Tuesday, 31 March 2009

Belfast Film Festival Day 4 :: Sword Of The Stranger

After 3 nights in a row of a tentative mix of innovative, quirky, beautiful, mind bending live action movies it was time for the anime portion of the festival, having arrived early and downed two glasses of Shiraz and a packet of wine gums it was the perfect mix for sitting down to watch...

Sword Of The Stranger

I'm a huge fan of animation from Disney to Ghibli, 2D to (most of the time) 3D all the way from Mickey Mouse to Bugs Bunny. I've grown up with these kind of characters and you should have too. And if you haven't, then I feel sorry for you, and your lack of soul. For the very few not in the know anime is a term given to the Japanese animation that usually involves huge robots, epic sequences, reality f**king plots and colourful original characters. That is what usually happens, however for my latest review, Sword Of The Stranger that's not entirely the case, and to be honest the story benefits from it significantly. This is the début feature from BONES studio, famous in the anime world for giving the demographic the Cowboy Bebop and Full Metal Alchemist movies, released nearly two years ago in Japan, Sword Of The Stranger marked their first original film directed by début director Masahiro Andō (who was apparently meant to be present within the audience during the screening but unfortunately was unable to attend. Bugger)

Hunted by the Ming from China, young Kotaro and his dog meet a nameless, mysterious samurai (Eastwood reference? Probably not but who knows...) who is haunted constantly by memories of his past which has lead him to avoid drawing his sword ever again. Among the Ming is a fearsome Western fighter named Raro (yup the name is about as Western as they come I know...) whose only desire is to find a worthy opponent. When both groups clash with a Sengoku-era feudal lord a proud general, and monks torn between faith and survival, the reason behind the Ming's pursuit tests the bond between Kotaro and our nameless hero. The film's plot was actually relatively straight forward compared to past anime films I have seen such as Akira, Howl's Moving Castle and hell, even the first Pokemon movie, with a lot of Hollywood-esque action sequences thrown into the mix which should appeal to all mainstream casual movie goers as well as the die hard purists. One aspect of the film's plot I really enjoyed was the tension and anticipation the creators built up, in the final act of the story, to when the nameless warrior used his sword for the first time, which was emotionally charged and extremely violent. However due to the relatively straightforward take of the story there was unfortunately nothing on offer in the tale that was new or original that I hadn't already seen in past films be it live action or animated involving samurai and feudal Asia. Also there was so much to the movie that was unexplored, giving absolutely no insight at all into why the young child was so special, nor was it ever explained what that green *can't think of a good word other than* thing was that was handed to him in the opening sequence and in which he bargains with the nameless hero to be his bodyguard and guide to his destination.

Despite these slightly negative points, I found the film to be captivating from beginning to end and definitely a film I would like to watch again in the future. The stand out character for me was the movie's main protagonist, the man with no name, who was definitely given the most development and time to shine on screen and with this critic being a sucker for a good hero/redemption story loved every single minute of it, with the highlight being the film's finale with the assault on the temple (which would seriously not be out of place in the epic Ghibli feature, Princess Mononoke) and the sword fight between him and the villain Raro, marking one of the best fight sequences I have seen in an animation feature for quite some time. Onto the animation itself which was (as expected) epic and to a standard that usually puts a lot of studios in America to shame, however there was no need at all for the 3D additions that were sparsely placed through the movie, likewise the score was emotionally charged orchestral music that was been present time and time again in these kind of films invoking (as mentioned already) a very Princess Mononoke feel to it.

To conclude, Sword Of The Stranger won't offer the die hard anime fans anything they haven't already seen before in terms of plot or animation however what it does offer to them as well as casual audiences, is 100 minutes of quality characters, huge action pieces and most importantly an immense amount of fun.


See this if you liked...
Seventh Samurai, Princess Mononoke etc

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