Expectations for Crazy Samurai Musashi are pretty clear. Everything surrounding the film — the popular history that informs the film’s plot, the trailers and publicity materials — is trying to sell you on its gimmick: a one-take, film-length samurai action sequence. But first, some context: Miyamoto Musashi is a particularly revered and important historical figure in Japan from the late 16th and early 17th century. Besides his proficiency in fighting, he also was a philosopher and strategist, and his writings gave birth to a school of thought and a martial arts technique that are practiced to this day. The more famous presentation of Miyamoto Musashi’s life is found in the Samurai trilogy, directed by Hiroshi Inagaki, where the primary focus is on his travels and the various struggles of his life rather than a concentrated depiction of his swordsmanship. In contrast, Yuji Shimomura’s Crazy Samurai Musashi, fronted by fan-favorite action star Tak Sakaguchi, captures Musashi engaged in his most mythical battle, the warrior armed alternately with one or two katanas and confronting over 500 would-be foes across an hour-plus runtime.
Given that description, it’s fair to wonder exactly what depth there is to find in a film that is essentially just one long, repetitive action sequence. While there is the opportunity for a visually dynamic work built on impressive, extended choreography, Musashi demonstrates a startling lack of variety — there are only around ten swordplay techniques used here, and the only weapons used are katanas — and the single shot gambit is mishandled; certain camera movements are sloppy, some visual tricks are deeply obvious, and the presence of the camera can be distractingly felt at times. To the film’s credit, there’s a certain fascination that builds while watching Sakaguchi’s remarkably physical performance, slashing his way through a never-ending tide of enemies. It’s more than just the samurai kineticism — the camera watches as he struggles to catch his breath, his brow pearled with sweat, occasionally stumbling. We see a human being in the warrior, brought to one possible extreme. This intimacy helps deepen the spectacle, even if the whole thing is a bit undone by the sloppy editing and repetitive filmmaking techniques. Still, at the very least Crazy Samurai Musashi is a testament to Sakaguchi’s talent, a document of his tiring day at the studio — both a one-man play and a dance, all of it accompanied by a spate of blood dummies.
Published as part of Fantasia Fest 2020 — Dispatch 2.