Sword of the Stranger

Whoa!!! This one was a doozy!

Looking for something new as I continue to mix it up and try different types of Japanese animated features, I decided to go for Masahiro Ando's Sword of the Stranger. It came with the highest recommendation, and the film was in the top 10 of that Top 30 Japanese animated films of all time that Adam posted in the comment section of Spirited Away Canada, USA, Europe). I figured that I couldn't go wrong and I was right.

I commend Sword of the Stranger to the attention of anyone not familiar with animated features and, like me, who didn't know where the hell to start to find out what the quality pictures are. This one is gritty, bloody, with plenty of machinations and backstabbing, so it's not for children or those who are young at heart. If you want to give one Japanese animated movie a try, I suggest you give Sword of the Stranger a shot. I reckon that most people hanging around these part would probably enjoy the flick. If you can live with subtitles, that is. . .

The story occurs in Japan during the Sengoku era, at a time when the country is divided into numerous provinces ruled by feudal lords. A young boy named Kotaro and his dog Tobimaru are pursued by an elite force of Ming warriors from China led by a blonde-haired swordsman from the West. A nameless samurai haunted by dark memories from his past and who has sworn never to draw his blade again saves them from certain death. Soon, they are on the run, and little do they know what the Emperor of China has in store for the boy. But when Kotaro is betrayed by those meant to offer him sanctuary and the truth is revealed about his fate, it's up to the nameless ronin to attempt to save the boy's life.

I reckon that many aficionados loved this film because of the intricately staged action scenes. The various fight sequences are extremely bloody, and for a time I feared that Sword of the Stranger would degenerate into a senseless gore-filled affair that would border on the ridicule. Thankfully, I was wrong. The plot is engaging, and so are the characters after a while. Kotaro is a brat at the beginning, but Nanashi's (No Name) influence turns him around, albeit to a certain extent. Masahiro Ando toys with a number of character archtypes such as the Chosen One, and the silent warrior with a buried past, and overall it is well-done.

Visually impressive, though the various fight scenes are paced so fast that you seldom see more than blood gushing and members flying up in the air, but a notch under the visual impact that Hayao Miyazaki and Makoto Shinkai can achieve. Although the tale has depth, there are several plot holes throughout the movie, chief among them exactly why Kotaro is so important to the Emperor, and how did a Westerner like Luo-Lang end up fighting with a Chinese elite squad. But overall, the plot moves well and you're never really lost, just wishing they'd feed you a bit more information about various aspects of the story.

Once again (I've been lucky thus far), the soundtrack by Naoki Sato captures the different moods perfectly. The music is never overdone. It hovers in the background, adding layers and conveying emotions when it's needed.

As far as I know, few animated features have such cross-genre appeal, which is why I encourage you to give it a go! You should rent the DVD if you have the opportunity, of course. But if you are unable to find a copy, you can always try veoh.com, where you'll find versions with French, English, or Spanish subtitles. Or there is a version of YouTube with very good picture quality split into 11 parts. Here's a link to the first part, if you feel like having a glimpse. . .

And here's the trailer:

And here's the ending credits theme, reminiscent of Hans Zimmer's The Last Samurai:

For more info about this title: Canada, USA, Europe

19 commentaires:

Jan said...

You should check out Baccano! I don't like too much anime, but I really liked that one...

Adam Skinner said...

Sword of the Stranger just had a dual audio release: bt linkage.

For a while the 720p and 1080p releases have been out (as well as an SS 480p sub), but the only way you're going to get a dub is going 480p (that's the way things stand across the board now, regardless; good luck finding a 720p+ dub!).

If you enjoyed the fluidity of the fighting in this one, you might find some love with Seirei no Moribito. It's a solid adventure story, with a female protagonist who is thrust into serving as a bodyguard for a runaway prince being pursued by his own government.

With regards to Baccano, you can find this on Hulu now.

Anonymous said...

Hmm... more follow-up suggestios for anime lasting .5 to 13 hours...

Anyway, never seen this one though it is on my list.

My suggestion for a follow-up would be Jin-Roh: The Wolf Brigade. Modern setting in an Alternate Japan. Has a lot of action and an interesting theme, plus the animation is pretty good. One of my favorites.


Anonymous said...

Sorry, "6.5" hourse

Jeff said...

As Adam has pointed out, the fighting in Moribito: Guardian of the Spirit is fluent. The animation is top notch too. I can recommend this anime with the highest possible zeal, although it's 26 episodes in length. Moribito is a [URL=http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Guardian_series]Novel[/URL] adaption, so you know you're good with the story part. This is arguably one of the best anime out there.


Russ said...

Christ, just watched this thing and it rocks!

Never watched anime before, so I think I'll have to scroll back and check out those related posts you wrote about other Japanese animated movies.

Thanks for the recommendation!

Arabesk said...

Hell yeah. Sword of the Stranger was a good one. :D

And as suggested before me, you should try Baccano! It was based on a series of light novels, so you don't have to worry about the plot and integrity of the script. You could classify it as noir/pulp fantasy fiction. I heard the english dub was good but the Japanese seiyus were phenomenal, so advice is to stick with the english sub version.

Also recommends the ff . . .

Fantastic Children: Highly recommended sci-fi anime. It's like reading a great sff novel.

Monster: A very intelligent, psychological thriller. Very addicting.

Higurashi no Naku Koro ni: Crime, horror. Prepare to be mind fuck. :P

Adam Skinner said...

I got maybe 10 episodes into Fantastic Children and dropped it; it was just slow and boring. It's pretty highly rated though (which is why I picked it up in the first place), so I might get around to muscling through a couple more episodes at some point.

My picks top picks thus far for sci-fi anime are:

Dennou Coil
Macross Frontier
Kurau Phantom Memory
Terra e...
Jyu Oh Sei (though this has plenty of non-rivet content, so it's really a hydrid fantasy/sci-fi)

There are some other solid titles that didn't make the 9+/10 mark, and Ga-Rei Zero which I rate as a 9.5 but can't wholeheartedly endorse as a sci-fi title, given the prevalence of the supernatural in it. I definitely cried at the end of that one (which, as an emotionally repressed INTP, is a plus for me and I actively seek it out).

Cecrow said...

Haven't seen it so I realize I'm judging based on very little, but from this Youtube trailer ... it looks like the subtitle translation wasn't done very well?

Patrick said...

Sorry, guys, but I'm not quite ready for anime series just yet. Especially since I don't have that much time on my hands. . .

Cecrow: The trailer is not that great, but it was the only one I could find with English subtitles. Don't let that fool you. The subs were great in the movie itself.

Anonymous said...

As I did with 5 cm per second, I watched Sword of the Stranger last night via the Youtube link you provided. And it was the shit!

This blog allowed me to find out about so many sff books, but it's cool to get the chance to discover new things in new media. So I'm going to head out to me video store tonight after work and try to find Princess Mononoke.


Chris C said...

I watched Sword of the Stranger some time back after seeing the fight scene at the end on Youtube. The quality of the animation is decent but overall the storytelling is poor IMO.

It's quite a few notches down from, say, Miyazaki.

Anonymous said...


Then definitely check out Jin-Roh. It's a movie with some interesting themes, and some good characteization.

And it's not too long.

Anonymous said...

I never watched a Japanese anime in my life. With nothing better to do this morning, I told myself what the heck and checked out the youtube version you linked to.

I'm not used to subtitles so it took me a few minutes to get my bearings. That done, I was able to fully enjoy Sword of the Stranger. The movie is pretty good!

Thanks for the rec!


Jan said...

Sword of the Stranger is ok, but I still like the old classic - Ninja Scroll a bit better. (SotS is in a way a modern version of NS)

Anonymous said...

Hey Pat,

I've always been interested in anime but have never known anyone (or rather anyone who's opinion/taste I trust) to ask for advice on where to start. So I just wanted to say thanks for doing these reviews. Your suggestions and those of your readers have been a huge help! I am thoroughly enjoying what I've seen so far. :)


Patrick said...

Lynette: This is exactly why I go out of my way to review those Japanese animated features that have been recommended to me and which I enjoyed.=)

Like most people, I had no clue where to start. But since I was steered in the right direction, I've been enjoying myself immensely since I watched Miyazaki's Princess Mononoke.

Hopefully, many of you will, too!

Cheryl L said...

Dropping a recommendation for Makoto Shinkai's Hoshi No Koe/Voices of a Distant Star. Since you liked Place Promised in Our Early Days and 5cm per Second, you'd very likely appreciate Voices, and it plays with the concept of time dilation to good effect.

And then you really must watch the anime films by Satoshi Kon (Tokyo Godfathers, Memories: Magnetic Rose, Perfect Blue, Paprika, among others). Apologies if you've mentioned him before, I might have missed it, but just in case you haven't heard of Satoshi Kon - he's one of the best anime directors out there, film or series. Tokyo Godfathers was my favourite - hilarious, touching, very solid animation. Do not miss this guy! I'd love to see you do a review on one of his films :)

Patrick said...

Cheryl: Tokyo Godfathers, Perfect Blue, and Paprika were already on my list, so I guess I'll have to add Memories: Magnetic Rose to it!

I am planning on watching Voices of a Distant Star, but I wanted to wait a while and sample different stuff before going back to Shinkai.

So many movies to see, so little time!;-)