If there is one thing that a film nerd loves it’s a good long take. A long take needs planning and rehearsal, and the longer the long take is the more planning and rehearsal it will take.
Spielberg and Cuarón use them frequently. Martin Scorsese probably produced the most famous long-take scenes in Goodfellas, and Park Chan-wook probably produced one of the most famous action long takes in Oldboy. One of the more ambitious examples is the historical epic Russian Ark, which runs 96 minutes and is entirely one take.
The envelope is always being pushed in filmmaking and Crazy Samurai Musashi aims to push it a little further. The film tells the story of a Samurai, Musashi, as he faces off against 588 opponents in a single 77-minute take.
And that’s pretty much the entire movie, for better or for worse. Technically, it is one of the most impressive films I have seen all year, but the 77-minute scene is actually just exhausting, and not just for lead actor Tak Sakaguchi.
Here’s the thing: A long take like this is impressive as hell, but it also can’t be the only thing a film has going for it. It’s refreshing that Musashi isn’t superhuman, he gets tired and complains about the weather, he favours quick, decisive strikes that eliminate enemies quickly instead of flashy ones that eliminate them dramatically.
After a while though the fight just gets a bit repetitive. Several nameless swordsmen will attack, one a time, Musashi will take a break, a distinct character will show up for a slightly flashier fight, rinse, repeat.
The nameless swordsmen really do line up, too, in some cases basically running directly onto Musashi’s katana, and once they are cut down they always seem to have enough life left in them to run, walk, or crawl out of frame, never to be seen again. In fact for a scene in which nearly 600 people are killed there are precious few bodies around. I know that’s a weird complaint, but the camera is handheld and constantly moving so we are always getting a clear view of the landscape and it’s remarkably clean.
Crazy Samurai Musashi is a technical marvel. There’s no denying the care and planning that must have gone into making this movie and it’s honestly nearly worth watching just to witness that, but it’s also as much of a slog for the audience as it is for the title character.