Fantasia 2020: CRAZY SAMURAI MUSASHI is More Technical Exercise Than Movie

An insanely ambitious “oner” does not a good movie make

Crazy Samurai Musashi is available to badgeholders on demand for the duration of Fantasia Festival 2020.

Crazy Samurai Musashi’s favorite move is tagging poor young samurai sword fodder right in the middle of their dome.

It’s an interesting element in this film that’s primarily made up of a roughly 70 minute unbroken take featuring Japanese action cinema sensation Tak Sakaguchi as fabled samurai of legend Musashi Miyamoto. Generally in these types of chanbara films, we see lots of build up to a samurai standoff, quick slicing and dicing, and perhaps some dramatic posturing until the opponent falls to the ground or a blood fountain erupts from their severed appendage. Musashi, however, needs to dispatch these guys as quickly and practically as possible due to there being four hundred of them. So the dome tap emerges as the preferred method of dispatch.

Here in Crazy Samurai Musashi, the whole creative effort was to generate this “oner”. An epic battle of one man versus literally hundreds of adversaries without any camera cuts. It’s an elevator pitch for the ages. I myself could not wait to check out this film. As an active fan of star Tak and the unique energy he brings to action cinema as a whole, his presence as Musashi already guaranteed that I could not miss this film. Then there’s that great title and the unhinged promise of absolute samurai carnage. The premise sells itself.

Which is good, because it turns out the implications of a single take samurai sword battle turn into the ultimate example of “they were so busy figuring out if they could, that no one stopped to consider whether they should”. I don’t want to discourage you from seeking out Crazy Samurai Musashi if you, like me, couldn’t possibly stay away from this project. By all means indulge in your Tak-love and get your crazy samurai on. Yet, for me, I found this film to be an absolute chore to get through with virtually no narrative resonance.

As a technical exercise, it’s quite intriguing. To accomplish a shot like this really hasn’t been done before, and the undertaking must have been a gargantuan task in every regard. It’s probably a better viewing experience to dwell on these kinds of things, honestly. When I allowed myself to consider the filmmaking choices, what rehearsals must have been like, where small mistakes happened, how the team planned blocking and choreography, I was at least engaged. When I looked at Tak, gasping for breath and taking water breaks in between waves of samurai fodder, I saw the actor and martial artist undertaking something challenging and impressive. But I didn’t really see Musashi. And when I tried to see Musashi, or seek out any thread of character or plot to invest in or be emotionally engaged by, there’s simply a void there. There’s absolutely nothing to the story to engage you here.

The oner is bookended by much more traditionally shot sequences, and the final bookend is particularly damning when weighed against the rest of the film because… it’s edited! It’s slick. It’s vibrant. There’s style and that trademark Tak swagger. It’s such a welcomed relief after the interminable main attraction that got us all to watch Crazy Samurai Musashi in the first place. It’s clear that cinematic long takes have their place. The single take film Victoria, for instance, is quite compelling, and the exercise of doing it in one take feels necessary for the pulse pounding nature of that film as claustrophobia sets in for characters and audience alike. There’s none of that in Crazy Samurai Musashi. I’d go so far as to say that now that this experiment has been applied to a samurai sword fight, it should be retired forever from this genre. Maybe one nice long take sequence within a more traditional narrative could work. But the art of the cinematic sword fight is undercut by the limitations of the long take. It’s so bad as to detract from all the other elements that often make a film great. Because it’s just wave after wave of nameless samurai, the violence lacks meaning. Because there’s no real distinction from one horde to the next, the film’s score feels arbitrary and almost extraneous. Because there’s no cutting whatsoever, the choreography is replaced simply by staging. And because of the one shot running for so long, we simply can’t be compelled to give a shit about anyone on screen.

Crazy Samurai Musashi is an astonishing failure as a narrative feature, but a technical exercise undertaken by a clearly talented crew and star. Seek it out if you, like me, can’t resist the basic setup. But maybe seek out something like 13 Assassins if you want to see a samurai battle that’s upwards of 60 minutes long but filled to the brim with pathos and heroism and blood-pumping thrills. You won’t find any of that in Crazy Samurai Musashi. But you will see dozens of somewhat satisfying dome taps.

And I’m Out.

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