“Crazy Samurai Musashi” eschews bombast in favor of quiet restraint. [Fantasia Film Festival]

Long takes have become the new major flex a filmmaker can make in their films these days, from Alejandro González Iñárritu’s Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance), to Sam Mendes’s 1917, even making its way into video games like God of War, though it’s hardly a new concept by any means. Alfred Hitchcock was the first to pioneer the “one-shot” film back with the 1948 release of his film Rope, which consisted of 10 shots edited together to appear like the film was shot in one continuous take, a technique used by the aforementioned films as well. While films truly shot in one take exist, they exist in much smaller, experimental realms not often seen by the general public. Crazy Samurai Musashi doesn’t claim to do any of these things as it fully embraces cuts in its prologue and epilogues, but the selling point of this charming little samurai film lies in the film’s central 75-minute long-shot, where our titular character takes on over 400 mercenaries all in one take.

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Tak Sakaguchi in Yûji Shimamura’s CRAZY SAMURAI MUSASHI. Photo courtesy of Steven Lee/Fantasia Festival.

There isn’t an insane amount of plot with Crazy Samurai Musashi other than a lot of people want to kill the protagonist to avenge soldiers of their fallen clan, but beyond that, the film is straight-up action. However, unlike something like a Takashi Miike film, or the acclaimed video-game Ghost of Tsushima, Crazy Samurai Musashi embraces a quieter, less flashy, more tactical form of samurai combat. Opting out of extreme blood and gore for a far more deliberate, expertly staged arena of combat mastery, there’s a restrained sense of respect towards the art of feudal Japanese combat that you don’t see very often. Does that mean the film can sometimes drag with some monotonous kills? Definitely, but never once did it feel like the film was being insincere in its approach to its material.

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Tak Sakaguchi in Yûji Shimamura’s CRAZY SAMURAI MUSASHI. Photo courtesy of Steven Lee/Fantasia Festival.

At the center of this entire ordeal is Musashi himself, portrayed impressively by Tak Sakaguchi, who goes through hell and back in his portrayal of the titular character. What I appreciated most about Sakaguchi’s performance is how involved he gets in his role, portraying Musashi as a human being who, like most other human beings, would find themselves increasingly more exhausted with each wave of new enemies. While incredibly skilled, there wasn’t a superhuman-ness to Musashi and that kept the film feeling grounded in a sense of reality that has often been lost in the superhero era.

Within the film’s pivotal sequence, there isn’t a level of polish or grandeur that you would find in a massive Hollywood production like 1917, but something much grittier and handheld that gives the film a much more intimate, visceral look at the action. However, the film isn’t just non-stop action, there are moments of reprieve and levity where you get to take a break in between waves to catch your breath alongside Musashi, which plays into Musashi’s humanity as a samurai even further.

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Tak Sakaguchi in Yûji Shimamura’s CRAZY SAMURAI MUSASHI. Photo courtesy of Steven Lee/Fantasia Festival.

Much of the film plays out in silence, but as the film nears its final act, the musical score by Kawai Hidehiro begins to slowly fade into the film, which provides the final act with a level of emotional brevity that I honestly didn’t expect from a film that took little time in establishing the world or characters before shoving you directly into the action. Unlike the traditional Japanese style score that permeates other films taking place in feudal Japan, Hidehiro’s score utilizes a powerfully somber piano base that punctuates the film’s finale with coolly restrained emotion.

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Tak Sakaguchi in Yûji Shimamura’s CRAZY SAMURAI MUSASHI. Photo courtesy of Steven Lee/Fantasia Festival.

Does Crazy Samurai Musashi rely heavily upon its gimmick? Absolutely. Does the film fulfill its promise on fully fleshing out that gimmick into something substantial? Also yes. This is a no-nonsense action film that takes the time to restrain itself from pure chaos to create something far more intricate, deliberate, and expertly staged unlike many films of its caliber. There’s a commitment to the authenticity of the combat, the fluidity of the camera, and the precision of its fight choreography that makes the entire experience hard not to love. This is the type of film that doesn’t need grand exposition in establishing its world and characters with backstory and stakes, but rather it taps swiftly and directly into what makes films and the constant innovation made in creating them so kinetically magic.

Currently screening during the 2020 Fantasia International Film Festival.

For more information, visit the 2020 Fantasia Film Festival website.

Final Score: 4 out of 5.



Categories: Reviews, streaming

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