Student Critic Dalia Al-Dujaili reviews
(Bernard Rose, Japan,/UK, 2019)
“You might need that in a barbaric land like America, not here”, utters a Japanese feudal lord staring down the barrel of an American gun ironically named ‘the peacemaker’. But as the film unfolds, he realises the language of violence is universal.
Bernard Rose writes and directs the Japanese historical drama Samurai Marathon, adapted from Akihiro Dobashi’s 2014 novel. The film maps the origins of the ‘Ansei Tooashi’ race which is still held in Japan. Although the historical accuracy should be taken with a pinch of salt, Rose successfully melds humour and action against the lush backdrop of 1800s Japan, albeit ruined at times by his proclivity for horror which mars beautiful scenes of political prowess and stunning exhibitions of Japanese heritage through gimmicky bloodshed and low-budget gore.
Facing the threat of American colonial efforts to invade Japan, Itakura (Hiroki Hasegawa) sets his samurai soldiers on an arduous race to prepare them for invasion. But among the troops lurks a ninja spy, our protagonist Jinnai (Takeru Satoh) who makes a fatal error in communications with the Edo shogunate and must win the race against time to prevent major onslaught and a breakdown in alliances. This high energy showcase leaves you feeling short of breath.
Rose introduces a Shakespearean cast of characters, from the arrogant Heikurou (Mirai Moriyama) and his pair of clowns, to Princess Yuki (Nana Komatsu) who in Mulan-like fashion dresses as a man and runs the race to escape her father’s control, and the endearing although unnecessary duo of ageing samurai Mataemon and trainee Isuke (Naoto Takenaka and Ruka Wakabayashi).
Albeit trivial at times, Samurai Marathon is an enjoyable watch with Takuro Ishizaka’s stunning cinematography and an intelligent score from Phillip Glass, and at the least provides the foundation for what could be a strong film.