The word “Bushido” is a Japanese term referring to the way of the samurai, a set of moral values stressing things like frugality, loyalty, mastery of martial arts, and honor unto death. Generally, though, nobody talks about, certainly in fiction, the frugality aspect of a samurai’s life, only moderately touches on loyalty, and merely ends with being honorable until you die. Yes, most people only want to see samurai get all kinds of martial-arty on people’s collective asses. There is indeed very little besides fighting in Takanori Tsujimoto’s new film Bushido Man, but oh, what fighting it is. Sometimes you just want to see a guy fight a bunch of other people for 88 minutes straight. There’s nothing wrong with that.
Set in the contemporary, and even near-future, world of Japan, Bushido Man is the story of a wandering learner who has been sent by his master to best seven different masters of varying styles of fighting in his attempt to be the all-around master of Mugen-ga-ryu, or mixed martial arts. Whilst most of the film is just these elaborate fight sequences, each has its own style and pace and keeps the audience interested. A great deal of humor is also employed while this wanderer relives his year-long sojourn to his mustachioed master.
The film stars Mitsuki Koga as Toramaru, the man seeking enlightenment through martial arts. In a Game of Death fashion (but across the country of Japan instead of up a pagoda in China), Toramaru travels around searching for the masters who carrying the scrolls of the Bushido for each of their respective fighting styles and disciplines. He regales his master Gensai (Yoshiyuki Yamaguchi) of his various encounters, always beginning with a detailed account of what food he ate in that region or city, much to his growing hunger. Each place results in a different fight with a different combatant. These include, a Kung Fu master, a quarterstaff master, a blind swordsman, a nunchaku “master,” a hapless yakuza hitman, a gun master who wears cowboy garb, and a mysterious woman named M who wields arm-mounted guns that fire when she punches. They’re pretty cool.
Tsujimoto tells us that time has passed by changing Toramaru’s appearance in each segment. This is an important thing to know; his looks change so drastically at times that I had trouble realizing it was the same guy. Length of hair, beard, and clothing changes aplenty here. While the masters are all written to be cool and unique, two stand out above the rest. First, Kazuki Tsujimoto as Muso, the blind swordsman. While this is not an entirely new idea, nor is the idea of having someone exemplary in something their disability would make lead you to believe they wouldn’t be, the character of Muso is the first to give Toramaru a lesson beyond just being physically bested. Muso teaches him that “seeing” is based on more than simply sight. It’s a fantastic sequence and the swordplay is exciting.
The second master of note is Masanori Mimoto as Eiji, the Yakuza. We get a bit of backstory to his character, his brother having been slain in a gang war some years earlier, and he’s also the only one who lives in a different kind of place, a bombed out and gas-filled Yokohama, Japan’s second largest city. Eiji has very little to lose from a fight with Toramaru and that makes him the most dangerous. He’s also super cool, wearing the traditional (in movies anyway; how else would I know?) yakuza garb of a black suit and white shirt, and he lights up a cigarette as the fight begins. He’s the only one you sort of wish was in it more, or that we could see a whole movie based on him.
The movie goes along at a fine enough pace and the fight choreography (by Kensuke Sonomura, who also played the Kung Fu master at the beginning of the film) is worthy of a lot of praise. It’s really fantastic, especially given how many weapons are at play. There’s a heightened, slightly comical reality through a lot of the proceedings as well which generally works quite well. However, toward the last act of the film, it becomes especially silly and it started to lose me a bit. I’m fine with a lot of over-the-top things in a martial arts movie like this, but when someone can literally punch someone in the face and it turns their head 180 degrees AND that person is still alive enough to talk, I think it’s gone a bit far.
All in all, Bushido Man is a fun, well-put-together fighting movie that maybe goes a little bit off the rails toward the end. The Blu-ray contains only one special feature which is an 11 minute featurette which is basically a video diary of some of the principles’ trip to Montreal for Fantasia Fest. I’d definitely say give it a rent if you like sort of mindless action fun, but buy only if you’re a devoted fanatic.