Sunday, February 08, 2009

Sword of the Stranger

I saw the anime movie Sword of the Stranger this week. I had never heard of it before. I went with a friend, because we always like to support any anime that comes to theaters in our area, even if it's something we've never heard of. And for whatever reason, not only had we never heard of this film, we also couldn't remember its title to save our lives. Even when we got to the theater, we were asking for tickets to "Sword of the . . . Samurai? Uh, Sword of the Something, anyway." The fact that the theater abbreviated it to Sword of S on the signage and ticket stubs didn't help much.

Despite the unmemorable title, Sword of the Stranger turned out to be a very good movie. The animation was superb, an absolute masterwork of hand-drawn animation in an era when almost everyone is making their movies with cheaper, faster computer animation. A fishing net hanging in the wind was animated so beautifully it looked real, and the blowing snow effects were amazing. And, of course, being a samurai film, there was no shortage of incredible fight scenes with few survivors.

Set in feudal Japan, the story featured a young boy and his dog, fleeing from a group of Chinese warriors and one giant, blond-haired, blue-eyed barbarian. The boy was chosen by prophecy, and his blood would grant immortality if he were sacrificed at exactly the right time in exactly the right way. The rather obnoxious kid and his very clever dog escape, and they end up sheltering in the same abandoned house as a quiet ronin with no name and a dark past. The villains attack; the ronin saves the kid's life, and the dog saves the ronin's life. It's really the dog that holds the man and boy together, and when the enemies manage to capture the boy, the ronin and the dog go to heroic lengths to save him. Meanwhile, the political pressure builds between the Japanese lord, his ambitious shogun, and their Chinese guests, culminating in an epic, bloody battle.

The plot seemed like kind of standard samurai genre fare, but even if the story wasn't groundbreaking and the characters were rather stereotypical, it was nice to see a standalone anime movie that wasn't connected to a TV series or manga. It was thoroughly enjoyable.


Maryann Miller said...

Interesting. Now I know why I've never been a fan of anime. It's those epic bloody battles at the end. :-)

Anj said...

Not all anime is like that. If you want something kinder and gentler, try the anime movie Whisper of the Heart, which is a beautiful coming-of-age story about a teenage girl who writes her first novel. Or for something both humorous and uplifting, try Tokyo Godfathers, a tale of three homeless people who find an abandoned baby in the trash on Christmas Eve and resolve first to care for her and second to track down her parents. There are anime shows to suit any taste. The violent, action-packed ones are just more popular for the same reasons that violent, action-packed Hollywood films are. :-)