Crazy Samurai Musashi looks at a battle of legendary swordsman Miyamoto Musashi (Tak Sakaguchi) as he takes on 588 soldiers and defeats every single one. Director Yûji Shimomura made the decision to shoot this battle in one, 77-minute-long uncut take, a bold and ambitious decision, yet one that if executed right, could have been an incredible feat and made for a great film. Unfortunately, it isn’t as incredible as it could have been and the film ends up being redundant.
The film starts with a very cool, very interesting prologue that is basically a hype video for how badass Musashi is. The soldiers that Musashi is about to fight are preparing for him to show up at their camp. They have loaded up on weapons and people, adding hundreds of mercenaries in order to defeat Musashi. Everyone is on their toes as everyone knows the destruction Musashi can bring.
Musashi then jumps down from a tree he had been hiding in and the battle begins, as does the 77-minute-long uncut fight. The prologue was aesthetically pleasing and well-crafted and I was anticipating the battle to be the same. But to my surprise and disappointment, the visual aesthetic from the prologue vanished and the whole look of the film changed. Shot in what looks like the woods behind my house, the entire 77-minute-long fight looks like a really advance filming of a L.A.R.P (Live Action Role Playing) battle. Though the sword fighting is pretty cool at the beginning, it does get bland after about a half hour, which is a problem since their were still another forty-plus minutes left of the battle. The film needed something to liven it up. Whether it be aesthetically like making the film black-and-white, reminiscent of an old Kurosawa or making it look gritty like a King Hu film, or adding a more powerful score, or more heightened and stylized fight sequences, something to liven the film up.
Despite all of this, Sakaguchi is marvelous throughout the entire film, in a showcase performance of physicality that is awe-inspiring.
With a lot of these “single-take” movies, the films feel a lot like video games, where we are focused on character going from point A to point B and following every single step they take. Crazy Samurai Musashi is a prime example of this. It felt like every barrage of soldiers coming to fight Musashi was a new level that included a brief one-on-one battle with what seemed like the level’s “big bad” that Musashi would mull down easily, a new score, and a resting place for Musashi to recharge, catch his breath, and get some water. This is a simple movie that is focused on the one-take battle and nothing else, which isn’t just the issue with this film, but the issue with all these “single-take” films. They are technically outstanding, but due to the technical difficulty they lack a deep story and end up feeling empty.
But what puzzled me most was the epilogue of the film. In the first cut since the prologue, the film jumps seven years into the future and we see an older and tortured Musashi contemplating life near a river. A small group of soldiers have found him and rush to attack him and Musashi responds. This action sequence is incredible. It’s thrilling, fast paced, bloody, and perfectly edited and has the same look as the prologue. It also has a moment where Musashi describes himself and gives a shred of depth in an all-but-shallow film. Everything about the epilogue worked for me and it really made me question if the film should have done the super long uncut sequence or if they would have gotten a better film by making it more conventional with cuts and different angles to give us a more exciting battle and more character information about Musashi. I’m all for ambition and being bold, but I don’t think that ambition worked in Crazy Samurai Musashi, which is disappointing.
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