Sunday, November 15, 2009
MUSASHI: DREAM OF THE LAST SAMURAI
A fanciful animated documentary (possibly the first anime documentary, though your proprietor hesitates to presume), MUSASHI: THE DREAM OF THE LAST SAMURAI offers an animated recreation of some of the key battles in the history of Musashi Miyamoto, one of Japan's most renowned and influential swordsmen.
Though directed by Mizuho Nishibuko, the auteur to whom this film is being credited is writer Mamoru Oshii, writer/director of the GHOST IN THE SHELL films and various other anime and live-action projects. Though Oshii had said that he wanted this film to be unlike any other, it's limited by some of his choices. Musashi's various accomplishments are given strong context within military and Japanese history, but the cute on-screen narrators (an SD historian and his clumsy but well-meaning female assistant) often distract from the material at hand (an interesting choice, given the excision of the comic relief from Oshii's GHOST IN THE SHELL adaptation).
Throughout the film I was put in mind of Peter Greenaway's REMBRANDT'S J'ACCUSE, a visually-loaded documentary outlining various clues to the criminal conspiracy captured in Rembrandt's famous painting The Nightwatch. Oshii's film traverses its terrain in ways very similar to Greenaway's: both filmmakers use similar strong visual tactics and effective dramatization to explore their subjects. It's curious that the tone of Greenaway's film is more strident than Oshii's, considering the patriotic agenda of the latter. Both films are open-ended, but Oshii's film stops practically in mid-sentence - it reminds us that Musashi's swordsmanship was a deciding factor in a 20th century battle, but offers no detail on which battle.
MUSASHI does offer some intriguing historical analysis of its subject. Better still, unsurprisingly, are its powerfully-depicted action scenes, including Musashi's storied battle with Sasaki Kojiro on Ganryu Island. I'd be intrigued to see Oshii launch another anime documentary - perhaps it will finish the job that this film, alas, only starts.