The Yoshioka clan has been dishonored by the death of two of their samurai warriors in an attack that has left the clan in desperate need for revenge. Yoshioka clan’s sensei devises a plan to gather the clan’s best 100 samurai and 300 mercenaries and set an ambush for the one they call the crazy samurai, Musashi Miyamoto. But Miyamoto strikes first, killing two Yoshioka clan members, sparking a torrent of warriors and mercenaries to besiege upon the crazy samurai and bombard him with attack. The long sword combat stretches for over a hour as Miyamoto defends himself in an impossible task of standing alone while an entire clan’s army of swordsmen come at him from every angle, but Miyamoto is no ordinary master samurai, leaving the 400 to 1 odds in his favor.
Journey back to Japan’s bushido era when honor and courage reign supreme during times of conflict and unrest with Yûji Shimomura’s nonstop, way of the sword, battle royale skirmish, “Crazy Samurai: 400 Vs 1.” Originally titled “Crazy Samurai Musashi,” changed only for the home video release and on streaming platforms, the samurai film from Japan sticks out amongst the countless in the genre not for being filmed nearly a decade ago and finally receiving a theatrical and at-home release, but with a one particular, grand feature in being cinema’s first non-stop, one-take action shot for approx. 77-minutes, bookending between a story-functioning epilogue and prologue that clocks the film’s runtime at a total of 92 minutes from start to finish. Shimomura, who directed the fantasy-action “Death Trance” in 2005 and the covert war drama “Re: Born,” helms a script penned by first timer Atsuki Tomori that bares little dialogue and even less plot to unreservedly place the juggernaut shot into the main spotlight. The film is a production of the action enrapturing company, Uden Flameworks, based in Tokyo and with the North American streaming rights funded exclusively as a Hi-Yah! original film.
Reteaming with Yûji Shimomura in their third collaboration together following “Death Trance” and “Re: Born” if you follow each film’s sequential release date and if not following the release dates, then, more accurately, “Crazy Samurai: 400 vs 1” would be their second collaboration, Tak Sakaguchi, who cut his teeth in the cult favorite “Versus,” becomes a one-man show as the titular principal samurai, Musashi Miyamoto, slicing-and-dicing his way through a village horde of sword-wielding antagonists. Kudos must be given to Sakaguchi with the stamina of a workhorse who carries the entire production on his back with a seamless performance without ever breaking stride, or taking a break for that matter, as you can see the sweat beading from his face and weariness in his eyes during the 77-minute long performance that takes a natural exhausting toll on his body, but the actor’s spirit to go on never breaks in any regards. Sakaguchi fortitude for Musashi is unquestionable, but the backstory quivers at the knees with a character whose unable to be deciphered whether a hero or the villain. The latter feels like the befitting choice as the plot begins with a Yoshioka clan ploy of arraigning a honorable duel between Musashi and the clan’s child prince after killing two of the dojo’s promising members in an act of defacing, but the ruse is an ambush to swarm Musashi upon arrival and execute him on sight. Known for being a madman, Musashi comprehends Yoshioka’s deception and penetrates their defenses to immediately strike down the innocent child prince, who is only a pawn following council’s guide to be there, in the first blow that would set off a chain reaction of swordplay events. Is Musashi that much of a cold-blooded lunatic to kill anyone, even children, and that is why he’s the villain who must be stopped by any means possible? Or are the Yoshioka so dishonorable that Musashi will take on 400 or more well-armed men, and sacrifice one child, to slaughter them all for the sake of mankind? Where Musashi motivations lie teeters into well after the credits roll, making the Crazy Samurai an enigmatic means to an unsatisfactory end. Kento Yamazaki, Yôsuke Saitô, Akihiko Sai, Ben Hiura, and Fuka Hara round out the cast.
The possibilities of something going wrong is extremely high when attempting to film one long scene without breaks that include not only harmless slipups in choreography or dialogue, but also fatigue and risk of injury are likely to be greater. Luckily for Tak Sakaguchi, and the production’s insurance company, there were enough water bottle and rest breaks strategically placed in between each pocket battle. On the other side of the katana, the breaks frequent into improbability that there will be a full water bottle and a new sword just laying about in a Japanese village in the exact path of Musashi’s bore. While most of the wardrobe and scenery feels authentic to the Edo-esque period and each actor puts in the effort to complete the scene, the unthought out choreography cheapens “Crazy Samurai’s” straight-gimmick concept by rotating out Musashi attackers who stumble off screen after being “killed” and rejoining the ranks on the backend. More than once you’ll see the same faces go toe-to-toe with Musashi. Rarely do the extras fall and lay dead at Musashi’s feet and only do so when the time at the present scuffle location comes to an end, but when the camera turns in a 360-motion around Sakaguchi, the bodies that had lain fallen previously where the fighting was held have now mysteriously disappeared. And the buck doesn’t stop there as Shimomura’s action film fails to impressive with the swordplay, outlandishly flaunts no blood other the visual effects spray in a blink-and-you-miss-it style, certain samurai have specialized wigs on to absorb Musashi’s signature Three Stooges-style bonk the enemy on the head move, obviously squaring off against more than 400 bodies, and, bluntly, the 77-minute runtime was tediously too long. You can also tell that the opening scene and ending scene were spliced into fold around the story’s trunk, probably shot years later from the original uncut scene, as we’re never able to connect the main characters from the opening and ending to the extended midsection in a slight of misdirection, obscure camera angles, and connecting only a pair of characters in act one and two.
Don’t be remiss to check out Yûji Shimomura’s see-it-to-believe-it “Crazy Samurai: 400 vs 1” on Blu-ray courtesy of Well Go USA Entertainment. Unrated, region A, and presented in a widescreen 16:9 aspect ratio, Well Go USA’s Hi-Yah! original film allures solely by the idea of the stunt, but hones in on two contrasting cinematic styles. The opening and ending scenes are consistent with conventional action flicks with fast edits, slow motion, and purpose with what’s seen in the scene whereas the midriff feels like a third person videogame that dodges and turns around Musashi, rarely taking the focus off him, and “Jaws in Japan’s” Yasutaka Nagano’s near entirely mobile steady-cam is quite an impressive feat considering the amount of moving objects in the frame, even capturing a manufactured lightning storm with rain while the camera then attaches to a boom for an areal shot; however, aside from the post-visual blood and embroidered sound effects, there was little touchup work done to polish the outwardly raw appearance. The Japanese language DTS-HD Master Audio is solid and holds up during the action though having barely much dialogue to play with during the fight. Ambient levels elevate a little louder above norm to put the sounds of a struggle right in your lap, or your ears, while the percussion of traditional Japanese instrumental, in the tune of war, plays erratic at times on the soundtrack. The Blu-ray is encased in a cardboard slipcover of the same illustrations and pictures as the snap case. Bonus material only includes the international and domestic trailers of the film. Yûji Shimomura and Tak Sakaguchi’s ambitious feat deserves a master stroke commendation for pulling off a historical and strenuous deluge of action, but “Crazy Samurai: 400 vs 1: fails to muster much more than that with threadbare editing and tip-toe choreography too dishonorable for the likes of feudal Japan.
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