Actors: Tak Sakaguchi, Kento Yamazaki
Writer: Sion Sono
Director: Yuji Shimomura
How many men do they have? Thought it would be around 70. Feel like I killed more than that.
There have been a lot of video game adaptations. Some of them have been successful (Mortal Kombat, Resident Evil, Sonic the Hedgehog), and some of them haven’t been (Hitman, Hitman: Agent 47, Need for Speed). However, Crazy Samurai Musashi might be the most accurate video game movie of all time.
I don’t necessarily mean that as a good thing.
The film starts with what would be an opening cut-scene in a video game. We meet a Japanese clan that has had two leaders killed already by the ominous Miyamoto Musashi (Tak Sakaguchi), and they’re awaiting his return. It’s legitimately fun to watch the different interactions, whether they’re between die-hard members of the clan or hired mercenaries, and they expound a lot of exposition in generally interesting ways. The “cut-scene” suddenly and beautifully ends with Musashi dropping in on them, and that’s when the title card pops up.
The majority of the film from here on out, roughly 77-minutes, is captured in a single take. This is when Crazy Samurai Musashi truly comes into its own as a video game. For the next ten minutes, we find ourselves in a third-person perspective behind Musashi as he chases down a horde of clan members through the forest. In a video game, this would involve a lot of toggling and button mashing. In a movie, it’s mostly us watching people getting sliced in the stomach or bonked on the head while trees go by.
Luckily things change up a bit when Musashi makes his way to the clan’s town. The movie always gets better when things get switched up, whether it’s the setting, the style of attack, or the weather. The flashes of personality stand out because they’re few and far between. We see two clan members fighting amongst themselves, and that’s one of the highlights of the films. Any time Musashi takes a moment to drink some water or hunker down and breathe it’s refreshing. We don’t know anything about Musashi (except for what the goons at the beginning told us). But Sakaguchi is so good he makes me wish there was a prequel about him. Even just when talking to himself, he’s very quick and personable.
Again, I think my biggest issue with Crazy Samurai Musashi is that it is a perfect adaptation of a video game, except the wrong aspects came to the forefront. I don’t want to watch 15 minutes of a third-person perspective of a man in the woods occasionally slashing at a horde of samurai. Maybe it would be fun to play that, but it isn’t that fun to watch. I mostly found myself impressed by the camera operator keeping their shadow out of frame when the scene is backlit. I don’t think the film wants people focusing on that kind of stuff.
It isn’t all bad, though. Once Musashi makes his way to the houses, they vary the cinematography. One scene in particular—that pulled back far enough to make a point of all the bodies Musashi was dropping—stood out. Even though there are two “boss battles” before it, they are able to make the final big fight stand out by adding rain. It’s an impressive feat for something that comes at the end of a 70-plus minute take.
Overall, I don’t think I wasted my time with the movie. I do think that the coordination of extras, the stamina of the leads, and the dedication of the cinematographers was let down by the imagination of the creators. And there was a lot of planning and choreographing that was diminished by the way the film was shot. I sat up and noticed any slight variance in the single-take segment. There were large chunks that dragged on for too long.
Ultimately, it was a solid concept with impressive moments here and there—Sakaguchi, in particular, is a champ—but the execution leaves a lot to be desired. I’d like to see the concept revisited, even in different settings. As it is, I enjoyed watching the crazy samurai named Musashi. I just wish I knew more about him.