17th Aug2020

Fantasia 2020: ‘Crazy Samurai Musashi’ Review

by Phil Wheat

Stars: Tak Sakaguchi, Kento Yamazaki, Masaaki Takarai, Akihiko Sai | Written by Sion Sono | Directed by Yuji Shimomura

When I was a kid I thought all martial arts movies were fight after fight after fight. We didn’t get many martial arts movies on TV in those days but there were plenty of shows like The Incredibly Strange Film Show, which featured clips from some of the wildest kung-fu flicks out there. It wasn’t until a few years later and I had started renting VHS tapes from my local video shop that I found out that WAS true! OK, OK, so I now know it’s not true – many martial arts films have real plots, tell real stories, with character arcs and everything… but, you see, it seems I’d spent my youth renting a myriad of Godfrey Ho’s stitched-together ninja movies and multiple badly-edited, badly-dubbed movies on tape from labels that cashed in on the martial arts craze of the 80s. THOSE films felt like fight after fight after fight, those films had no real stories beyond the kung-fu action on display… So why am I telling you this?

Well because Crazy Samurai Musashi feels very much like those films – a frenetic, fast-paced samurai film that kicks onto gear mere minutes into its runtime and literally never stops. Never stops the action, never stops the camera moving, in fact NEVER stops at all – the film unfurling as a single, unedited, uninterrupted shot following the titular samurai as he works his way through over 500 opponents, in wave after wave of samurai-violence!

The story is simple and set up wonderfully, and briefly, in the films opener. A handful of the Yoshioka clan sit at their temple discussing the clan’s future and how they need to defend themselves or the clan will not survive. They plan on an ambush in the forest around the temple.. and ambush of Musashi, a man who has brought shame on the clan and a man who’s seemingly coming to finish the entire clan off once and for all! Cut to a close up on the eyes of Musashi, the words “lets get this started” and that’s it. We’re off! Crazy Samurai Musashi never lets go after that. Sword fight after sword fight, challenge after challenge, the film unwinds in what can only be described as violent kinetic poetry.

Oh and where have we seen similar storytelling unfold like this before? Well that would be in both Versus and Death Trance, two films that exploded in the West over a decade ago and two films that, like Crazy Samurai Musashi, starred Tak Sakaguchi in the leading role. Not only that, but this film also sees cult filmmaker Sion Sono penning the script and Sakaguchi’s Death Trance director Yuji Shimomura once again behind the camera! And like Versus, there’s a real lo-fi feel to Crazy Samurai Musashi too – as if it was filmed by that same team of first-timers, only this time using digital cameras and CGI effects.

If Crazy Samurai Musashi looks and sounds lo-fi, it also feels like a LOT of hard work. Star Tak Sakaguchi is put through his paces, somehow still managing to act whilst clearly getting completely worn out by all the sword fighting. On paper the idea of filming 77 minutes of sword fights without so much as a cut seems like sheer madness, and whilst it still might be insane, it does offer an extra layer of depth to the film. You see actor Tak Sakaguchi getting worn out, so you really believe that his character is getting worn out too; you also believe that he’s somehow still fighting despite the fatigue and so you believe that Miyamoto Musashi, like the stories say, is somewhat super-human. It makes the legend seem all-the-more real.

The story of Japanā€™s most legendary swordsman Miyamoto Musashi was most famously told in the Toshiro Mifune starring Samurai trilogy of the 1950s – a trilogy of films hailed in pantheon of the best samurai films ever made. A pantheon I say Crazy Samurai Musashi can lay claim to be part of as well…

**** 4/5

Crazy Samurai Musashi screens at part of this yeasr Fantasia Festival, which starts on August 20th 2020.

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