Fantasia Film Festival: Crazy Samurai Musashi Review

Crazy Samurai Musashi

Yuji Shimomura’s Crazy Samurai Musashi follows legendary swordsman Miyamoto Musashi and his famous battle against 588 enemies. Shimomura has made a career off of his intense kinetic action choreography in the Japanese film industry. However, with Crazy Samurai Musashi, Shimomura wanted to highlight the difficulty of defeating an army of enemies by creating a more realistic fight choreography. Unfortunately, the film does not live up to the exciting samurai premise thanks to a confusion in tone and a painfully repetitious one-shot gimmick.

The first establishing shots of the film set up several interesting themes — such as the dilemma of maintaining the honor of a samurai or avenging those killed. It also sets a stylish tone as Musashi slices through a flying moth during his surprise attack. Unfortunately, once the single take component arrives, everything Shimomura established in the opening scene is thrown away. Not only do we get a tonal shift, but the cinematography changes as well. Crazy Samurai Musashi goes from a typical jidaigeki (period drama) film to a handheld guerrilla-style film.

This style makes it feel like you are there, and the handheld cameras add a documentary tone to the single-shot sequence. So it is not quite the stylized action extravaganza as one might expect from a Yuji Shimomura film. Instead, we get a fight that repeatedly looks lazy. The action mainly consists of parries and quick strikes to take down his foes. If this were happening in real life, this would be the smartest thing to do if you are up against an entire army. This allows you to conserve energy in a long fight.

However, in a 77-minute one-shot fight sequence, this choreography gets old fast. There’s little variation in the moves, so a majority of the time, you will get the same formulaic sequences — a repetitive fight then a water break. Rinse, lather, repeat. There is a fine line between being entertained and being realistic, and Shimomura decided to go with realism at the cost of entertainment. At least, it’s realistic in terms of the fight choreography.

Crazy Samurai Musashi - Tak Sakaguchi

When it comes to the defeated, don’t expect to see a pile of dead bodies on the ground. Instead, they tend to run off the camera instead of lying dead on the ground. Yes, this even applies to those who get sliced in the mid-section. This tactic allows Tak Sakaguchi and the extras to move around freely without stepping on a dead extra. However, the constant removal of dead extras will become a distraction.

Also, Crazy Samurai Musashi creates all of the blood splatter digitally, which means that audiences will not see much blood on clothes and Musashi’s sword. As a result, this guerrilla-style filmmaking serves more as a high-production LARP (live-action role-playing game) film than a realistic depiction of the battle. 

This sense of realism would be okay if it weren’t for the final scene in the film. After going through 77-minutes of a realistic single-take battle, we return to the look and feel of a typical jidaigeki film. At the same time, Yuji Shimomura’s dynamic fight choreography makes a return as well. It begs the question: Why create this film with a sense of realism if you’re only going to close it out with an over-the-top fight choreography?

Ultimately, this lack of focus is what brings down Crazy Samurai Musashi. Respect to Yuji Shimomura for aiming for something different than your typical jidaigeki samurai film. Sometimes trying something new works, and other times it doesn’t. Musashi is one of those times when trying to be different didn’t work out. The idea of a single-take samurai battle between one man and an army is intriguing, but the execution is fatiguing. The single-take action sequence is so devoid of suspense that it ends up as one seamless monotonous effort. 

Rating: 2.5/5 atoms

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