Crazy Samurai Musashi is an Action Fan’s Paradise
Yûji Shimomura’s follow-up to his 2016 film Re:Born couldn’t be more ambitious. Composed of three scenes, Crazy Samurai Musashi will seem like heaven to action fans as the bread-and-butter of the film is its centerpiece: a 77-minute single take of one samurai versus 400 opponents who want nothing but vengeance. The re-teaming of Shimomura and Tak Sakaguchi (who puts himself through the wringer as the titular Miyamoto Musashi), with a script by Sion Sono (Why Don’t You Play in Hell?), sounds like a dream team too good to be true. After all the bodies hit the floor and the movie comes to a close, Crazy Samurai Musashi reaffirms the star power of Sakaguchi while delivering one of the most fatiguing action scenes in movie history.
Yuji Shimomura returns with a 77-minute, single-take action scene that furthers the myth of Miyamoto Musashi and reaffirms the tenacity of Tak Sakaguchi.
Unsurprisingly, the movie positions itself around the notion that little justification is needed to get to its action. A boy watches a butterfly as those around him discuss the need for vengeance and reclaiming honor by defeating Miyamoto Musashi. Hired swordsmen stand at the ready, hoping to catch Musashi before he can get the drop on them. Unfortunately for everyone but the audience, Musashi is a legendary swordsman and they have no hope of stopping him.
It becomes increasingly clear that Sono may have written the script, but it’s Sakaguchi and Shimomura leading the show. There isn’t really much in here that one would expect from a Sion Sono screenplay, with the exception of a brief conversation in the middle of the film between two henchmen. While funny, it also stands as one of the only moments within the action scene that tries to flesh Musashi’s character out any further. Sakaguchi is a great action star and can bring a little levity alongside his intensity, but other than being tired a lot, Musashi is more myth than man. Structuring Crazy Samurai Musashi around a single action scene is evidence of that intent. The film could have used any made-up samurai, but chose to incorporate a figure from history.
None of this is to say that more story is needed in the film. In fact, the action scene – while long and occasionally repetitive – is rarely boring. A major factor is Sakaguchi who has an electrifying screen presence at all times. While there are plenty of actors present on set, Sakaguchi gets visibly worn down as the movie progresses. Water breaks are frequently scattered throughout the large battle – something that initially breaks the immersion. It isn’t until Musashi is trying to figure out how many enemies he’s killed that those water breaks feel crucial to the character’s exhaustion.
Though very much like a video game, Crazy Samurai Musashi isn’t non-stop action. There are tiny lulls where Musashi recuperates and regains composure before being spotted or initiating the next battle. For a while the camera sits behind Musashi, exposing the wide swaths of enemies. There’s patience involved in his movement. The movie makes the wise decision of most enemies being killed in one strike. This does also have negative ramifications as it becomes apparent that some of the 400 opponents are mere fodder. There were many fights that would just start having one enemy after another run at Musashi with a sword over their head, making the clean kill far too easy.
Obviously intricate choreography wasn’t exactly the focus throughout, but when a scene is 77 minutes long, a little variety would help greatly in keeping things interesting. Instead, there are a lot of enemies that are killed in one of two ways and you can’t help but start seeing the seams of the scene loosening up. The variety in combat mostly comes in the last twenty minutes of the fight as well as intermittently with what are essentially boss battles. Here you get a couple of words of dialogue, as opposed to the bulk of the film’s grunts and screams.
There’s an obvious craft to everything in Crazy Samurai Musashi that cannot be deprecated. The sets are great; the camerawork is dynamic; and everybody involved is giving it all they’ve got. It’s also never boring, even when actions are repeated. Underscored by a pervasive drumbeat that keeps things moving forward, this is a movie that had a lot of work go into it that is evident onscreen. Even in its most hollowed-out form, Crazy Samurai Musashi is an action fan’s paradise.
The most negative thing that could be said about the film is that the film’s conclusion is edited in a way that reminds you that one long take isn’t necessarily better than a well-edited scene. In the case of Crazy Samurai Musashi, a 77-minute action scene is feeding the mythical status of Musashi, rather than trying to expand upon it. Even in the most dire situation, Sakaguchi rarely conveys Musashi as in trouble. Instead, he faces a minor roadblock, and one that audiences know won’t stop him. Every action fan owes it to themselves to watch this movie. Even with the flaws it has, Crazy Samurai Musashi is an incredible achievement of filmmaking that reaffirms the cinematic intensity of a good fight scene.
- Christopher Cross
The Fantasia International Film Festival’s virtual event is composed of scheduled live screenings, panels, and workshops, taking place from August 20th to September 2nd, 2020. For more information, visit the Fantasia Film Festival website.