The film's story centers on Musashi Miyamoto, one of the most famous swordsmen in Japanese history. He pioneered the Hyouhou Niten Ichi-ryuu style of two-sword fighting and wrote The Book of Five Rings, a book that has been compared to Sun Tzu's The Art of War for its insight on tactics and strategy.
Anime is a bit of a strange beast at times. Every fan knows how powerful and evocative a storytelling medium it can be, but there's more than one face to the animal that we know and love. Anime is not simply a tool to tell stories, no, it can also be a tool to educate, and shows like Yakitate Japan! and Moyashimon: Tales of Agriculture are examples of the attempts to combine entertainment and education (the former containing lessons on baking and making bread, while the latter is an introduction to microbiology).
But what happens when you take it one step further? Well, in the case
of Miyamoto Musashi: Souken ni Haseru Yume (The Dream of the Last Samurai - not to be confused with a subpar Tom Cruise movie), what we end up with is a historical documentary.
Originally penned by the renowned Oshii Mamoru and directed by his long term stalwart Nishikubo Mizuho, this anime is not your normal quasi-educational malarky but is an altogether different facet of the medium that hasn't really been seen since Gainax's Otaku no Video. Where The Dream of the Last Samurai differs though, is in its approach as, unlike practically any other anime out there, the movie is presented as a lecture.
Ostensibly, this movie is about the life of Miyamoto Musashi, one of Japan's greatest warriors, one of the finest swordsmen in history, and the author of the legendary treatise The Book of Five Rings. The material is presented straight forward manner, although there are some deviations of topic for clarification purposes or to raise points.
Now one of the problems that people may have with this anime is the inherent lack of a story as this is effectively a retelling of history instead. That said, the content of this "lecture" will be of interest to anyone who likes or studies Japanese history, war and militaria, bushido and samurai culture, or martial arts. The Dream of the Last Samurai may even be interesting to those who are simply fans of Oshii Mamoru as the movie is certainly reflective of his slightly incongruous analytical style.
Another issue that may put some people off this movie is the fact that Production I.G. have combined different styles of animation with some live action footage of historical places in Japan, and the overall effect can sometimes be disconcerting. The glimpses into Miyamoto Musashi's battles are sumptuously designed and animated (with suitably dark overtones), and this may cause some to be disappointed by the strangely cartoon-like 3D animation used for Professor Inukai Kiichi and his assistant (and comic relief), Miss Iori.
There's a certain strangeness to The Dream of the Last Samurai because of the visual approach that can be a little awkward at times, especially when the scene changes rapidly from live to animated. If you're is interested in the content though, then these small problems never really impact on one's enjoyment of the movie.
Unfortunately, the sound and music are nowhere near as good as they could be. Granted the acting is good and the effects are well chosen and choreographed, but the music is probably the strangest thing about the movie. Again, the mixture of styles is readily apparent, and the music alternates between classical music to old style Japanese music. The one thing that I did like is that at certain points the story of Miyamoto Musashi is told in a very traditional folk style which enhances the idea that one is looking at history rather than a story.
As far as characters are concerned there's little to say. Professor Inukai Kiichi is fairly intstructive but lacks anything that makes him stand out aside from his comedy value (which is pretty small). Likewise the professor's assistant Miss Iori is nothing more than a voiceless, well intentioned klutz who really isn't needed at all.
On the other hand, the opportunity to look at the life of one of Japan's most enigmatic historical figures and one of the greatest swordsmen in history is something doesn't come along too often. Miyamoto Musashi is portrayed very well through a combination of traditional storytelling, comparative fact, and modern animation. Granted he may not fall into the "traditional" character mould but given the nature of The Dream of the Last Samurai, this is to be expected.
So, will you enjoy it? In all honesty, unless you're a history buff or a fan of the topics I mentioned earlier, then there's a good chance you may not like this. The strange combination of animation, 3D and live action, together with the mixing of two very different musical styles can have a very odd effect on the viewer. In addition to this, the content of the show, and the manner in which it delivers its evidence, may not sit too well with those who simply want to be entertained.
On the other hand, I did enjoy The Dream of the Last Samurai because it talks about topics in which I have an interest.
Yes, Miyamoto Musashi - Souken ni Haseru Yume is a strange beast, but one can only wish that more such movies will make their presence felt in the industry through the coming years. It may be that anime is finally coming of age.
Miyamoto Musashi: Souken ni Haseru Yume is a 2009 Production I.G film based on the historical figure. For those of you who don't know who Miyamoto Musashi was, he was an expert swordsman and a Ronin from the late 1500s to the mid 1600s. He was highly regarded and even founded his own swordsmanship style. He also wrote The Book of Five Rings, which is still studied as an important tactical/philosophical piece. The bottom line is that this dude led an interesting life so there should be plenty for Production I.G to work with. Let's see how they did.
This is less a film
with a traditional story and more a historical documentary. It opens by talking about the fiction that's grown around the figure of Miyamoto Musashi and segues into the facts that are known about his life with some theories and conjecture about what he was likely thinking and when covering other topics that are more uncertain.
So, how is it as a documentary? Well, it is quite informative and I do like that it addresses the myths and how they came to be. I also appreciate that the documentary uses some slapstick humour between the narrator and his assistant as well as some animated action sequences portraying some of Miyamoto's most famous battles, in an effort to keep things entertaining. Admittedly, they are mostly pretty effective at it too. The biggest problem is that the film doesn't always stay on topic very well. There's a semi-long discussion about western knightly customs which eventually moves into talking about the Olympics and first world war and the only important point to it is to bring up some similarities between the western knights and Japanese bushi, or mounted samurai. The segment itself goes on about four times longer than it needs to to bring that up.
There aren't so much characters in this. You get quite a bit of conjecture about Miyamoto Musashi himself that tries to provide an explanation for why he acted as he did and what likely motivated and shaped him as a person. It's a lot of biographical stuff and a lot of it is pretty fascinating.
The artwork is a bit iffy, to be honest. There are drastically different styles employed throughout the documentary. Some of them are kind of lazy, some of them are weird and creative and may or may not be effective and the ones used for the action sequences use a more traditional action anime style with muted colours like you might see in a flashback for a more ordinary anime.
There's only one vocal performance in this, the narrator who talks throughout giving information and providing conjecture. His narration is mostly effective although they occasionally do odd things with it. For example, there are several cases where he sounds like he's trying to sing something, and doing it pretty badly. The music is pretty mediocre too. It's serviceable but not anything interesting or good.
There isn't any. I don't know what Miyamoto's love life was like, but the film doesn't talk about it.
Miyamoto Musashi: Souken ni Haseru Yume is a pretty solid documentary. It has a lot of good information and presents it in a pretty compelling way. It isn't anything great, though. It goes off topic for a bit and there are some questionable decisions in the artwork and the narration. If you want to learn more about Miyamoto Musashi as he actually was rather than the romanticised version you get in a lot of media, it's a good choice. My final rating is going to be a 7/10. With that we close this year's film festival week. Next Wednesday I'll look at Sunabouzu.
Musashi: The Dream of the Last Samurai is a difficult piece to score, namely because it's hard to decide whether to score it as an anime or as a documentary. My review will explain the discrepancies in a bit more detail, cutting a sharp contrast from my score, but for those simply looking for something enjoyable to watch to pass the time, I give it a seven.
It's quirky, stylistically unique, and manages to be (slightly) informative without being boring. If you just want to pass the time with an idle amusement, it meets the role if you can handle the quirk factor and occasional
divergences from the documentary's thesis (despite its brevity, there's an entire tangent on the history of equestrian warfare).
As a documentary. . . a three.
As a longtime fan of both Mamoru Oshii and the historical figure of Miyamoto Musashi, I couldn't help but wonder if this was meant as satire. Indeed, it bears none of the classic marks associated with Oshii; it actually bears marks quite contrary to what you'd expect from him. The quirky and light-hearted presentation is a polar contrast from his usual dark and grandiose style.
But, beyond stylistic directorial anomalies, what actually ruins this documentary, making it an utter disgrace to the personage it aims to (or claims to) homage, is the fact that it fails so horribly as a documentary. Despite the early claim that the viewer will be presented with a true look at Miyomoto Musashi, that peers through the legends and tall-tales that have sprung up over the centuries, historically documented events of great import in the life of Japan's most well-known swordsman are glossed over or ignored altogether. What is presented in the place of historic fact?
The documentary seeks to assail the viewer, repeatedly, with the completely groundless presupposition that Miyomoto Musashi was tortured and driven entirely by a burning ambition to attain rank and command in battle, and to become a "Great Man." The documentary even ends on this note. The reasonings for this theory (which would be acceptable if it was presented as a theory and not as a cold, hard assertion of uncontested fact) are vague and slight, relying on things so miniscule as Musashi's writing in the Gorin no Sho (his treatise on martial arts, and bible to modern practitioners of the budo) that small battles can be compared to large battles, and an insistence that his (evidently) preferred stance (contrary to his writings) was most effective against mounted opponents. . . evidently proof that Musashi harbored an obsession with horses and horse warriors.
The problem with this is that the documentary doesn't even tell us where it acquired this "preferred" stance in order to scrutinize its efficacy; whether it was taken from extant scrolls passed down in the Niten Ichi Ryu, (the school of swordsmanship Musashi founded) written generations after his death, or (most likely) from popular fiction, movies with fight choreography aimed at flashy visuals rather than historical accuracy.
It completely neglects to mention that Musashi preferred independence and freedom to the point that he even (tried to) refuse the honor of being brought into a daimyo's castle while dying, preferring to remain in the cave that he made his home in his last years, or that in the Dokkodo, his 21 precepts on the way of the warrior, he shunned personal ambition. In fact, Musashi: the Dream of the Last Samurai goes so far as to call him a hypocrite by insisting so profusely that he did not personally hold to his own teachings in heart. But then, despite taking vaguely based assumptions as fact, it does go so far as to question the authenticity of his writings altogether (if not directly).
Also, another grating factor: there is a point where it is stressed that the common belief that Musashi was a practitioner of zen meditation is completely false (despite some possible zen allusions in his personally documented fighting style), insisting that because Musashi's writing style is direct and unpoetic, he could not possibly have had any zen influence, because zen is associated with paradoxical koans. While it cannot be proven one way or the other whether Musashi was a zazen practitioner, this absurd logic just shows us that the writer knew as little about zen as he did about Miyamoto Musashi, as he doesn't bother mentioning that the application of the popular style now associated with zen wasn't applied to the transmission of Japanese swordsmanship ("your sword must be the water reflecting the moon while gazing at the mountain over a field filled with poppies on a clear winter night" nonsense) until a few generations later, after the actual need for swordplay had completely died out, making it more aesthetic than practical.
So, in conclusion, this so-called "documentary" neglects everything of import about Miyamoto Musashi, blatantly ignoring or glossing over a lifetime given to the "mastery of all things," stressing with utmost assertion that a man who traveled extensively, trained diligently, sculpted, painted, kept the personal company of high ranking geisha and fellow men of great repute, assisted in the architectural design of castle-towns, won over sixty duels and founded a sword school, being remembered centuries later as a "Great Man," was, in truth, just compensating for the fact he never got to fight on a horse.
If you are interested in Miyamoto Musashi, William Scott Wilson's The Lone Samurai: The Life of Miyamoto Musashi is probably the best English resource I've come across. Musashi: The Dream of The Last Samurai is the worst.
A word of warning: This movie is 95% documentary, 5% action. So if you expect an action-heavy movie, you will be sorely disappointed.
That having been said, the documentary is certainly a fresh perspective on Musashi. I'm not going to comment on how accurate it is, but it's certainly a different perspective than the one espoused by most fictional narratives on Musashi, as it tries very hard to integrate real historical background in an attempt to dispel the so-called "myths" surrounding the legendary swordsman, it explains (or tries to explain) Musashi's obsession with battles.
Now, let's delve into the real important stuff (the action scenes):
The art is very good, characters are well drawn and look like real men, not moeblobs. I would say the character drawings are at least equal to Shigurui in terms of quality.
Animation: Very fluid. The animation is very smooth and fluid and is easily some of the most fluid swordfighting I've seen in anime.
Choreography: Excellent. The movie actually provides examples of Musashi wielding his unconventional two-sword technique to devastating effect, how he uses one sword to parry and the other to cut, simultaneously. It's amazing.
The director of Ghost in the Shell hasn't directed an anime movie in eight years, but somehow Adult Swim has managed to coax him out of animation retirement for a "micro-series" next year. Let's take a look at his history as a director, and what we can expect from the return of a master.