I am such a big fan of samurai and this documentary was just enlightening and full of Japanese and western history. Miyamoto Musashi was a fabled warrior that lived in Japan at the beginning of the 17th Century. After making a name for himself at the battle of Sekigahara in 1600, he established himself as a master duellist, one that was never defeated. Musashi: The Dream of the Last Samurai is a chance to give the audience some factual history, in perhaps an old-school lesson form. In short, there is no story as such just cold hard fact and that’s not very exciting.
We learn that Mushashi, who ended up as a teacher and devote of Zen, preferred using a long straight wooden sword than the beautiful and valuable curved samurai blades that are so famous. He wanted to develop swordsmanship techniques for fighting on horseback, which our lecturer suggests connects him with the knights in armor of the West. As it turns out the mixture of styles presented in light information-rich fashion makes Musashi a fascinating documentary, although those expecting an animated Samurai movie are likely to walk away disappointed. You might have guessed that a film trying to cover all these topics and more in its brief 72-minute running time would feel a bit rushed, and you would be right in assuming that. The upside of this is I would welcome an accompanying film.
As a film itself, I would say it could possible fare better for entertainment (or to cure your curiousity) then an educational piece. By the end of the film you are not really any the wiser on the subject. The topics he discusses are varied, but the dialogue itself is also very boring. Maybe the day I reviewed this I was just short fused on patience? Who knows, but what I can say is that while this is a unique piece, it just didn’t work for me. Some films fail in such a strange way, that a new quality arises in them. It really is hard to pinpoint the negatives. Anyway, at best it’s just a little footnote on the great Samurai movies of the past.
Director Mizuho Nishikubo and writer Mamoru Oshii probably deserve equal credit for the 72-minute film. Derek Elley of ‘Variety’ calls this “Most likely the first example of the anime form being used for a documentary” and adds “the pic can be appreciated by all Asiaphile viewers.” I am not sure if I can agree whole-heartedly as its jazzed-up kodan music, pop closing theme song, and corny use of western chestnuts like Strauss waltzes, Chopin, and Beethoven’s Ninth, this may be designed more for a young Japanese audience than for westerners. Suitably for a film written by Mamoru Oshii, Musashi is alternately beautiful, intriguing, enlightening, impenetrable and frustrating. Call it how you want, God knows I can’t.