I don’t dislike Sword of the Stranger but it’s not a very a good film. It’s a generic action movie with likable main characters but its plot didn’t engage me at all. That is until the final fight scene. The last fight in this movie is one of the best sequences of animation ever in my opinion. Whether or not you should see the movie through to the end or just see the climax on YouTube depends on how much you enjoy the film’s overly complicated mid-section.
Sword of the Stranger is set in feudal Japan and is a standard Ronin seeking redemption plot. A young boy, hunted by the government, crosses paths with a mysterious and highly skilled warrior who reluctantly agrees to become his bodyguard. A Western looking Chinese assassin is sent to capture the boy and we find out that the nameless samurai is protecting the kid out of a need to right past wrongdoings.
It’s a movie where it’s clear what’s going to happen from the start. Not a bad thing, but there isn’t very much to distract you from how predictable it is. I can barely remember the details of what happened for around 80% of the runtime. The summary I wrote in the paragraph above sums up everything of importance that happens. The back story and characters outside of the main three are forgettable to the point where I literally don’t remember them. The characters designs are halfway between iconic and intricate, not very interesting or very memorable. I also think the animation in the first three quarters of the film is weirdly sub-par given the animators who worked in the film.
But despite its shortcomings it does enough to ensure I didn’t hate it. The music is very nice. It feels like something out of a movie like Dragonheart and the composer works one melody into different emotional tones very effectively. The relationship between the samurai and the kid also feels believable. The rivalry between the nameless samurai and his Chinese counterpart is the most engaging part of the film. The bad guy is unfazed by the plot that goes on around him, he only cares about finding a good fight. By the end of the movie it boils down to two great swordsmen fighting each other for the challenge and it’s much more engaging than anything that happens in the hour and a half leading up to it.
The final sword fight is animated by Yutaka Nakamura and it feels like it’s from an entirely different movie. The choreography, cinematography and editing are mesmerising and the entire end sequence has passion the rest of the film needs a lot more of. If you’re into movie sword fights or sakuga the end fight scene is definitely worth a look at. You won’t be missing much by watching it in isolation from the rest of the film.
Sword of the Stranger’s climax deserves a better build up. It’s likable enough but lacks something that really pulls you in until the last 20 minutes.