Crazy Samurai Musashi

*****

Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

Crazy Samurai Musashi
"A dazzling piece of work." | Photo: Courtesy of Fantasia

77 minutes, most of them a single take. One legendary samurai assassin. 588 foes.

One of those feats of filmmaking almost as astonishing in its ambition as in its execution, Crazy Samurai Musashi originated in the mind of Sion Sono, with his typical mixture of cinematic verve and abundant bloodshed. That no-one was seriously injured in the making of it is remarkable, as it's filmed in the old style, with real blades, and requires every actor and kirare-yaku extra to hit his marks perfectly even if he's fighting someone who is standing behind him. For star Tak Sakaguchi, it's an extraordinary feat of endurance. You could be a dedicated sports fan throughout your life and see little to equal this level of stamina and skill.

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Miyamoto Musashi is a legend in Japan, author of acclaimed strategy guide The Book Of Five Rings and never defeated in any of his 61 duels. It's worth noting that duels in Japan, don't always involve just two people. This fictional tribute sees him scheduled to take on the head of the Yoshioka clan, only to find every one of its able-bodied men waiting in ambush If he is to survive, he has to defeat them - but there is more to this battle than that. If he is to retain his unblemished reputation as a kensei, a master artist in combat, then it is this aesthetic and spiritual duty to win.

Despite that, the Musashi we see here is a complicated figure. After watching him for a while you'll notice that he doesn't kill all of his foes. The younger ones, the uncertain ones, generally get knocked out with the hilt of his sword instead. He also spares a civilian - a choice which costs him dearly. These actions go some way to redeeming the vicious act that opens the fight, but it's really Sakaguchi's acting, and director Yƻji Shimomura's careful staging, that gradually win him he allegiance of those modern viewers who do not share the ancient Japanese perspective on morality.

That Sakaguchi manages to act in he midst of all this action is one of the film's other unlikely achievements. His best opportunities arise when Musashi is resting, catching a few breaths and drinking from a hidden supply of water (of which there are several, scattered around the large set like health packs in a computer game), before being assailed by more foes. He also expresses his character during some of the longer fight sequences, however, showing us more than just the exhaustion we'd expect him to experience, and which no doubt required no acting at all. We get to know Musashi and to care about his fate. Furthermore, the longer he survives and the more he achieves, the more awful the prospect of some random nobody cutting him down becomes - it would mean that all those deaths were for nothing, and would be like destroying a work of art.

Credit must also go to the camera operators, who faced significant athletic challenges themselves in lugging heavy gear around and getting into the right positions every time, never mind transferring it smoothly between them and, at one point, transferring it to a crane. This is a much smoother ride than one would expect, with the occasional bump only adding character. It's difficult to overemphasise the technical brilliance on display.

This is not a perfect film. There are moments when the pacing slackens a little, moments when, despite the inventive use of setting and props, it becomes repetitive - and yet to fault it for this would be like valuing a perfectly made cheese sandwich over a sumptuous 12-course banquet because when the latter was served, somebody spilled the sauce. Screening at this year's Fantasia International Film Festival, it can be appreciated for what it is.

Cinema this bold is rare indeed and deserves to be celebrated. Crazy Samurai Musashi is far more compelling to watch than anyone had a right to expect. It's a dazzling piece of work and it will go down in the history of samurai films as one of the greatest ever made. It's a fitting tribute to a legendary artists and gives viewers the chance to see some of today's most talented artists at their very best.

Reviewed on: 19 Aug 2020
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Crazy Samurai Musashi packshot
A 77-minute, one-scene, no-cut action sequence in which samurai Miyamoto defeats 588 enemies, one after the other.

Director: Yûji Shimomura

Writer: Sion Sono

Starring: Tak Sakaguchi, Akihiko Sai

Year: 2020

Runtime: 77 minutes

Country: Japan

Festivals:

Fantasia 2020

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