From the description of Bushido Man it might be difficult to know exactly what kind of movie to expect. In my own mind, it might have been a more artistic, darkly humorous film – a sort of Hannibal meets Kurosawa. What it actually turned out to be is a deeply campy homage to the martial arts genre – more of an impromptu showcase of martial arts set pieces held together by an incredibly thin and absurd premise.
Student of the mixed martial arts Toramaru (Mitsuki Koga) returns to his master Gensai (Yoshiyuki Yamaguchi in an grotesque false mustache) after a year roaming the countryside, challenging various other masters to fights and collecting their ancient teaching scrolls. Before each fight, Toramaru eats the traditional cuisine of his opponent in order to better understand them. These eating scenes are strangely out of keeping with the general film style of the rest of the movie. They are choppy, grainy, and poorly composed, more guerrilla style than the otherwise beautiful and stylish cinematography comprising the rest of the movie. There is also a constant tonal shift from the subdued seriousness of something like Kung Fu to the patently ridiculous, wacky, and over-the-top. Toramaru relates his meals and the subsequent battle to his master, presenting the corresponding scroll after each tale of conquest. It is towards the end of these where the plot takes a turn for the weirder.
While the movie looks great, the martial arts are fun and impressive, and the tone delightfully silly, at a mere eighty-eight minutes long the movie feels endlessly tedious after the first few fight sequences. This is likely due to the lack of finesse inherent in the improvisational nature of the scripting – the director, on a tight schedule and a limited budget, opted to put the movie together as he went along – and the incredibly loose narrative structure. That being said, the actors are exceedingly skilled martial artists and compelling performers, the cinematography ranges from functional to striking and stylish, and the director actually makes ingenious use of the low budget. Needless to say, I had mixed feelings about the whole undertaking.
The Shout!Factory Blu-ray presents the best of the cinematography in striking detail and color, really bringing out the beauty and character of each unique setting. Due to the limited budget, most of the fights are shot on location in public spaces – woodland settings, rocky streams, and deserted beaches – but the skilled cinematography combined with the Blu-ray quality brings out every nuance of sunlight, every ripple of water, and every blur of motion with perfect clarity. This also makes the fight scenes a special joy, as you can see every skilled and graceful movement in thrilling detail.
The special features on the disc consists of one making-of featurette, which is oddly structured and not terribly interesting. Less a making-of than a watching-of, the featurette documents the writer/director and actors as they attend the FantAsia Film Festival premiere of Bushido Man. Watching them arrive at the Montreal airport is singularly unthrilling, but watching Mitsuki Koga and Kensuke Sonomura practice their martial arts routine in their hotel room was kind of cool. Other than that, there is an interview with the three of them where they talk about the process of making the film, the low budget, premiering at FantAsia, and working with unfamiliar martial arts specialties. Also, it may be my particular copy of the film, but the subtitles for the featurette were completely out of sync.