"A man with arms which can kill people like puppets is not aware that he himself has already become a puppet." In this short hand-drawn silent animation, a wandering samurai learns this lesson firsthand.
Along his travels, the samurai comes across a straw dummy at the base of a tree, with a sword lodged in its body. Upon drawing it out, the samurai learns that the blade is imbued with magic, and immensely powerful. The power comes at a price, though, and wielding the blade begins to slowly drive the warrior mad. He now has a choice to make: remain himself, or sacrifice his sanity for ultimate power?
Muramasa is a short animation directed by Osamu Tezuka, proclaimed king of the anime/manga industry. It features a tale of a cursed blade, and how its new owner meets his inevitable doom. Produced just two years before Tezuka's untimely death, Muramasa is startling in the intensity of its narrative, art, and sound. It leaves a gash upon the brain; Muramasa will not be forgotten soon.
To give you a little history lesson if required, the animation is called Muramasa, as there once was a famous bladesmith called Sengo Muramasa. He was exceedingly proficient at his trade; however it was always said that he was a bit...
round the bend. And, to put it bluntly, psychotic. As such, over time a superstition grew over his swords; it was said that the use of a Muramasa sword would drive the wielder insane, that whoever wielded one would become prone to bloodlust; that one could not use a Muramasa sword without letting blood, even if this necessitated cutting oneself. This had base in real events, though mostly it was the constructed lies of an eager entertainment industry. As we can see here, the implementation of a cursed sword as a plot device is still just as useful as it was.
So, the story tells of a man who finds a sword inserted in a straw man (wara-ningyo). Upon receiving the sword, he tests the blade upon some straw men in the place of his sanctum. However, after an initial usage, he sees more straw men, and upon cutting these straw men, they turn into people. Thus the cursed nature of the sword; though it will develop into something more sinister as the narrative progress. His utter horror at having killed these people-cum-straw-sacks drives him insane; and through the rest of the anime we see his descent into fatalistic demise.
The animation of Muramasa, is mixed. There's few frames per second for characters and props, however environmental effects such as sunlight has been done excellently, and the background artwork is simply stunning. This beautiful background art has been facilitated by two people; Masami Saito, who worked with Tezuka on many other animations, and as of writing is busy doing some of the background art for Apollon no Sakimichi; and Kazushige Takatoo who is especially renowned for his art direction of Legend of the Galactic Heroes. And certainly the characters themselves are drawn excellently~ we can almost reach out and touch the oozing mania of our protagonist. So while Muramasa suffers from the technical drawbacks of using paper cutout animation~ that of static movement and little fluidity~ Muramasa performs exceedingly well, and indeed looks beautiful, if sorrowful.
Muramasa is presented as a film without dialogue. There is the sound of birds, the cut of swords, so it's not really a silent film. Tezuka has perfected this form, and from such early works of his as Tale of a Street Corner from 1962, we can see how he has progressed in direction of such works (magnificently). While there is diegetic sound to an extent, there is also a very distinctive soundtrack. This soundtrack is mainly the device by which we the audience become acculturated to the folk story theme of the Muramasa legend that runs through the anime. Our ears are wassailed by traditional Japanese instruments, such as the Fue, or Japanese Whistle, played by Yuho Tosho. It's an effective performance, and it gave me a chill down my back I must admit.
Overall Muramasa is a stridently evocative animation; creating a deep sense of disturbance at the insanity on display, and the fateful evil of the sword. Mesmerised and aghast we watch the inevitable demise of our protagonist. It's a powerful work that's visible evidence of Tezuka's mastery.
Welcome Lovely fans to the second review of horror anime month. Today we're looking at a short offering from the legendary Tekuza Osamu. You may know him as the creator of Astro Boy, Black Jack and many others. Today's selection is a rather odd choice for him. A lot of his works are lighter-hearted action series. A horror film is pretty atypical. Let's take a look at Muramasa and find out what he did with it.
The plot is really basic, it would have to be given that Muramasa is all of nine minutes long. A wandering warrior finds a sword stuck inside a straw dummy.
He takes it along with its scabbard. He uses it in practice and finds that it's incredibly sharp but then things start to go wrong and he begins losing his mind. That's as far as I'm going to take the description. Now, the plot is simple but it's actually really well done. Especially when you factor in the time constraints. The inner struggle that the warrior goes through is portrayed poignantly and, although events move quickly, they never feel rushed. I will say, however, that it's not scary. The struggle is poignant, yes, but that doesn't make it frightening in any way. Psychological, yes. Horror, no.
The characters aren't as interesting. The one character you get is the warrior and you know virtually nothing about him. Since the story is all about the struggle there's very little nuance to him. Not that I can really blame them since, again, it's all of nine minutes long.
The art... Well, the images themselves look almost like Watercolour paintings. Which does look really good, mostly. There are some cases where the expressions just look really bizarre. The animation, however, is really slow and choppy. There are also several scenes that get repeated. I remind you, this anime is nine minutes long. Is there really an excuse for being lazy with the artwork?
There is no voice acting. Which actually works really well in this. The story is told without any dialogue and that helps heighten the mood, I think. As for the music, it's a little boring. Even with the short length there's very little variation and it doesn't change to suit the mood so the anime might just be better if it's watched in total silence.
The yuri factor is a 1/10. There's no yuri in this, although you probably figured that out already.
My final rating for Muramasa is a 7/10. It's a good little piece with some power behind it. The biggest issues are the choppy animation and lackluster music, but I'd still suggest checking it out. It is well worth the nine minutes.
Muramasa is, in my opinion, an anime which is underrated and certainly requires reexamination. While it might not have stood out for some reason or the other, to me (a person who finds himself appreciating and has recommended this anime alongside Shigurui) it certainly holds strong and for some interesting reasons.
As a story, its actually bare boned - the synopsis itself is a bit of a spoiler on its own, hence watch it without actually reading what the anime's story is (or blackout as soon as you start seeing it). In itself, the story was in my opinion, something which could be considered straight from
Japanese folklore and certainly from the samurai age. It has all the aspects covered in that respect.
What makes this anime standout is its use of art, sound and character. Even if the art is very low-budget and lacks the fluidity expected of anime from the eighties (Akira, for instance), this anime delivers on the grounds that the characters - without having a single dialogue - represent their emotions and moods through well drawn features. Interestingly, there is no blood which is actually shown in this anime - and the way it handles the reason for why it doesn't show blood is unique and actually made sense to me. Combining the art with a slow, brooding, Japanese centric sound that is haunting, stirring and worthy of a cringe on the back, both the art and the sound bring out the character's dilemma as the story progresses. In fact, without one dialogue, we have all aspects of the tale - the beginning, the protagonist's struggle, the climax, and the conclusion - all covered, in record time, and with a conclusive resonance that lasts even after the anime has ended. And the art and sound give this a high rewatch value, for the reason that its art is quite good, if not well animated.
Muramasa is an 80s classic short film which is underrated - especially to those who have a liking for Shigurui, this is certainly a phenomenal short film which carries itself really well.