’s most enjoyable moments are also its most ludicrous. These include, but are not limited to: an attack from a roving beast that might generously be described as “mythical”; a shape-shifting witch helping a court official usurp his rival’s power, thereby springing the masterless samurai of the title into vengeful action; and a pep talk beginning with the words, “What I propose ends in death.” Keep in mind that Carl Erik Rinsch’s $175 million film is based on actual 18th-century events, happenings that presumably did not resemble Mortal Kombat
or Princess Mononoke
in the slightest. These fantastical elements are never acknowledged as such, which is probably a good thing. Any in-depth explanation of how and why the “half-breed” played by Keanu Reeves ended up exiled to a Dutch island, forced to fight a giant to the death, would only distract from the goofy spectacle of it all. All of which is a long way of saying that Rinsch’s take on one of Japan’s most famous stories is a curious folly, albeit an almost endearingly sincere (and strange) one that seems to revere its legendary source material as much as it distorts it.