Sword of the Stranger (Sutorenjia: Mukô hadan) (Blu-ray) (2007)
|Year Of Production||2007|
|RSDL / Flipper||Dual Layered||Cast & Crew|
|Region Coding||4||Directed By||Masahiro Andô|
|Pan & Scan/Full Frame||None||
Japanese Dolby TrueHD 5.1
English Dolby TrueHD 5.1
|Widescreen Aspect Ratio||2.35:1|
|Original Aspect Ratio||2.35:1||Miscellaneous|
|Annoying Product Placement||No|
|Action In or After Credits||No|
Sword of the Stranger (Sutorenjia: Mukô hadan) is a graphic, Japanese Anime feature film directed by Masahiro Andō and produced by Japanese Anime studio Bones. Unlike a lot of the recent big-budget anime, Sword of the Stranger is neither a sequel nor based on a successful manga. Packed with plenty of exciting fight sequences, visceral anime images and a simplistic action-orientated plot line, Sword of the Stranger is a very entertaining and accessible anime which is now available to enjoy at home in high definition.
Often when watching recent anime I've felt excluded as there seem to be characters and sub-plots presented in the story which either make the story overly complicated or relate to previous works I haven't seen. One of the aspects of Sword of the Stranger that I enjoyed is that the characters and plot are all self-contained within this story. The film-makers have chosen to tell a simple story well with main characters that are likeable and with whom we can easily empathise. Although fans of classic anime films such as Akira, Spirited Away or Ghost in the Shell might find this tale a little simplistic, the straightforward plot serves to provide a springboard for a series of action scenes. This is popcorn entertainment and I like the fact that this anime is aimed squarely at providing an action thrill ride. Sword of the Stranger does not seek to do anything other than entertain as it builds toward its climax, with an exciting race against time between the forces of good and evil.
Set in feudal Japan, the two central characters are a wandering ronin mercenary and a boy named Kotaro. Kotaro is a young orphan who is running for his life from the powers of the Ming Dynasty. These evil Chinese forces have some sinister plan that requires the boy and, understandably, Kotaro doesn't want to be part of it. Having fled China along with his faithful dog, Kotaro is desperately trying to reach the safety of a Buddhist Temple in Japan. Along the way he meets a mysterious ronin, a cool and likeable master swordsman without a name, who reluctantly decides to help the boy when Kotaro is set upon by soldiers. With the promise of a reward the ronin agrees to escort the boy and his dog to the temple.
Anyone familiar with samurai inspired films will find the plot and characters very familiar: a raggedy mercenary is hired by a stranger for a seemingly simple task, only to be thrust into a life and death battle between the forces of good and evil which offers him hope of redemption for his dark past - a blessing worth far more than the reward he initially signed up for. Having just re-watched the film Unforgiven, I am reminded that this is a common theme in the western genre as well.
One aspect I question is that this film with a little boy and a cute dog at its centre could have potentially been a great family movie but the style and content is very graphic and gory. A number of characters die in very bloody ways and in great number throughout. Picture plenty of arrows puncturing through faces and necks, swords and axes hacking off limbs and heads in showers of blood and you get the idea.
If the simplistic story and constant gore doesn't bother you enjoy Sword of the Stranger for its frenetic fight sequences and lush anime visuals.
The film's official website can be found here: www.stranja.jp
Sword of the Stranger's transfer is beautifully presented in high definition, encoded using MPEG-4 AVC. The widescreen aspect ratio of 2.35:1 is presented in a native 16x9 frame. This is the film's original theatrical ratio.
Sword of the Stranger looks great on blu-ray. I always find any kind of animation hard to review as, for example, many scenes and backgrounds are intentionally soft. That noted, this film has some moments of finely detailed animation and this high-definition transfer captures it all.
The film's overall art design is fantastic. As with a lot of Japanese art, the colours of the seasons set the tone of the scenes and colour is used strongly throughout. The BD accurately reflects the colour palette of the source material. The black level is excellent throughout with true, deep blacks.
The BD's transfer has an average bit rate of 25-30 Mbps and there are no problems with MPEG artefacts such as pixelization. A few small film artefacts, for example tiny black or white flecks, appear infrequently throughout but these are never distracting and indeed were hard to spot.
Only an English subtitle stream is included.
This is a BD-50 (50 GB) disc and the feature is divided into 19 chapters.
The BD offers two audio options for the feature: two quality Dolby TrueHD 5.1 mixes - the original Japanese language and an English dub.
The voice acting on the English dub is quite good and nowhere near as cheesy as I've heard on many other dubbed films such as The Myth which I watched last week. The dialogue quality is clear throughout. However, I would recommend watching this film in Japanese with English subtitles.
The original music is credited to Naoki Sato who also provided music for the X and Soratobu Taiya series. It is a traditional orchestral score with interesting instrumentation which is very effective and suits the film well.
The surround presence is good and immersive. Without being too obvious the rears are often used for ambient sounds. The film has a good LFE track and the subwoofer is utilised very effectively such as when the battering ram is breaking down the fortress gate toward the end of the film.
|Surround Channel Use|
There are some genuine and interesting extras on this BD.
As with other BDs the menu can be accessed while the film is playing.
Cast Interview (Japanese, 17:26)
Tomoya Nagase, who provides the voice of the nameless ronin, and Yuri Chinen, who provides the voice for Kotaro, are interviewed both on stage and in a studio. They discuss their approach to the characters and the voice recording process and reflect on the film itself.
Featuring director, Masahiro Ando, and producer, Masahiko Minami, this featurette provides a detailed look at the film's creation starting with the early ideas and art work and the development of these ideas and themes through to the film's script, production and completion.
Pilot Film (Japanese, 3:53)
This 'short film' is the test footage used to convince the studio to green-light the production.
There are five TV commercials and three cinema trailers for Sword of the Stranger. Also included are trailers for the three Bandai films, The Girl Who Leapt Through Time, Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex Solid State Society and Code Geass R2.
NOTE: To view non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually also NTSC compatible.
In terms of content this appears to be the same BD as was released in the US. It even has the US FBI anti-piracy splash screen when the BD is loaded.
Set against the backdrop of feudal Japan, this beautifully animated film is a very enjoyable and accessible anime, filled with exciting, albeit very gory, fight sequences.
The video quality is excellent.
The audio quality is also excellent.
The extras are genuine and interesting.
|DVD||Sony Playstation 3 (HDMI 1.3) with Upscaling, using HDMI output|
|Display||Panasonic High Definition 50' Plasma (127 cm). Calibrated with Video Essentials. This display device is 16x9 capable. This display device has a maximum native resolution of 1080p.|
|Audio Decoder||Built in to amplifier/receiver. Calibrated with Video Essentials.|
|Amplification||Samsung Pure Digital 6.1 AV Receiver (HDMI 1.3)|