Advanced Preview: Sword of the Stranger
Date: Monday 13th October 2008 [11:24] | Posted By: Spike
Set during the Senkoku period in Japan, Sword of the Stranger follows a young boy Kotarou as he is cruelly separated from his father and goes on the run from the army of the Ming dynasty. While living in an abandoned shrine and stealing food Kotarou chances upon a nameless and masterless samurai, and while initially mistrustful of him, Kotarou is forced to hire him as a bodyguard and guide when his dog, Tobimaru, is injured during a fight with Ming soldiers. Now the two must fight their way through the mysterious Ming and find the reason for Kotarou's importance to them, as the samurai battles his own inner demons.
Sword of the Stranger is an unusual entry in the fairly niche market of animated samurai films, while it is set in historic Japan and has all the hallmarks of Chinese and Japanese attitudes of the time, right down to the xenophobia. The film itself has a distinct western feel all over as it brings very familiar characteristics to the party, from the stereotypical bad guys and the damaged hero to the inevitable climactic battle at the end, and the film has a familiar meter about it, with the enemies increasing in number and strength at measurable points along the way. Interestingly both the antagonist and protagonist are foreigners in this film and are seen to be markably stronger than their Asian counterparts, and while the Ming soldiers are seen to be respectful of their foreign counterparts as a tool to be utilised, the nameless samurai seeks to hide his lineage with hair dye due to a fear of being ostracised by the native Japanese.
Kotarou is an almost stereotypical uber-brat, he comes across as a selfish, opinionated, cry-baby; this however drops as he cares for his sick dog and gradually opens up to his bodyguard as they travel together and evade the merciless Ming (though thankfully without the assistance of Brian Blessed or Timothy Dalton). The samurai is the compete opposite, with a cool manner and a sarcastic sense of humour, however he is haunter by flashbacks of an incident deep in his past. One of the most interesting parts of this film is the genuinely inventive ways that the director has found for maiming and killing people, there are literally hundreds, and it is unlikely that most viewers will get through the whole thing without thinking "wow, I've never seen anyone killed THAT way before".
The animation and visuals in this film are incredible even though there are unusually diverse, everything from watercolours to 3D rendered graphics are represented here, with the bulk of the art being cell-shaded. The 35mm print is amazingly clear and there are strong indications of a Blu-ray release after the initial theatrical release, regardless of format however, this film looks beautiful. The score can only be described as rousing, complimenting the animation at every turn.
I can recommend this film wholeheartedly to anyone into anime or samurai films and would appeal to a wider audience in general as it is very mainstream in it's execution, but don't let that put you off, it's a fantastic piece of work and one that must be seen in the cinema. This is definitely one of the better animated films to come along in years and I'll be dragging as many people as I can to see it again. 9/10