Sword of the Stranger (2007) reviews online.
When I hear about an anime which has been short-listed for an Academy Award, I automatically think it’s one of Miyazaki’s, but not in this case. Released in 2007, Sword of the Stranger was short-listed for Best Animated Feature Film in 2008. Congratulations to all concerned.
The idea of a ronin, wandering the landscape, getting involved in other people’s troubles is hardly new. Neither is the idea of him having sheathed his sword after a life of murder on behalf of a corrupt lord. There are some interesting plot twists, though. The Chinese make an appearance. They are Ming, in Japan for reasons which become clear over time. We know that there are some priests and some awfully efficient military people. They seem to have a lot of money and are in an terrible hurry to complete some weird temple-like structure. This is one of the very few appearances by Chinese characters which I can remember from anime. How many can you think of?
The Chinese also have guns, which the Japanese have not seen before. Some of the Chinese have blue eyes and red hair, which the locals think makes them demons of some sort. There is also a belief that a certain medicine will grant immortality to the person who drinks it. Sadly for the second major character, this requires him to die at a predetermined time. I like these little plot points. It adds an element of surprise and interest as the story unfolds.
Kotaro is the name of the young boy who is being hunted and who crosses paths with Nanashi (the No Name samurai). Kotaro has a cute pet dog, and the two of them seem to be wandering the landscape as well, trying to get away from unknown bad guys. The three share some common background, although this isn’t obvious at the beginning.
One of the elements I like in the plot is that there is very little yelling and screaming. No Name hides his past well, and Kotaro has a maturity which belies his young years. The samurai’s vow to never again unsheath his sword leads to some interesting fights scenes, which are well directed. As is common in samurai flicks, the opening scene is a full-on fight, guaranteed to hook in the fan boys.
The inevitable final climactic fight is also handled imaginatively, as No Name and his Chinese equivalent get down to some serious duelling, swords blazing.
I like this story. It has the action that you would expect from a samurai sword film, plus enough surprises in the unfolding story to keep you interested. There is an intelligence in the storyline which I liked. Would I watch this again. Sure thing.