Review by Sean Boelman
In the action genre, it doesn’t take an extravagant and complicated story to deliver fun — all that is necessary is a cool concept and some awesome set pieces. Yûji Shimomura’s new film Crazy Samurai Musashi has both of those things, and despite being a bit rough at times, is an undeniably awe-inspiring technical feat.
Inspired by a real-life battle involving one of Japan’s most famous swordsmen, the movie follows a samurai who must fight his way out of hostile territory while facing hundreds of enemies. The story that leads up to this battle is ultimately insignificant, as writer Sion Sono recognizes that the main draw here will be watching samurai battles.
The thing that makes the film stand out, though, is that, minus a brief prologue and epilogue, it is a single-take action sequence. Any oner lasting over seventy minutes would be impressive, but the fact that the choreography here is so intricate and complex makes it all the more breathtaking.
Admittedly, there are only so many things that can be done with the same action set-up, so it does become a bit repetitive after a bit. Still, there are plenty of great moments throughout, so it never loses its sense of vitality, and because of the gimmick, there is very little room for downtime.
As one would expect, the cinematography is a bit shaky, but that is a quality that is pretty standard for movies that are one-shot. Additionally, the camera doesn’t feel quite as invisible here as it does in other examples. As a whole, the film feels more staged and artificial than one would like.
That said, there is one flaw in the movie that is extremely distracting, and that is the way in which it handles its extras. Understandably, it wouldn’t have been feasible for the filmmaker to use hundreds of extras, so it makes sense why they would have to recycle the extras. But unfortunately, many have to run or crawl off-screen, if they even exit the frame entirely.
Regardless, lead actor Tak Sakaguchi has such a commanding screen presence that it’s nearly impossible to look away from what he is doing in any given moment. Sakaguchi is clearly a very talented martial artist, so he handles the choreography with ease, though it is not lost how demanding this role was.
Crazy Samurai Musashi does have some narrative flaws, but its execution is so cool that it is highly doubtful anyone will be left unsatisfied. Fans of action flicks definitely won’t want to miss this one.
Crazy Samurai Musashi screens on demand (geoblocked to Canada) as a part of the virtual edition of the 2020 Fantasia Film Festival, which runs August 20-September 2.