Fantasia Film Festival Review: ‘Crazy Samurai Musashi’

Review by James Lindorf

For the past 23 years, the Fantasia International Film Festival has taken place in the heart of beautiful Montreal, the largest city in Canada’s Québec province. Fantasia, like many big-name festivals, SWSX, TIFF, and Tribeca, to name a few, will be hosting a virtual version of their festival this year. Fantasia’s 24th installment occurs on August 20th – September 2nd and will include both Live and On-Demand Screenings, live Q&As, and special events, like John Carpenter becoming Fantasia’s first recipient of their virtual Cheval Noir award. The process to purchase tickets can be found on their website. Some conversations and events can be seen on the Fantasia YouTube channel.

Japan’s most legendary swordsman Miyamoto Musashi was undefeated in at least 60 documented duels. Yuji Shimomura’s new film, “Crazy Samurai Musashi,” is a stylized look at Musashi’s clash with the Yoshioka school of sword fighting in 1604. This ambitious movie was initially filmed nine years ago and is centered around a masterful uninterrupted 77-minute shot. This single take follows Musashi as he confronts and defeats hundreds of students and mercenaries, nearly 600 of them if you’re keeping count. It is undoubtedly a perfect fit for a festival like Fantasia, which brings in unique works from around the world.

“Crazy Samurai Musashi” is light on story and heavy on action. The Yoshioka clan is set on defending its young leader from Musashi (Tak Sakaguchi), who has already slain their old leader and the second in line. What led to the initial conflict or why Musashi is set on destroying the clan is never hinted at, let alone explored. It is all in service of the action. Watching the long take unfold is a rollercoaster of interest, inspiration, and boredom. Watching as Tak faces one challenger after another and the toll it takes on his body is impressive. Watching the numerous fighting techniques is the most exciting part of the film. The fight moves from the woods to a small village giving the choreographers multiple ways to stage the dozens of conflicts. Unfortunately, Shimomura’s choice to maintain realism when it comes to the physical toll of battle forces an exhausted Tak to throw style aside for defense and efficiency. This results in many similar-looking exchanges. A more traditional filming style would have been less technically impressive but would have made for a more dynamic movie.

Inconsistent special effects lend to the air of amateurishness that fits with the lack of storytelling. Then there is the fact that they didn’t have the cast or extras to put together the film they desired. Even the most distracted viewers will catch on to the fact that the combatants are being recycled. Instead of 600 individual fighters, I would be shocked if there were more than 50 on set. “Crazy Samurai Musashi” is impressive, but it is a better fit for the classroom than the theater.

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