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Review: ‘Crazy Samurai Musashi’ doesn’t go mad enough (Includes first-hand account)

When making a movie, it’s important to have a hook, which should also serve as your answer to some important questions. Why should someone fund the making of your film? Why should a film festival or theatre program your picture? Why will audiences choose your movie over the many others on offer? Crazy Samurai Musashi has an excellent answer to these questions. The majority of the 92-minute picture is comprised of a single take in which the title warrior faces hundreds of opponents.

Miyamoto Musashi (Tak Sakaguchi) is Japan’s most legendary swordsmen, undefeated in at least 60 recorded duels. In this tale written by Sion Sono and directed by Yuji Shimomura, the samurai confronts an entire clan seeking vengeance for the death of their leader. Easily dispatching their youngest and oldest warriors, he then fights wave after wave of revenge-seekers. At one point, a weary Musashi even wonders how there could be so many fighters, having presumed there wouldn’t be more than 70. In fact, there are a total of 588.

Moving through the forest towards a sparse village, Sakaguchi gets the occasional breather as his adversaries regroup. There are bottles of water strategically placed throughout the set so he can rehydrate and catch his breath, as he appears increasingly winded the longer the conflict continues. The battle ends so abruptly after the camera is raised overhead for a long-awaited new perspective, one wonders if the actor was finally overcome by exhaustion.

The movie’s poster tagline is, “400 vs 1 in a single take,” which is true and, perhaps, even a bit of an understatement. However, anyone expecting high-intensity, innovative choreography à la Tony Jaa will be disappointed. For 75 minutes, Musashi is repeatedly encircled by his enemies, who then proceed to attack one-by-one. Musashi, in turn, uses the same three moves to dispatch most of his opponents: block, slice to the stomach and/or blow to the head. The crisp sound effects of clanging swords and squishy wounds is accompanied by what appears to be digitally-added blood splatter. It’s like watching a video game in which the player has memorized a few key, effective moves and just keeps hitting those buttons in random sequences. For added drama, the quintessential boss fight sparks a torrential rainstorm, which concludes as suddenly as it started.

It’s one thing to use a gimmick to get butts in seats, but when the picture doesn’t live up to the expectations it set, audiences are more likely to feel deceived when the film doesn’t deliver. The tagline didn’t lie, but watching almost the exact same sequence repeated ad nauseam is incredibly tedious.

Crazy Samurai Musashi had its Canadian premiere at the 2020 Fantasia Film Festival.

Director: Yûji Shimomura
Starring: Tak Sakaguchi, Akihiko Sai and Masaaki Takarai

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Sarah Gopaul is Digital Journal's Editor-at-Large for film news, a member of the Online Film Critics Society and a Rotten Tomatoes Tomatometer-approved critic.

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