When a movie boasts a 77-minute, single-take fight sequence with hundreds of samurai facing off against a lone warrior, that is more than plenty to catch one’s eye. But when it also stars the fantastic Tak Sakaguchi, and it’s written by Sion Sono, then it’s an arresting proposition.
Crazy Samurai Musashi is more like a great experiment come to life, to see how long a sustained actioner can last under the pressure of insurmountable odds. The film is the proof that it can work, and despite some of the repetitiveness that comes with the territory, Musashi manages to come out as a success based on its star and the work of those he faces.
The plot is simple: Musashi has greatly offended a clan, and they lay in wait for him. He strikes swiftly, and we’re off to the races.
Early on, the film starts to buckle under the slower start of the forest battle, but soon accelerates and becomes far more entertaining once the trees have been replaced with the narrow streets of the clan’s village.
Each area is used well to break the fight up into sections, so that we’re not overwhelmed by constant sword clanging and the cries of those wounded and being pulled away. There’s great thought put into how Musashi works his way through the clan and their home, consistently raising the stakes.
While many moves are repeated and some leeway is given for the severe crowds that Musashi must face, usually unwilling to overwhelm him, it’s in the choreography and the sheer will of its star and the camera holding its single take where its power comes through.
At least one of his moves becomes a quick favorite, both for its effectiveness and its near-comedic usage.
It’s a testament to the tenacity of the film that it is willing to hold on this endless cycle of violence and keep it fresh while showing the futility of it all. Even as so many fall to Musashi’s blade, no one really learns their lesson.
The character development comes from the small windows between bouts as Musashi collects himself and comments on the odds, or when the bloodlust of battle grows and he laughs or roars out; these moments are small, to be sure, but are a great little pieces that give Sakaguchi a commanding screen presence beyond his prowess as a swordsman.
But it’s not just a wealth of enemies descending upon the antihero: the best moments come from the grand duels that punctuate each bout, almost like a video game boss battle to continue on to the next level. Few words are spoken, and they may not last long, but the animosity toward Musashi, and his little reverence for them, are a fun punctuation mark to the larger skirmishes.
With all of this in mind, however, the film is still rather slight. Its single take and its dedication to action is a fun watch, but there’s not a whole lot beyond that. There’s no chances for great acting past Sakaguchi’s own, and outside of historical research, there’s not much in the way of storytelling.
Thankfully, Crazy Samurai Musashi manages to entertain with what it is. That may not sound like a ringing endorsement, but for a simple action film, it achieves exactly what it sets out to do. There’s plenty here to have fun with, and while it is hindered a little by its technique choice and perhaps an overreliance on CG blood, the film stands out as one worth seeking out.