“Bushido Man: Seven Deadly Battles” is a film where a character uses a human arm as a pair of nunchaku, a gun is designed to strap around a person’s wrist and fire when they make a punching motion, and the preferred method for uncovering your enemies weakness in combat is to follow their diet. That should tell you just where your suspension of disbelief needs to be set going in; if you’re able to make that adjustment, “Bushido Man” is great fun!
Mitsuki Koga leads the film as the titular Bushido Man, Toramaru, and he steps up to the plate admirably considering the number of martial arts styles he’s called upon to show with expertise. Yoshiyuki Yamaguchi portrays his somewhat demented mentor Gensai, basically Doc Brown of the “Back to the Future” trilogy in the form of a wise Japanese martial arts guru. The rest of the film is populated largely by the seven deadly opponents Toramaru faces throughout the film, such as a blind swordsman played by Kazuki Tsujimoto, a master of Bojutsu portrayed by Naohiro Kawamoto, and a kung fu master specializing in Northern Praying Mantis played by the film’s fight choreographer, Kensuke Sonomura.
Following an arduous trek throughout Japan at the behest of his sensei Gensai, a man known as Toramaru returns to his dojo to relay the story of how he accomplished the quest his wise mentor sent him on. This was specifically, locating and challenging the best fighters across Japan, each being an exponent of a different fighting technique and overcoming each of them. In each flashback, Toramaru reveals his method for uncovering the strengths and weaknesses of each of his opponents – by following each one’s dietary customs he was able to avoid their strengths and defeat each of them one by one.
In a lot of ways, “Bushido Man” feels like a cross between Jet Li’s “Hero” and a video game. This is a film with its tongue firmly in cheek, seen in such moments as Toramaru’s victory by default over a nunchaku master who clocks himself in the face with his own weapon before their duel can even get started! Don’t worry, though that’s the only action sequence in the film to resolve itself like that. The film kicks off with one of its best sequences, pitting Toramaru against a disciple of Northern Praying Mantis kung fu, and it’s no exaggeration to say that this is easily the best fight scene utilizing Praying Mantis in the 21st century. The film’s action director Kensuke Sonamaru, who portrays Toramaru’s opponent in the scene, clearly knows the art inside-out and crafts a truly stunning opening action sequence to jumpstart the film -on par with anything to emerge from Hong Kong since the turn of the century. As fans once saw in Mark Dacascos’ “Drive”, sometimes Japanese stunt performers prove that they can show Chinese and Hong Kong filmmakers a thing or two about utilizing Chinese martial arts on film!
The enemies Toramaru subsequently faces are equally stellar, save for the aforementioned nunchaku wielding imbecile. One of his opponents is a master of the bo staff, while the next is a master of the katana. Both fights are superbly executed, but the latter has a little impact due to the fact that our hero’s opponent is blind and provides a major challenge for him to overcome -the katana being the weapon of choice drives home the bushido theme a little more. After this point, things start to get a little silly when Toramaru battles a Yakuza gangster and knife-fighting expert. This is easily the weakest of the film’s fully realized action scenes – the Yakuza villain never quite seems to exude the degree of expertise with his weapon as our hero’s other opponents do in their respective arts, and midway through, both men ditch their blades continuing to fight with empty hand techniques anyway. Perhaps pitting Toramaru against a kerambit-wielding Silat master would’ve resulted in a stronger sequence, but in its current form, it feels like something of a cop out to have him face a knife fighter only for their duel to end without the very tool of combat Toramaru is seeking to overcome presently. The film does redeem itself, however, with easily its goofiest weapon – a gun worn around the wrists like a gauntlet which fires whenever the wearer throws a punch, which Toramaru puts to use after losing his first encounter with a Japanese gun-slinger. There’s definitely a video game idea in that device! The phenomenal finale sees Toramaru take on an enemy who shall remain unidentified for those who haven’t seen the film, albeit it’s not the most well-concealed of twisted endings, and calls upon both men to utilize each of the combat styles exercised throughout the film. Yes, you do actually get to finally see the nunchaku put to use, albeit in the form of a human arm!
“Bushido Man” is a live-action cartoon, through and through. Its action scenes range from top-notch and even “Ong-Bak” worthy at times to silly and downright bizarre with the net result being tons of fun from start to end. The only exception here is the slightly misleading subtitle of the film, given the lack of “deadliness” to one particular ’bout’, “Bushido Man” delivers exactly what it promises in spades!
- Kazuki Tsujimoto, who portrays the blind katana master, has previously done motion capture for the video game “Shinobi”, and worked as a stunt man on “The Last Samurai”.
- Kenseuke Sonomura, who portrays the kung fu master, has also done stunt work and fight choreography for films such as “Alien vs Ninja”, “The Warrior’s Way”, “The Kunoichi: Ninja Girl”, “Resident Evil: Degeneration”, and “Godzilla: Final Wars”
Film rating: 7.5/10