starring Tak Sakaguchi, Kento Yamazaki
written by Sion Sono
directed by Yuji Shimomura
by Walter Chaw I'm going to be indelicate here in a second; I hope you'll bear with me. It isn't when I say that Yuji Shimomura's Crazy Samurai Musashi is terrible, but when I say that Crazy Samurai Musashi is terrible like those world-record-setting gangbang pornos are terrible. It's tedious, repetitive, boring almost immediately, and its only purpose as a venal spectacle demeans the participants as it eventually demeans the viewer. When an act is repeated until ground into a quintessence of dust, the act, whatever the act, is demystified utterly. I get it: sex is literally just mechanical pistoning. I would stop short of saying Crazy Samurai Musashi is exploitative in the same way, though it's perhaps exploitative in maybe not so different a way as you would think. The draw of it is to present, as the bulk of a 90-minute feature, a 77-minute "one take" action sequence featuring legendary swordsman Miyamoto Musashi (Tak Sakaguchi) murdering 488 not-legendary swordsmen in the middle of one of those Japanese woods where things like this happen in their 17th-century video game way. That sounds amazing, doesn't it? It does. A lot of things sound amazing. Very few of them are amazing in practice.
Two sequences bookend the SEQUENCE. The first is a sort of weak-fisted establishing exposition in which it's revealed that Miyamoto Musashi is a legendary swordsman against whom this clan of Keystone Samurai is feuding. There's some talk about how hiring a bunch of mercenaries to help murder him is dishonourable, then a bit about how one of the samurai squatting in the woods, waiting for the SEQUENCE to start already, needs to "take a dump." This is evidence that gonzo provocateur Sion Sino wrote this film, meaning it's neither some kind of deconstruction of the Samurai genre nor a celebration of the same (both things that countryman Takashi Miike has done, and masterfully), but rather a mindless "hip" provocation intended to provoke--like that band you started in high school the first time you heard the Sex Pistols. Film bros are gonna love this. It's puerile in the worst sense of the word, and there's again that connection to gangbang porn. A female buddy of mine once told me that while she liked porn, she didn't understand the stuff with the "circle of dicks." And, well, dibs on the band name.
"Circle of Dicks" is also not a bad description of what happens over and over again during the SEQUENCE, which erupts immediately when Miyamoto Musashi murders a simple child for no reason as he "ambushes" a few hundred stuntmen. See, he's obviously always surrounded and, likewise obviously, only one person at a time approaches Miyamoto Musashi for Miyamoto Musashi to murder or cripple them. Whatever. Musashi has a few moves he returns to repeatedly: the leg slash, the gut slash, and the bonk on the head. That's it. There's been a lot of talk about the stunning choreographic feat of arraying all these people to do all this stuff for 77 minutes! That's seventeen minutes more than an hour, everybody! But in fact, it's just the same hump repeated 486 times. The couple of times it varies are when he faces a "boss," and then it's the same but it takes longer. You would think this would mean there would be piles of corpses everywhere, yet with just one or two exceptions, after getting soundly drubbed the vanquished manage to sprint off-stage so they can maybe get recycled again. It all reminds of Gymkata where the same extras keep walking by, the difference being that Gymkata is awesome.
Tak Sakaguchi is great, don't get me wrong--a real trooper. When he acts exhausted, it probably isn't acting. But beyond the movie's central gimmick, there's nothing much to hold on to, and the gimmick itself is instantly not compelling. Here's the harsh irony of Crazy Samurai Musashi: After the SEQUENCE, a title card announces the passage of seven years, and then a much older Miyamoto Musashi gets one last battle next to a stream. The sudden change of scenery, tactics, and choreography is...thrilling. Amazing, really, with the kind of vibrancy that actual film direction--at odds with the stage management of the rest of it--confers on physical acts on celluloid. It's a fantastic sequence, seething with kineticism and ferocity and imagination most of all. It feels like an anime, for a moment--the live-action Ninja Scroll at last, complete with all its carnal attitude in full flower. Who knows if this coda would have been as awesome and revelatory without the extraordinary drudgery of the SEQUENCE that came before. It's like sex with a real live girl, one who loves you, in the aftermath of watching a very long, very tedious porno. Programme: Selection 2020