Crazy Samurai Musashi takes about five minutes to establish its exceedingly simple premise: the Yoshioka clan must dispatch their entire army if they hope to vanquish the man they set out to kill, Miyamoto Musashi (Tak Sakaguchi). Then, the film commits to a 77-minute single take action sequence, in which Musashi does away with hundreds of swordsmen.
You can see plenty of seams in the staging of this long sequence which point to budgetary constraints. The natural lighting, for one, could have used some course correcting in post-production. And extras are recycled throughout the film, jumping out of frame with a spray of CGI blood, then circling around behind the camera to join the fight again.
The sound effects, too, are a sign of low production value, also being recycled over and over again. At a certain point, the soundtrack reads more like a fighting video game than an action movie, where certain sound effects are prescribed to specific button combinations. But the film also reads, at times, like an arcade cabinet beat-em-up, so perhaps the cheap sound design adds to the atmosphere.
Low production value aside, Crazy Samurai Musashi reads like a labor of love and joy, and those things translate as the action goes on (and on, and on…). The film is repetitive to a fault, and there really is no reason for a 77-minute long sword battle other than to prove you can do it in one take. But it is fun to see the energy being exerted by these performers (and this includes the camera operator).
Sakaguchi, in particular, is a gem. Seeing his athleticism on display can be transfixing. It is like watching a basketball player play full tilt and in the zone for 40+ minutes in a playoff game. The film even builds in pauses in the action so that Sakaguchi can catch his breath and drink water—timeouts in this sporting event. And even in these moments, Sakaguchi is compelling to watch.
By the end of the action, Musashi (and Sakaguchi, it seems) is spent, fighting on fumes as he is surrounded in a village square, the sun setting behind him. It is an unexpectedly poignant moment in this (literal) nonstop action film. And while this is not a flawless example of a single take film, watching the scrappy filmmaking of Crazy Samuari Musashi is a fun experience (if you can stomach 77 minutes of actors swinging fake swords with no plot and minimal dialogue).
Crazy Samurai Musashi: B-
As always, thanks for reading!
—Alex Brannan (Twitter, Letterboxd, Facebook)