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Musashi: The Dream Of The Last Samurai DVD Review

9 min read

An incredible documentary style film release, combining animation, 3D, CGI and weaving in to manage to tell a tale of a legendary man…which is set up in a rather unconventional way. You’ll love the documentary – but love or hate the presentation…

What They Say :
A name instantly familiar to any Japanese citizen or those familiar with Japanese culture, Miya-moto Musashi was a highly skilled swordsman who has over the years become regarded as part historical figure and part romanticized mythical hero. In addition to writing one of the key texts on Japanese samurai tactics and philosophy, “The Book of Five Rings”, he is also famous for inventing the Ni-Ten Ichi Ryu style of fighting with two swords, perhaps the most obvious and internationally recognized visual trademark of the samurai.

But even with so much academic study dedicated to Musashi’s life, so many books written on him and countless movies, anime and manga stories inspired by his heroic escapades and sage teachings, questions about the man still remain unanswered. In an amusing, entertaining and informative manner, Musashi: The Dream of the Last Samurai attempts to answer one in particu-lar: What motivated the great warrior to adopt and perfect his trademark dual bladed style?

Through striking visuals, intense battle scenes, and rich history, Oshii and Nishikubo take the viewer on a voyage through time itself, in an anime feature full of glory, turmoil, and accomplish-ment mixed with the kind of kick-ass samurai attitude that every anime and martial arts fan could wish for.

The Review:
Set up in 5.1 Dolby Sound in both English and Japanese, I broke tradition and just went for one viewing – in Japanese as felt a tale about Musashi needed to be heard straight first in its native tongue. I also did check the English dub though in a few scenes to see how it would compare and the sound is superb – it really gets the feeling right in that you can practically taste the background effects as much as the narrative – with no problems in transition to visual and subtitles, especially considering how many switches it does in regards to the animation style it’s commendable how well it works. Near perfection.

The video is done in widescreen effect, but switches occasionally depending on the animation style, which makes it a very unique release – along with animation, we have 3D animation, claymation style effects and very close to live-action effects in a real variety (whether that’s a good or bad thing is your opinion) of effects as the story is told. There were no problems regarding linking with the subtitles or the audio, but it’s definitely a real cluster when you are watching this on a HD TV for example in wide screen battle, and the animation flashes during the first major battle sequence with its grainy dark style – it’s quite breathtaking to watch…and then you switch to a Lego style man narrating semi-humorlessly. It’s…unique.

No packaging was brought with this test disc.

The menu is set up as on the main menu screen we get shots of the film in a widescreen like format, below it we get the main options of Play Film, Scene Selection, Extras and set up, when you select one of them you get a film clip – plus in the Scene selection you can select from 8 scenes, whilst the selection of the extras are easy enough as is the selection of language. Standard but with a bit of a flair.

There are two extras on this release – the first isn’t a major thing, it’s the Japanese opening trailer, which basically showcases the credits of the director(Ghost In The Shell/Sky Crawlers/Kill Bill 1).

The second extra however is huge – an hour long of the making of Musashi, starting from the 18th March 2009, Tokyo Big Sight at the Tokyo International Anime Fair, where the debut of the film was conspired – we get various talks from people involved, ranging from – Mamoru Oshii (original screenplay writer), Shigeru Izumiya (theme song singer), Mizuho Nishikubo (director), Mitsuhisa Ishikawa (President of IG Productions) and Kazuya Kise(3d Animator, Illustrator) among others – Ishakawa talks about the production, researching the literature on Musashi, how it was written, etc before we get to parts of the recording, including bringing in Takeharu Kunimoto, a famous Samisen player so the rough drawings are timed together with a Samisen performance, we see him playing, then other instruments also recorded along with – then timed. It’s quite amazing to watch how they manage to incorporate the spirit of Musashi in this work at times.

Other stuff talked about included asking if period pieces are difficult, asked what has most trouble with, effects – adding characters, backgrounds, special effects, how it would be focused on sellable formats…there’s a lot going on and the special lasts for just under an hour, which includes group interviews with Mamoru Oshii and Shigeru Izumiya – Oshii talks about how this work is his first historical piece, how they used and changed the content, discussing the importance of the Book with the 5 Rings, how not just about swordfighting, and how they work around that they can’t confirm everything from the true story. Overall it’s a real in depth look at how the process is made, especially considering all the historical content they have to search through to keep people happy.

Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
Musashi is the story of Miyamoto Musashi, a legendary swordsman, artist, samurai, novelist and pioneer of the Sengoku period. His influence has been shown and showcased in various media, including film, manga and various books, so this attempt to documentary his life, especially in an animated format was quite a task. Fortunately a lot of research and work was done to give the man’s life justice, though you will either love or hate the way it’s set up.

It’s hard to review what is essential a documentary but the way it’s set up is definitely up for reviewing. The first thing we see is an animated sequence done in silent cinema style, very dark and grainy animation as April 13th 1612 flashes above – the date of his legendary duel with Sakaki Kojiro – whilst interloping with live action and talking about parts of his works. The initial segments discuss in this animated style the various myths and legends surrounding him…by what can only be described as a walking, talking lego figure named Kiichi Inuki, a 3D effect which seems closer to claymation in one respect, who discusses various facts of his life including ones no-one is sure about, as he walks around a virtual library. It’s definitely a love/hate relationship the way these talking parts are, as it’s very factual, but you do ask if it was necessary to set it up this way.

You can argue considering how serious the stories are, that they are using this way to add a bit of humour to the proceedings. It works to an extent, because it cuts up the tales which are told and shown in very graphic detail – but pure historians and people learning about Musashi will not be impressed. On the other hand, people just learning about him may feel this way to be a good way to get involved, and to get other people to learn as well.

It switches from colour to CGI effects several times, where we are shown how he was during one of his first battles at 17 years old, where he was part of the advance guard of Mitsunari Ishida, wanting to be a horseback commander up against Masanori Fukushima under Tokugawa Ieyasu. Forwards to Musashi at 54, discussing his battles and despite his reputation was always seen as someone on the lower orders, and leads to his legendary sword style which may have come from his obsession with horses which led to him developing a two sword style- the Hyōhō Niten Ichi-ryū.
What both strengths and maybe weakens it’s telling is it goes into how his style is developed – using details from knights of the west and how they used horses like in lancing and how it influ-enced Musashi’s style, along with the development of weapons – really interesting but not about the man directly, yet if you want to know the facts, you go through everything he may have thought – for me, this is a well thought documentary which goes through everything well – even if the presentation is a little goofy (almost RPG style battling at one point to explain their points…)
It leads to discussion against some of Musashi’s battle and rivals, such as Nanagashi Shishido one of Musashi’s main rivals, is shown in anime style, where discusses how he was the master of chain sickle – battle between the two which showcases his two sword style, it also discusses the Book of Five Rings – Musashi’s book of strategies, and how the name became associated with the Olympics. Can’t be interpreted fully, but says his wisdom – strategy, advice (no desire to live as a nobody), his lifetime dream to be a great man, craved success not for financial gain, turning down lucrative deals just to become a high rank – shows the insight of him. His battles with the Yoshiaka School, a lucrative group of swordsmen, and how he defeats them in some of the most realistic and bloody animation I’ve seen in a long time. Discussion about his battle with Kojiro as well is inevitable, as it is told that Musashi never really wanted to speak about it. The Russian/Japanese war is also discussed and how Musashi’s style of bushido influenced the Japanese soldiers over bloody and Barbary.

It’s definitely a real effective way to introduce someone who is only vaguely familiar of his legend(like myself) whilst discuss things that have also puzzled historians. It’s extremely informative and very entertaining – both as a documentary and also a narrative, though you may disagree in the way it’s set up in the almost cartoony South Park/Wallace & Gromit hybrid way of animation. Questions like why he never brought up his battle with Kojiro are explained in a way that you find yourself agreeing with (in this case, that one on one battles don’t showcase his skill as a strategist, which is preferred to see himself as), and whilst the 3D animation features may not be your cup of tea, the excellent animated sequences during the battles will definitely blow you away. Adding in detailed research on how the man was influenced, from his style to his weapons, gives us a very unique and interesting look on the man known as Musashi.

In Summary:
Musashi is not really recommended for anyone who doesn’t have an interest in Japanese history, it’s not an anime of the typical sense of the word. It is an animated documentary, managing to fuse animation, both hand drawn and CGI, with live action and 3D effects, to tell the best story of one of Japan’s true legends. If you have an inkling about the man or Japanese history in general, check this out. Depending, you may love or hate the way it’s set up with the documentation, but the information is top notch, the battle sequences are excellent and the telling of the story shows how much research was done for this release. Not a conventional release for anime fans, but a highly recommended one for historical fans.

Japanese 5.1 Language, English 5.1 Language, English Subtitles, Japanese Original Trailers, Making Of Musashi

Content Grade: B+
Audio Grade: A
Video Grade: A
Packaging Grade: N/A
Menu Grade: B +
Extras Grade: B +

Released By: Manga Entertainment UK
Release Date: July 4th, 2011
MSRP: £12.99
Running Time: 117 minutes
Video Encoding: 480p MPEG-2
Aspect Ratio: 16:9 Anamorphic Widescreen

Review Equipment:
Playstation3, Sony Bravia 32 Inc EX4 Television, Aiwa 2 Way Twin Duct Bass Reflex Speaker System.

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