Crazy Samurai Musashi (Japan 2020)

Rating: ***
Review Date: 7/24/21
Cast: Tak Sakaguchi

Crazy samurai, indeed. I've been a fan of Tak Sakaguchi since I first saw him in "Versus" (2000). He's the real deal, and I love his hard-hitting stunt work and irreverent bad boy swagger. I also like that he chooses low budget and downright bizarre independent projects that are on the fringe, where he can have the most creative freedom and control. "Crazy Samurai Musashi" may be his magnum opus, as he takes on the role of legendary swordsman Musashi Miyamoto and fights 588 opponents in a single 77-minute take. There's no real story here, other than it's very loosely based on a series of duels that Miyamoto had with the Yoshioka clan in 1604. Hundreds of samurai, ronin, and mercenaries attempt to kill Miyamoto to avenge the clan, and he defeats all of them.

Depending on your feelings towards martial arts movies and the technical skills that are involved, you'll either love the film or hate it. The charismatic Tak Sakaguchi is fascinating to watch in action, and the film is an exhausting showcase of high precision swordsmanship, athleticism, and physical endurance. He doesn't mess around with flashy moves, because he needs to conserve every ounce of energy in order to get through the entire scene. He reportedly broke a finger, a rib, and four teeth during the shot, and is clearly exhausted and on the brink of collapsing at several points throughout the take. Even so, he never pulls his punches or looks sloppy, and every move looks powerful and convincing.

It's a low budget production and the camera work is obviously handheld, but it manages to successfully capture all of the details and intensity of the action. It's not a particularly good looking film, as it was shot outdoors using only available light, but that lends a certain amount of grittiness and authenticity to the production. Unfortunately, the illusion falls apart fairly quickly as you see Sakaguchi fight the same dozen stuntmen over and over, employing a limited number of tricks that are repeated throughout. That definitely spoils the immersion and suspension of disbelief, but the film needs to be watched and appreciated as an exhibition of performance art and physical skill rather than a cinematic narrative.

The story behind the film is even more interesting. It started as an idea by director Sion Sono to do a 10-minute single take sword fight for a film called "Kenkichi," but that project was shelved. Sakaguchi decided to expand that idea to 77 minutes, and trained with the original stuntmen for close to a year in order to perform the physically demanding take. The shot was filmed in 2011, but was never released. Then in 2019, a crowd funding campaign was launched to resurrect and finish the movie by filming bookend segments (with a significantly older Sakaguchi), adding a music score, and including digital blood effects. The final product is odd and visually jarring, but I'm glad that such an amazing piece of action film finally found its way to audiences. That said, it's definitely an acquired taste and for genre fans only.