Tuesday, April 29
Set in Period of Warring States of Japan, this is a tale of 3 foreigners in Land of Rising Sun. An entourage of Ming Dynasty vassals led by sinister Lord Byakoryu was in a maritime province of Japan seeking for a boy that touted to have blood that can prolong the Ming Emperor's life. They spare no expense for ritual and wrecking the province with their relentless search after suitable bribing of local daimyo to secure his cooperation. The child in question, Kotarou, was on the run and became very distrustful of people meet a vagabond ronin who called himself a "Man with No Name" or Nanashi, a salute to a certain famous Clint Eastwood movie, "A Fistful of Dollars". After a brief skirmish where the ronin skillfully dispatched few assailants without drawing his purposely tied down blade, the story is set. Throw in a little court intrigue, unrealized loves, tragic destinies and sheer bad-asses kicking each other's butt, the story uses these cliches to perfection.
A symbolic mantis, setting the mood of the movie
Story wise is pretty cliche but what makes up for it is fluid animation and good characterization, especially the dog, Tobimaru. This is the movie where cliche actually works when it is executed properly. From tortured cynical ronin, Nanashi to bloodthirsty lone wolf like persona of Lord Lan Rou, the storyteller succeeded in showing the story without resorting of explaining plot to the audience. Which is good, since movie suppose to show story, not narrate them endlessly. Directed by Mashiro Ando (End of Evangelion, Pani Poni Dash)and animated by Studio Bones ( Rahxephon, Darker than Black, Wolf's Rain) the movie has been in works since 2003.
A cold blue eyes of Lord Lan Rou
Steely glare of determined Nanashi
Oh yes, this is where the movie shines. Each of the fights were skillfully done and there is no repeat animations used in the movie. The surrounding was bleak, in tune with the movie overall theme on fraility of human life under stresses of destiny. The action was fluid and furious, the scenes where antagonist, Lord Lan Rou showing his Chinese sword fighting was awe-inspiring for quality of animation.
Studio Bones really showed why they are in the business with this movie.
The main theme was grand and epic like feel but the rest of soundtrack do not stand out that much in my opinion. In fact the movie's animation and character seem to overwhelm the soundtrack and there is nothing much to shout about really.
In this department, nothing really stands out except the main leitmotif of the movie.
This movie moves me to tears of joy for sheer beauty of animation and able to press emotional switches in me especially scenes of bonding between Kotarou and Nanashi while they fighting off skillful warriors of Ming Dynasty. The dog, Tobimaru is the bridge between a sullen boy and tortured sword fighter which is a brilliant idea in my opinion. On the other side, the bored expression Lord Lan Rou underscores his pain that he is unable to test his sword skill against a worthy opponent. Hence it is perfectly understandable that he is very excited and alive when he met Nanashi, a meeting between 2 alpha lone "wolves" in wilderness of Japan. Lord Lan Rou is destructive force of nature and he has his own twist if audience can figure it out.
Story wise is not very different from much chambara movies but what makes it up as I said earlier is the characterization. It is joy to see the characters realistic development and catharsis with their personal ambition or nightmare in the movie. The movie also tried to portrayed the Ming warriors as tight knit, elite force which succeeded in some ways. Another big plus point for me here is the relatively realistic duels, no fireballs/hadouken or some stupidly ridiculously inhuman ability in fighting. Fast, brutal and unapologetic, I like it that way very much. A judicious play on irony of fates is done well here and it gives the character more colour in the largely merciless narration of the movie especially the title itself which emphasizes on word "stranger" as 3 principal players in the movie are strangers in their own way. The xenophobic of Japanese towards these characters also shown here.
Overall, this is a not to be missed movie for anime fans of chambara genre.