In the movie The Game of Death (released in 1978), Bruce Lee climbs to the floor of a pagoda to fight a series of difficult fights against boss. Among Hong Kong’s virtuoso filmmakers, jumps and double jumps follow each other over the collision of blades, similar to the spinning acrobatics of platform games. If martial arts films today seem very close to video games, it’s because the latter, from its early years, has garnered some of the most enduring rejection from Asian cinematography – such as Karateka who, in 1984, invented through rotoscopy and video games the technical apotheosis of kung-fu film. The influence became mutual, as before Sifua ruthless fighting game that honors the famous “corridor dolly” of the Korean thriller old man (2003), itself conceived as horizontal scrolling in a video game.
A genre other than martial arts cinema, the chabara (or Japanese sword film) is also an important reference in video game actions, where samurai, ronins and other ninjas are recurring figures. katana duels Killing the Samurai (1993) in sharp fights in Sekiro: Shadow Die Twice (2019), the titles – mostly Japanese – that take advantage of the archipelago’s chivalric folklore are legion. But if much is based on heroism, delirium and strange moves (like the series Onimusha), only a few dare to be literally in the samurai film like Karateka has never been to a kung fu movie. Recently, however, many titles claim to be famous but find it difficult to honor the legacy.
Back to the classics
Among them, Walking to Yomi, which releases on Thursday, May 5 (on PlayStation, Xbox and PC consoles), stands out with a grainy black-and-white image and an elegant framing feel. Presented as a love letter in Akira Kurosawa’s films, this short title takes advantage of an aesthetic in the paintings where enemies emerge like numerous surprises from the boundaries of the plane. Its director, Leonard Menchiari, once again invoked the spirit of “cinematic” action-adventure games of the 1980s and 1990s, which in Kareteka and so on Another world rotoscoped: he has already given an award to the latter The Eternal Castle in 2019.
The return to an older form of video game allowed cinephile Menchiari to work on scale ratios, transitions, games with caches and silhouettes, this time in unique patina imitation. chabara in the 1950s-1960s. Added to this is a documented entertainment of the Edo period, as well as compelling borrowings from other film genres such as jidai-geki (period film) or the kaidan-geki (amazing movie). This quest for reliability, down to the ideal soundtrack, will appeal to connoisseurs. However, the cinematographic argument can’t cheat beyond the first hour, certainly appealing, in a fight game based on battles that are sometimes frustrating repetition.
This is because the use of the “Kurosawaian” model here is more a matter of image texture than playful reinterpretation, as happened in 2020 for Spirit of Tsushimaa unique open-world game set in 13th century Japanand century and is based on exotic imagery. The blockbuster from American studio Sucker Punch is embellished with “Kurosawa” mode, a filter that allows the image to be changed to black and white with contrast effects appropriate to TohoScope films, embellishing it with a sound harder and squalls releasing elements like the masterpieces of the Japanese master. Basically, though, Spirit of Tsushima remains an ultra-classic action game, a thousand miles from the director’s strict cut Seven Samurai. essence portrayed in a series of chase shots, held in the camera hand, by a mocking protagonist rather than a wandering ronin.
Above the edge of the sword
Like the game nioh (2017), which was initially viewed as an adaptation of an unfinished script by Kurosawa that changed the course of his development into a supernatural story that was ultimately very different, did the video game struggle to adapt to the Japanese sword cinema code? Notable exception, the cinematographic saga itself Yakuza produced two glittering episodes (unfortunately not published in France) set in feudal Japan, which owed much to dramas during Japanese television than the historical melodramas of Kenji Mizoguchi or that there is The Legend of Musashi (1954) by Hiroshi Inagaki. After all, the way the video game is chabara often remains limited to an aesthetic style that hardly exceeds the honor alone.
Keep in mind that Akira Kurosawa doesn’t just shoot black and white films and not just saber films. Its characters are individuals who dare to reject conventions of duty where video games nonetheless want to improve their samurai figures. In Kurosawa, violence only intervened as a last resort. At the end of Sanjuro (1962), the character played by Toshiro Mifune explains that “The best swords should stay in their scopes”. Therefore, the final battle will only last during a flash and bloodshed. on Walking to Yomithe teacher is also called Sanjuro but he drags the hero to hell, in a series of battles waged in the name of revenge and redemption.
Beyond the humanism dear to Kurosawa, the samurai film is a cinema of delayed attack, of ellipses, based on an economy of action. This is a grammar reappropriated by Sergio Leone of spaghetti western, an expanded and picaresque version of the classic western, conceived according to the model of Bodyguard (1961) by Kurosawa. The video game undoubtedly has a lot to gain by operating such a transposition, when considering the chabara not as a simple aesthetic filter but as an opportunity to change the rhythm and gameplay of the action game. Since 1984, the slowness and the posture of the duelist Karateka outlined in a cinematic playability Walking to Yomieven if it is in line with this classic, it is never carried to this day.