Often, there is great subtlety in Asian cinema and theater. The national art forms of the world’s largest landmass are known for indirect communication and a downplayed stoicism one does not see in the West. Even the films of Akira Kurosawa, samurai epics though they may be, are all framed in small gestures and soft-spoken conversations. Then there is The Cherry Bushido.
Japan’s Kabuki theater is littered with unsubtle fables involving men, demons, and god(s). This is the source of many fine manga and anime as these stories evoke strong emotions, dispensing with soft-spoken conversation and small gestures. Such is the case with director Hiroshi Akabane and writers Ryuhu Okawa and Sayaka Okawa’s dramatic fantasy.
The plot of The Cherry Bushido is gloriously straightforward: Japan is run by wimps who would rather placate the expansionist nation of Sodorrah rather than defend themselves. Through Shizuka (Fumiku Shimizu), a college student aspiring to run a Kendo dojo, we learn the terrifying truth. The nation faces imminent extinction due to Sodorrah’s constant missile launching, and the cowards who run Japan are all the playthings of the great demon Hades.
“Shizuka must learn to enter the Astral Plane to defeat Hades…”
This is where Kabuki and anime converge with live-action. Shizuka must learn to enter the Astral Plane to defeat Hades and restore the warrior spirit of Japan. She has a brief window to do it as a god blessed vision she receives informs Shizuka that an ICBM will be launched in three weeks at Japan.
In my capacity as a Westerner, I found the head-on approach taken by the filmmakers recalls the war-based series Attack on Titan. There is zero subtlety with it as well. Yet, in embracing the loud, brash propagandist narrative provided by the context of an existential war, the popular manga/anime show has become a prominent and paradigmatic example of a new form of storytelling available to Japanese media creators.
In a way, the film is also remarkably similar to Toho’s Kaiju fare. A beautiful young woman must inspire her nation to defend itself against a large draconian beast who hides on the Astral Plane. The great demon Hades is similar in his motivation to King Ghidorah, the legendary three-headed extraterrestrial dragon who seeks to wipe out Japan. The only difference is that Hades will inspire someone else to be its instrument of destruction, in this case, the republic of Sodorrah.
Overall, The Cherry Bushido is a fun time, and I found it to be a very different sort of samurai film. It’s loud, brash, and seeks to propagandize the Japanese to embrace their warrior nature. I quite enjoyed that. If you’re into unsubtle tales of demons and samurai, this is the film for you.
"…a fun time..."