All a movie needs to do to succeed is tell a simple story
well. That's what Sword of the Stranger
does. While it is set in ancient Japan
time of war and strife, the movie's focus on a boy, his dog, and the
ronin that decides to protect them is straight forward and heartfelt. Everything else is just dressing and this
film has a lot of that too. Released by
Bandai, the Blu-ray presentation looks and sounds great and has a good
of bonus featurettes, something that anime often lacks.
During the Sengoku period, also known as the "era of Warring
was torn by civil wars. The only thing
an ambitious military officer had to do to take command of a region was
his lord. And then look out for all of
his subordinates who have a hungry look in their eye.
During this time a monastery is destroyed and burnt to the
ground. A very young boy, Kotaro, and
his dog Tobimaru manage to escape with their master.
The master gives the boy a piece of jade,
telling him to sell it if he needs the money, and orders him to make
across the country to their sister temple, a long way away. The master then returns to his destroyed home
to see if he can find any survivors.
Life is hard for Kotaro because not only does he have to
survive on his own in a violent time, but he's being sought after by
soldiers. The Chinese have invaded a
small portion of Japan
and set about building an odd monument. It
has something to do with Kotaro, but he's not sure what.
Returning to the hovel he had been living in after his daily
ritual of stealing food, Kotaro and Tobimaru discovers an odd man
where they've been living. He's a
nameless ronin, a warrior who decided stop fighting after seeing too
bloodshed and death. He ties the hilt of
his sword to his scabbard so that it's impossible to draw the weapon,
doesn't mean he's not a formidable opponent.
When some thugs, and a Chinese assassin, try to kidnap the boy
warrior defeats them with ease, though Tobimaru is severely wounded. Offering the jade as a reward (and greatly
inflating its value) Kotaro convinces the man to help nurse Tobimaru
health and get him to the temple that he's been traveling to. It seems like a simple task, but it turns out
to be anything but.
This is a nice simple story told with grace. The
characters are interesting and though
we've seen them before (the wise-ass kid who's really scared, and the
warrior (who even has a scar across his face) who, though a magnificent
fighter, turns his back on war) they click together nicely in this film. It's basically a road show, with the young
boy and too-old for his age warrior bonding as the travel across the
If the movie has a flaw, it's the rather silly excuse they
come up with for having Kotaro chased by the Chinese.
The whole subplot of the emperor searching
for immortality through the blood of a young man is a bit silly and
just slightly, from the reality based rest of the story.
The strange subplot about the Chinese taking
drugs to make them better fighters is rather odd to and never explored,
was a mistake to include it.
This is a bloody movie, with lots of severed arms, legs, and
heads, but the animation is very fluid and the movements lifelike. Being a theatrical release they didn't cut
corners like many anime TV shows do.
Here everything is animated with great care taken to make sure
character designs and the actual movements are believable and realistic. The battle at the end was particularly
impressive with the fighters running, jumping, and dodging attacks
was falling and blood was flying. An
impressive looking piece of animation.
The 1.78:1 1080p/AVC encoded image looks great, even for an
animated movie. The lines are very
tight, even in the fine details, and the colors look solid and bright. Usually the big explosions and spectacular
special effects make a film exciting to watch.
The opposite is true with this movie.
Here it's the small things that make this film look so good. The faint, circular, rainbow the briefly
appears around a sword as the tapered edge reflects the light for
the way a drop of blood soaks into the snow.
This Blu-ray disc reproduces all of that with a high amount of
and that really helps to bring the movie to life. I
was on the lookout for digital defects, but
did not notice any aliasing, blocking, or banding.
All around a good liking movie.
Like the video, the audio is top notch. This
disc offers the viewers a choice between
the original Japanese soundtrack and an English bud.
I screened the film with the Japanese track
and spot-checked the English one. From
the first scenes where the young boy and his master are running through
forest viewers know that they're in for a sonic treat.
The full soundstage is used, with the sound
of Kotaro running coming from the front speakers and the harsh panting
master coming from the rears. The audio
engineer wasn't afraid to pan voices as they were talking either, as is
case when someone gets up from a table and exits stage right, his voice
him across the room. The rain in the
woods was another impressive aural effect, filling the room with the
a storm with directionalized sound effect too.
I usually don't expect too much in the way of extras on
Japanese animation movies or TV shows, but this disc has a fair amount
items. First off is a 18 minute talk
with the Japanese voice actors who played the two lead roles. It was pretty standard; they talk about their
character and his personality as well as giving their thought on the
film. It's not that exciting but at least
presented in HD. The longest supplement
is also the best. The "Production
Report" runs close to 50 minutes and it talks with the main players who
how the idea come about and how the movie finally got on to the big
One of the most interesting bits is a short (3 minute)
"Pilot Film" that was made to sell the idea to a studio.
It's a short look at the style and feel that
the movie has and its quite nice to watch.
Finally there are 5 TV spots and three theatrical
trailers. Overall this disc sports a
fine assortment of bonus features.
This isn't a deep show about the nature of right and wrong
or what makes a person human, it's a simple tale of two people thrust
during difficult times. With interesting
characters, excellent animation, and a wonderful Blu-ray presentation
comes Highly Recommended.
images in this review are not from the Blu-ray disc and do not
represent the image quality on the disc.