Bushido Man

Reviewed By Jay Seaver
Posted 08/29/13 14:55:13

"A veritable smorgasbord of nice action."
4 stars (Worth A Look)

SCREENED AT THE 2013 FANTASIA INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL: I didn't see "Bushido Man" quite at the midway point of the festival, but far enough in that it was clear some things were missing: Martial arts seemed to be in relatively short supply, for instance, as were the low-budget but joyously insane action/horror/exploitation movies from Japan. "Bushido Man" isn't the only thing filling either category, but I was plenty glad it was there, and also happy that it is enough fun to do more than fill a slot.

As it opens, martial-artist Toramaru (Mitsuki Koga) is returning to his master Gensai (Yoshiyuki Yamaguchi) reporting that he has, as instructed, gone out in the world to challenge a half-dozen martial-arts masters: Yuan Jian (Kensuke Sonomura), the Kobe kung-fu master; Mokunen (Naohiro Kawamoto), the stick-fighter, in Kyoto; Rinryu (Masaki Suzumura), who wields nunchucks in Okinawa; blind Hokkaido samurai Muso (Kazuki Tsujimoto); yakuza knife artist Eiji Mimoto (Masanori Mimoto); and gun-toting Billy Shimabukuro (Kentaro Shimazu), who (like Eiji) hails from Osaka. As he relates these confrontations, he connects them to the food he and his opponents ate to prepare, as this detail naturally reflects their fighting styles.

Folks for whom one action movie is much like any other may not find themselves overly excited by that description of Toramaru's itinerary, but enthusiasts of the genre will note that it includes six very different types of combat. The food, in a way, is something of a hook to get the audience thinking about different flavors of action, so that when they see what director Takanori Tsujimoto and fight choreographer Kensuke Sonomura have cooked up, they'll appreciate not just how good each fight is, but how individual they are, with a little something for everyone.

And they are pretty good action sequences, too - Mitsuki Koga looks good in a variety of styles, and his opponents in each one are well-chosen. Not every fight is necessarily a classic, but they are all fast-moving and done mostly without stunt doubles. Tsujimoto and Kensuke make the action quite clear, and throw in extra fights beyond the six stops Toramaru plans to make.

Another fun aspect of the film's structure as a sort of action-movie sampler is that Tsujimoto seems to be having a lot of fun with genre, too. In some ways, Bushido Man exists outside of it, stepping back and commenting (sometimes rather directly) on the sometimes silly conventions of the various sort of movies it references. But a great deal of its charm is the way that it also seems to exist in all genres at once: While it's initially a bit jarring to see that the film takes place in something resembling the present day rather than the samurai age, it slips in and out of different environments easily, so that when Osaka is described as an outlaw city where knife and gun laws have been repealed, or something science-fictional shows up in a corner of the sceen, it's no big deal. Heck, fans of Tsujimoto's Hard Revenge Milly films might even squeal when their star Miki Mizuno pops up.

The filmmakers have a little extra self-indulgent fun at that point, and honestly get quite goofy and self-referential in the last act - do not bail when the credits first start running. Those moments show just how independent and low-budget a feature this is: Tsujimoto, Koga, and Kensuke shot the first action scene with just themselves and a cameraman and used the resulting footage to find money to shoot the rest whenever enough people were available. The rest of the execution does not always live up to the action, and the story walks the line between charmingly goofy and just plain silly.

Supposedly, Tsujimoto has a big-budgeted feature under development, which is nice to hear. As cool as it is to watch him exceed expectations and deliver something impressive with relatively few resources, he's got the skills to do neat things with the expensive toys. Maybe the results won't be as individual or quirky as "Bushido Man", but that just goes to show that there are a lot of ways to make action movies fun.

© Copyright HBS Entertainment, Inc.