Writer-director Troy A. Sandford has elected to create a series of Martial Art Stories. The very first of them is The Monk and The Samurai. This animated short is produced in the spirit of the old Japanese tone poems dedicated to both famous monks and samurai warriors. The story tells of two people, the titular Monk and Samurai, who have recently experienced tragedy. Their lives crisscross as they battle chaos, seek redemption, and thirst for vengeance.
The Tone Poem which powers this film, narrated by John Shang, is decent. I think the poem could have used a further revision to tighten the structure and make the rhymes hit more effectively. Regardless, Sandford’s poem weaves a pretty clear vision of the story it seeks to tell.
“…Monk and Samurai…crisscross as they battle chaos, seek redemption…”
The animation over the live-action footage is the slightly bigger issue present in The Monk and The Samurai. Sandford and his collaborators were shooting for a rotoscope vibe with the mask composite they use to overlay animation. To these eyes, the composite is muddy. While many images of singular individuals are clear, crowd scenes and images involving more than two bodies are hard to discern and make out what events are unfolding. It’s a confusing muddle for about 20% of the film’s 10-minute runtime.
However, when clarity of vision is achieved, the action is beautifully stylized. There are a few examples: an image of the mother of the Samurai, a shot where the monk dives into an ocean, and a shot of the Samurai slashing toward a dragon. These are all highly effective moments of composite masks melding effortlessly with the action. I quite enjoyed those.
All that said, if you’re curious about Tokugawa-style samurai ballads or you just like martial art movies, check out The Monk and The Samurai. It’s a fairly original method of storytelling, and I enjoyed much of it.
"…the action is beautifully stylized."