Review of Musashi: The Dream of the Last Samurai (2009)

Moving picture, 72 minutes

Oshii Mamoru (writer).

The narrator, a fictional scholar, sets out to correct certain falsehoods about the famous Miyamoto Musashi. The picture he paints is of Musashi as a flawed Renaissance man, i.e. a rationalist of many interests. After losing a friend while on foot at the battle of Sekigahara, Miyamoto supposedly spent the rest of his life ambivalently detesting and dreaming of being remembered as a military commander on horseback. Against this wish, he is remembered primarily as a duelist. He often fought with a club.

According to Oshii, Miyamoto’s most famous technique—that of fighting with two swords—was something he developed as an adaptation to the fact that his opponents used a two-handed grip and struck from above when on foot, leaving them unprotected against strikes from below. Miyamoto had slightly superior reach with a long sword in one hand and supposedly exploited the moment of weakness when his opponent’s arms were both raised. Oshii postulates that he was able to do this because his wish to fight from horseback drove him to move fluidly (walking) and practice striking from below, both results of visualizing mounted combat. The expression used is the modern, quasi-English phrase image training.

Animated documentary. Primarily a rambling lecture on history and historiography, written by Oshii and animated at Production IG. Battles look cel animated, the rest is deliberately crude 2D and 3D CGI.

The detour concerning European Knights and the fabrication of the 20th-century version of bushidō are particularly interesting, but the general reliability is limited. For instance, WW1 tanks were not developed to sustain chivalrous ideals. They were seen as competition: British Field Marshal Haig, a horse cavalryman, resisted rather than drove tank development, clinging to traditional cavalry doctrine.

Oshii’s choice of form is a mere novelty and sometimes obscures the explanations, but its use here seems more sincere (i.e. less of a joke) than the “superlivemation” of Tachigui (2006).

moving picture non-fiction animation Japanese production