Blu-ray Review: Samurai Marathon (2019)

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Alternate Title: Samurai Marathon 1855

A velvety timbre that contains equal parts smolder and menace in the sounds of a rich baritone, actor Danny Huston's cognac of a voice is tailor-made for screen villainy. And indeed it's his voice that cuts through the ceremony of Commodore Perry's (Huston) sudden visit to Japan in 1855 when — having arrived from America uninvited on a purported mission of friendship from President Fillmore — he tries to interact with the Japanese officials greeting the Americans getting off their "black ships" with suspicion. 

Unable to translate Perry's words since the man whom the Japanese lords have brought with them to do the job speaks Dutch instead of English, they have no idea how to interpret the language being uttered by that devilishly seductive voice. Trying to meld the context clues of Perry's smile with the mixed signals of the presents he offers when he lands, although Perry begins harmlessly with a daguerreotype, the stakes are suddenly raised when he hands over Kentucky bourbon and a .45 caliber single-action Colt army revolver, ironically known as "the peacemaker."

Introducing a faster way to kill and dominate with these American "gifts," a direct correlation is made between the debut of the gun on Japanese shores with the end of the samurai in director Bernard Rose's handsomely crafted but woefully uneven Samurai Marathon

Testing the samurai to ensure that they have what it takes to stand up to the Americans and their weapons, which can kill quickly from afar, a thirty-six-mile marathon is held across tough, hilly terrain for all men under the age of fifty who serve the lord of the Annaka clan. Fearing this signals a future war, an Annaka accountant (played by Takeru Satoh) who privately serves as a Shogun spy sends a coded message to those in Edo before he has all of the facts. Though written in earnest, Satoh's note escalates things, setting in motion a hefty amount of chaotic swordplay, gunfire, and violence that follows as he tries to right this wrong. Added to this mix is the rebellious Princess Yuki (Nana Komatsu), who, after rejecting her father's candidate for marriage, slices off some of her hair and joins the marathon as well.

One of those period pieces which tries to excuse away its ludicrous plot machinations by centering the action on a historical event in the form of the samurai marathon (which later became the Japanese marathon and is still run to this day), the film starts to lose us in the very first act. Breathlessly jumping from Huston's veritable cameo to Satoh to Komatsu, rather than endear us to our two leads, Marathon is never sure which story it wants to tell, let alone the tone it should take.

Working from a novel by Akihiro Dobashi, throughout the film, it's obvious that Rose and his co-writers Hiroshi Saitô and Kikumi Yamagishi have no shortage of enthusiasm or ideas. Utilizing an everything and the kitchen sink approach — from weird flashes of humor that feel incredibly out of place to one harrowing sequence involving a mass shooting that's spliced into what could otherwise be described as a ho-hum chronicle of a marathon — this film goes everywhere and nowhere all at once.

Even underwhelming from an action perspective, although it's painted with a masterly brush by cinematographer Takuro Ishizaka, whose frames are jaw-droppingly lush, there's little to recommend the film as a whole. Given a typically impressive high gloss transfer to Blu-ray high definition from Well Go Entertainment, although it might be of morbid curiosity to fans of Bernard Rose as this seems to work as a cross between some of the most diverse entries in his head-scratcher of a filmography (including the horror favorite Candyman and say, the underrated Immortal Beloved), others should steer clear.

A lackluster samurai film that's about as exciting as watching a thirty-six-mile marathon run by nobody you know, though it impressively follows up the promise of duplicity in the guise of Danny Huston's symphonic voice with the strains of a notable score by legendary composer Philip Glass, Rose's Samurai never quite manages to find its rhythm.

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