If there is one thing that a film nerd loves, it’s a good long take. A long take needs planning and rehearsal; the longer the long take, the more planning and rehearsal it will require.
Spielberg and Cuarón use them frequently. Martin Scorsese probably produced the most famous long-take scenes in Goodfellas, and Park Chan-wook produced one of Oldboy’s most famous action long takes. One of the more ambitious examples is the historical epic Russian Ark, which runs 96 minutes and is entirely one take.
The envelope is constantly 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 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 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 becomes repetitive. Several nameless sworders will attack, one at a time, Musashi will take a break, and a distinct character will show up for a slightly flashier fight, rinse, repeat.
The nameless sworders really do line up, too, in some cases basically running directly onto Musashi’s katana. Once they are cut down, they always seem to have enough life left to run, walk, or crawl out of frame, never to be seen again. In fact, there are precious few bodies around for a scene in which nearly 600 people are killed. 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 to witness that, but it’s also as much of a slog for the audience as it is for the title character.
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