To be honest, watching Yuji Shimomusha’s ambitious, completely wild Crazy Samurai Musashi doesn’t feel quite like watching a regular movie – even a traditional action movie. A full 77 minutes out of the film’s 90-minute runtime is a single-take, one-scene battle between the legendary samurai Miyamoto Musashi, played by Shimomusha’s frequent collaborator and legitimate action legend, Tak Sakaguchi (Re:Born, Versus, Death Trance) and around four hundred opponents. Really, the experience feels more like watching a particularly skilled player cut down scores of enemies in a video game on Twitch. Dialogue is as sparse as it gets, leaving you wondering what Sion Sono was doing as writer here, but that doesn’t matter. Crazy Samurai Musashi is a relentless, real-time war, and whether it’s a movie, an athletic endeavour, a spectacle, or some of it’s one of 2020’s best surprises.
There’s only about twenty or so minutes of story exposition in Crazy Samurai Musashi, so I’ll be brief about it. The Yoshioka Clan has beef with the world-renowned swordsman and ronin, Miyamoto Musashi, because he keeps defeating their best warriors. They lure Musashi to their village, and an ambush by five hundred of their guys. And that’s about it. Musashi moves through the village, slicing through dozens of interchangeable goons in the same costumes. You’ll even notice that the actors repeat after a while, but only if you’re looking really carefully. Sometimes a guy will be dispatched with a simple whack of Musashi’s sword in the head, but other kills are far more graphic.
I mentioned that watching Crazy Samurai Musashi is like watching a video game, and it resembles that structure in more ways than one. The enemies Musashi encounters are mostly foot soldiers with no real personality or anything to distinguish one from another, like the early stages of an action game. These enemies come in wave after endless wave, but every so often there’s a mid-level boss fight with a slightly tougher opponent to break up the action a little bit, even if it’s with a different kind of action. Also similar to a video game is the way that there are health boosts peppered throughout the scene, brief respites for Tak to take a drink, clean the blood off his sword, and catch his breath before the next wave hits.
Everything in Crazy Samurai Musashi is in service to the incredible endeavor on display in the form of the 400-to-1 fight scene. It’s spectacular in it’s execution, forcing you to consider how it came to be, and how the performers (especially Tak) managed to tough through what had to be (and what looks like) a physically and mentally taxing ordeal. Even if it doesn’t always result in the richest storytelling experience, Shimomusha’s work in Crazy Samurai Musashi is more than laudable, and Tak’s performance here is one that – for now – stands alone in action movie lore. However you choose to take it in, Crazy Samurai Musashi is one of the most memorable action films of this or any other year.
Crazy Samurai Musashi is available on demand (geolocked to Canada) through the Fantasia Film Festival website until September 2.