What They Say:
Hamaji, a young huntress from the mountains, stumbles into the middle of a shogun’s vendetta against a group of human and dog hybrids – the Fuse. Rumors of Fuse murdering innocent people in the bustling city of Edo have sparked a bounty for their heads. Hamaji joins the hunt for this dangerous quarry along with her brother, but after accidentally befriending one of them, Hamaji is torn between two worlds: her life as a self-reliant huntress, and the young woman her new friend has helped her to uncover.
A movie sadly only in Japanese but it does have both 5.1 and 2.0 options, not surprisingly I went with the 5.1 option and the audio is superb – no adjustment needed from my original settings (I had to actually lower it down a little), it flows incredibly well with both background music, insert songs, foley and dialogue with no issues with it being out of sync and working to full effect (one minor issue was in the ending song, the subtitles for the song were never done fully though the translations were there, a minor thing but is noticeable) and with the traditional Japanese music and instruments being used in combination with more modern era instruments/music, it is a fantastic hybrid brought to you on the small screen.
Set in the standard PAL format (anamorphic), done in 16:9 – 1.78:1 on a full screen format, the movie has a much more standard, Ghibli style animation which is far more animated than your traditional anime series in full screen format – this makes the movie stand out even more though in today’s market (especially as it isn’t a Ghibli production) There are elements of computerized animation for sure (like the water effects) but that actually enhanced the more familiar style of animation, making it one of my favourite movies in the past few years as just sheer eye candy. The details of the Edo style buildings, the history – there are elements that remind me of Princess Mononoke, Nausicaa and Spirited Away through this in terms of the animation and style used – it is definitely one that works perfectly on HD.
There was no packaging for this test release.
The menu is pretty standard – the title screen is various shots of the movie, whilst the menu screen has the sign of Fuse: Memoirs of the Hunter Girl on the bottom left-hand side, and the selections of Play, Scenes, Audio, Extras and Credits scrolling to the right. All are easily selectable from the main menu with no switching to another screen – the scenes are similar to most movie releases of selection of 10 scenes, audio can select from 2.0 or 5.1 (Japanese only) – all can be chosen from the popup menu in-show as well at the same speed, nothing hugely impressive and is quite standard, but accessible nonetheless.
For the test release, the only extras are in show – which is the Japanese teaser, some TV spots for the movie, and the credits of the release. However, if you purchase the special edition, it includes collector’s packaging and a 36-page art book.
Fuse is a movie I knew nothing about going into it, aside from the fact it was based on a novel called Hakkenden, a story/saga in the 19th century about 8 warriors descending from a princess and a dog which have birthmarks having the peony marks which are also in the movie – however the novel focuses on them having warrior adventures, here they are the apparent troublemakers for the lord. I say apparent because it is quite clear things aren’t quite as black or white as it appears. This movie is something I knew little of, and came out of it a real masterpiece which I craved more especially the tease right at the end. A combination of action, a bit of comedy, romance and some great characters made this a pure delight.
The story centers around a hunter girl named Hamaji. Hamaji has spent her entire life in the mountains, living off the land. She receives a letter from her brother, asking her to go to Edo to join him. Arriving at the city, Hamaji is confused by the noise and crowds, and ends up lost. She bumps into a silver-haired young man engaged in a scuffle with local ruffians. After scattering the thugs, the young man helps her find her brother’s house by the river. Her older brother, Dousetsu, is a wannabe samurai with a plan. In Edo, there are 8 creatures known as fuse that are part-human and part-wolf. The government is offering a substantial bounty for the head of a fuse; Dousetsu wants to take advantage of this to get rich and become an officer. So Hamaji and Dousetsu set out to hunt down a fuse in the bustling city of Edo.
Did I mention the young man who helped Hamaji is clearly a Fuse, ate the soul of someone who tried to kill him and also took the eye of one of the bounty hunters yet spares Hamaji which leads to a really interesting relationship? Also, the Lord Iesada is clearly insane?
The movie really takes a really good time to develop and manages it really well considering it is just under 2 hours. You briefly see that Hamaji, our heroine is a tough girl but is said in olden times Edo (today would be Tokyo) so perhaps not taken as seriously. The funny thing is that she is quite tomboyish so a lot of people confuse her for a guy (which leads to one of the plots later) but after her altercation with the Fuse (named Shino) so when she meets up with her brother and his friends and love interest Funamushi, she certainly isn’t say like a San from Princess Mononoke. Whilst she can’t read, she is quite social despite not being used to the hubbub of Edo and gets along with everyone, even though her brother is a bit of a goof. The two team together to become Fuse hunters, which leads to the loose adaptation of the original Hakkenden story, here it is said about the peony marks of the Fuse, and 6 of them have been killed with 2 remaining – knowing that they have fangs and a beast smell combined with Hamaji’s hunter instincts, they have an ace in the hole, though Dousetsu isn’t aware of Hamaji meets with Shino…
This leads to an interesting segment where they are searching for Fuse – as mentioned, Hamaji is quite tomboyish so Dousetsu brings her to the red light district disguised as a boy, partly for searching and partly because…well Dousetsu is a bit of a pervert (though surprisingly remains faithful to Funamushi, he’s definitely of the look but not touch variety though a hilarious sequence when he is dragged to somewhere and it’s quite an old woman leads to mass escape – combined with Hamaji getting very flustered with the female prostitutes around her there is some surprisingly decent comedy for what is quite a serious film) leads her to encountering Shino again. A long term theme of this movie is both cause + affect, and connection – there is a mysterious narrator throughout the film (which makes sense once a certain character is properly introduced) which talks about how connection is made, and the connection between hunter girl and animal hybrid very eerily matches something that is showcased later on in the film. This also gives Shino a lot more humanity as he clearly is holding back trying to eat Hamaji’s soul/essence – and takes her to a different part of town where the contrasts are obvious. On the good side, he buys her a kimono set, and shows that properly dressed; Hamaji is a very pretty young lady. He also showcases the bad side, where people have died here due to rulings and suffering, which combines with shots of the Lord, who is after the Fuse for some other reason outside of the killings they cause. It is strange that the Fuse are killers, yet throughout the film they are portrayed more sympathetic than most of the human characters, though the reason does become more clearer in the later half…
It leads to them separating and returning to Dousetsu, who discover the 7th Fuse is in fact a high class call girl named Itezuru, leading to a good action series and a brief look into what the Fuse is when Hamaji manages to shoot her, and Itezuru gives her a letter to find someone named Shinbeh, noting that Hamaji is scared not because of the Fuse, but because of her being a woman, and this is a time to change things. Dousetsu delivers the final blow which gives them a reward (which Hamaji hilariously asks for installments as she doesn’t want to be rich off the back much to Dousetsu’s shock) and they get tickets to a kabuki theatre telling a rather familiar story…
But just before that, we get the other important character in the movie, a mysterious reporter person who seems to have been stalking Hamaji, and now her face is on several newsletters due to her role in the Fuse death. This is Meido, who is in fact the narrator of the movie as well (by the end of the film, she is writing about Hamaji’s adventures) – the two become fast friends though and join together for the kabuki performance…which has Shino has the main female. This is in fact, a telling of the Hakkenden story, and the true plot of the creation of Fuse. The character Shino plays is Princess Fuse, and when Princess Fuse’s country was invaded by hostile neighbours, her father issued a decree proclaiming that whosoever brought him the head of the enemy general would have his daughter’s hand in marriage. Surprisingly, Princess Fuse’s dog, Yatsufusa, gave the enemy general’s head to the king. Keeping his promise, the king allowed Yatsufusa to marry Fuse. The princess found herself pregnant with Yatsufusa’s child. The king was outraged, forcing Fuse to leave the castle and live in the forest with Yatsufusa. Her offspring was said to be the ancestor of the fuse.
So yes, there is some unusual repricursions from this story but it is the story of how the Fuse came to be, and that the Lord is a descendant of the king which has driven him insane in his quest to rid the Fuse. The Shinbeh that Itezuru told about was the original child of Princess Fuse who had passed on, which Shino tells Hamaji all this before trying to rid himself of her as the temptation of eating her soul is getting troubling. Intermixed with some other moments (Hamaji meets Meido’s grandfather, the original writer of the play/Hakkenden, Funamushi revealing she is pregnant with Dousetsu’s child), the final arc is Shino wishing to get revenge by killing the Lord, with Hamaji trying to meet with him before he tries to kill him (and himself) – with some moments from Dousetsu and his friends (Dousetsu showcasing he is actually quite skilled as a samurai – the hints that he is better than his nature appears to be are showcased throughout the film), it appears Shino is caught in a trip by the Lord, however Shino prevails yet doesn’t kill him as eating his soul would weaken him because of his instability and prejudice (reduces the Lord to a near baby like wreck) – the big moment is Hamaji does find him and saves him from killing himself, and with some very romantic hints there, it leads to a sad goodbye, but an ending that causes a 1 and a half year time skip where there is definite hope for the future for everyone…
This movie is top quality – the characters first of all, whilst based on a story is obviously adapted into a different setting where you aren’t sure who is the villains of the piece. The Fuse do kill humans to feed and probably have been doing so prior to Shino with 6 Fuse dead making them seemingly villain like, but then the story of their persecution combined with an instable lord also makes it human vs. animal mentality (hence a slight comparison to Princess Mononoke) – Hamaji seems to be the one truly good person throughout which makes her a very compelling heroine. She is tomboyish, but still a girl in a very male dominated society. Her upbringing was not the best and she had to hunt to survive, yet always seems to tear up when she does (the initial shot of her killing a wolf has her look sad as the wolf tears up) – the fight with Itezuru also proves that. She is clearly more skilled than most people, yet also has feelings of the heart as she wonders what is right – she can’t read yet is still intelligent in the ways of the world – her sense of smell, her marksmanship, her social skills, etc. She questions her morals, understands the consequences and wants to know more about Shino, yet the element of mystery and death surrounds him which she does worry about, but also seems to know that she is safe despite this. She is also a very likeable character – her scenes with Meido and her grandfather in particular are quite fun and bonding, as is the scene where she asks for the money in installments (whilst the Lord and Commissioner are not likeable, the head guard immediately likes her and is easily the most likeable character of the villains).
The way the clash of good vs. evil isn’t concrete is also well displayed. For example, a character near the beginning of the movie gets his eye slashed by Shino, yet Shino doesn’t kill him despite him trying to kill Shino. Later, the same character who you thought was just a one-off does return to take Shino, but learning that the government plan to shoot him as well just because of knowing about the Fuse makes him change sides – whilst he does get killed, he points Shino in the right direction to the Lord and sets the place on fire before he dies. Shino fights for this struggle as whilst he consumes souls to satisfy his hunger, the temptation of Hamaji’s soul he has to fight back which is a constant struggle for him because he clearly has a kinship with her – again, the theme of connection is rampant in the film.
The story within a story and how it is based on a novel also is smart and told well via the character of Meido. You don’t click on it until about two thirds of the movie that Meido is the narrator, and that she is documenting Hamaji’s tale. The end of the movie when she is suffering writers block and draws inspiration from a letter Hamaji gets really sets up for a sequel if it ever came to be – combined with the fact she is a very fun character yet has her own issues (her grandfather being a famous writer yet his eyesight is going – leads to a fun moment when Hamaji declares her unable to read is similar to his blindness – Meido is in shock for her insensitivity…and then her grandfather just laughs ^^) The kabuki scene with Shino cross-dressing scarily good gives the Fuse much more back-story leading how this is told being one of the smartest ways I’ve seen how a story within a story is told.
The only real negative thing about it is simply that it ends quite abruptly. The last five minutes are Hamaji and Shino reunited, and Shino basically leaving. Cut to a time skip where Funamushi has had the baby, the Lord seems a bit more stable, and the fact Shino has finally sent Hamaji a letter feels like whilst it could set up the future, it would have been nicer to have a proper farewell – would have made it more emotional.
Aside from that though, it is a wonderful told story. The adaption is obviously different yet they kept a lot of the signs (the peony marks, the creation of the Fuse are all from the original tale) and told it superbly. Hamaji is one of my favourite movie heroines’ now from all time – a tough girl with enough vulnerability yet not seen as weak (there was one damsel in distress moment where Shino saves her but that was pretty much it), the idea of both sides being either evil or good depending on the point of view makes it hard to root for a side, as Shino is very likeable but also has to kill to survive, whilst the human side has to avoid being killed but you learn of how the Fuse was shunned and created. Combined with a good side cast (Dousetsu in particular ranges from goofy, to sobbing, to serious, to badass), excellent animation and music (some nice insert songs and the ending song help out), this is a rare treat as in a non-Ghibli style movie which, whilst has influence from some of their works, is still its own thing of the historical period, captures it perfectly and just rolls with it. Fantastic.
Fuse: Memoirs of the Hunter Girl is not just a good movie, it is a great experience. Whilst adapted from a novel, it does its own thing without disrespecting the original material, sets the time period perfectly and brings in wonderful characters with shades of black and white as you wonder who to cheer for. The main lead, Hamaji, is wonderful and with the rest of the cast, ranging from the mysterious Shino to her conflicting older brother Dousetsu, it tells its tale in 110 minutes beautifully, working in the story within a story amazingly and connects all the dots in its short running time to a near masterpiece. Highly recommended.
Teasers, Trailers, Teaser Spots, Previous movie callback, Rebuild Of Evangelion 3:33 – Animation Shots and Creation.
Content Grade: A-
Audio Grade: A-
Video Grade: A
Packaging Grade: N/A
Menu Grade: B
Extras Grade: C-
Released By: Anime Limited
Release Date: March 7th, 2016
Running Time: 110 minutes
Playstation 4, Sony Bravia 32 Inc EX4 Television, Aiwa 2 Way Twin Duct Bass Reflex Speaker System.