One-take sequences are seemingly all the rage at the moment, especially following the box office success of Sam Mendes’ seamlessly edited war drama 1917. Action sequences particularly lend themselves to this form, take the crazy church sequence from Kingsman: The Secret Service or the iconic hallway attack in Oldboy for example. So when I heard about the audaciously uninterrupted, 77-minute action sequence in Yuji Shimomura’s Crazy Samurai Musashi, which was premiering at Fantasia Film Festival 2020, I had to check it out!
Centering on one of Japan’s most legendary swordsmen and warriors, Crazy Samurai Musashi depicts a 17th-century duel between Miyamoto Musashi and the famed Yoshioka Clan. Having already taken down two heads of the clan with Seijuro and Denshichiro, Musashi returns for a duel with the third member of the clan; Matashichiro. However, the members are already prepared with an ambush of 100 students and 300 mercenaries, in the hopes of taking down the legendary fighter before he can even touch the young boy.
With the fight from The Book of Five Rings being such an intriguing source material to base the film on, it was disappointing to see the plot take a back seat to the action sequence. Without looking into the historical context of the duels or watching Hiroshi Inagaki’s The Samurai Trilogy, it’s difficult to understand the motivation behind Musashi’s drive to take down the clan, which makes for a confusing narrative. The structure of the film is very much based around a game, as Musashi faces a mob to progress to a mid-tier boss battle via various settings and levels, and so on and so forth, becoming quickly repetitive.
With such an impressive creative team behind the project – renowned stunt coordinator Yuji Shimomura is on board as directing and cult action star Tak Sakaguchi as lead, it’s a shame that Crazy Samurai Musashi feels more of a gimmick. The film is undoubtedly an impressive and ambitious feat, particularly with the dedicated performance of Sakaguch who’s stamina is enviable, but it’s in the numerous fight scenes where the film feels monotonous. Instead of swarming Musashi like in the corridor fight scene in Oldboy, the opponents appear to take turns and wait to face off against the swordsmen, with the battle becoming more of a game of stamina. Whereas Sakaguchi appears to dispatch the multiple mobs (who you may recognise as the same set of actors) with the a handful of repetitive move-sets over and over again.
Bookended with much more impressively shot sequences, the actual one-shot set-piece doesn’t feel smoothly filmed with the handheld digital camera, as Musashi traverses multiple settings to make his way to the school. With obvious sound effects and blood splatter VFX added, along with wounded clan members comically stumbling out of the shot, the production values are unfortunately where the films reach exceeds its budget.
Verdict: Featuring a hugely impressive physical performance from action star Tak Sakaguchi and an ambitious 77-minute set piece, Crazy Samurai Musashi sadly fails to live up to the hype.