventy-seven minutes, it becomes repetitive. There are some welcome flourishes like how Musashi swings his sword like a ball and chain or how he deflects an attack to bounce their sword off into another person; but the choreography lacks those moments to make the action more varied.

“Crazy Samurai Musashi” is respectable yet flawed attempt at trying to do something different with the action genre. One wonders how the story would have fared if it was filmed traditionally and funnily enough.”

There are noticeable flaws within action films (or mainly martial arts films) that fans will notice when one watches them as long as they have like seeing background stuntmen waiting for their turn to attack or seeing the same stuntmen again attacking the protagonist later in the film. In the case of Musashi, those flaws become really noticeable tenfold due to the singular take aesthetic. During the climactic fight, you can spot stuntmen dying while running out of the frame (in some cases, stuntmen carrying the dead out of the frame) just so they can come into the frame later to attack Musashi again. While of course, this can be due to the low budget as the film cannot possibly have over four-hundred stuntmen, it is a jarring flaw nonetheless that hinders the film into tedium.

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Overall, “Crazy Samurai Musashi” is respectable yet flawed attempt at trying to do something different with the action genre. One wonders how the story would have fared if it was filmed traditionally and funnily enough, the film features an epilogue that has a fight scene that is filmed with cuts and it is a thrill to watch.

2.5 stars

“Crazy Samurai Musashi” will be showing at Fantasia Film Festival from 20th August to 2nd September.

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