Sword of the Stranger
|Sword of the Stranger|
Theatrical release poster
|Directed by||Masahiro Andō|
|Produced by||Masahiko Minami|
|Screenplay by||Fumihito Takayama|
|Music by||Naoki Satō|
|Edited by||Hiroaki Itabe|
|Running time||102 minutes|
Sword of the Stranger (Japanese: ストレンヂア 無皇刃譚 Hepburn: Sutorenjia Mukōhadan?, Stranja Mukōhadan) is a 2007 Japanese anime film directed by Masahiro Andō and produced by Bones. The film follows Kotaro, a young boy who is hunted by a group of swordsmen from Ming Dynasty China for mysterious reasons. Among the group is a fearsome Western fighter named Luo-Lang, whose only desire is to find a worthy opponent. Due to circumstances, Kotaro and his dog meet Nanashi, a nameless ronin who is haunted by memories of his past which have led him to avoid drawing his sword ever again. When the Ming clash with a Sengoku-era feudal lord, a proud general, and monks torn between faith and survival, the reason behind the Ming group's pursuit tests the bond between Kotaro and Nanashi.
Set during the Sengoku-era in Japan, a young boy named Kotarou flees into the wilderness with his dog, Tobimaru, and the monk, Shouan, after their temple home is attacked and set ablaze. Shouan leaves Kotarou to check on the conditions of the other monks but tells him to head to the Mangaku Temple in Shirato for safety. Before departing, Shouan gives Kotarou a small gem, which he tells him to sell for one sen. Meanwhile, in the providence of Akaike, a group of Ming foreigners, under the command of Lord Byakuran, are led through a mountain passage, where they are ambushed by rogue Akaike swordsmen. The swordsmen are quickly overwhelmed, by Luo Lang, the sole Westerner of the Ming group.
In Akaike, Kotarou survives by stealing food and water from the local villagers. He leads Tobimaru into an abandoned temple, where they plan to sleep for the night. Much to Kotarou’s surprise, however, the temple is already occupied by the ronin, Nanashi. Kotarou vehemently claims the temple as his home and demands Nanashi to leave, but the samurai light-heartedly wards off the young boy’s complaints. Kotarou is annoyed by Nanashi’s presence, but Tobimaru takes a liking to the ronin.
Later, Kingai and two Akaike soldiers arrive at the temple and demand Kotarou to be handed to them. Nanashi refuses after seeing the soldiers' rough treatment of the boy. The Akaike soldiers attack but are killed by Tobimaru and Nanashi. Kingai attempts to kill Nanashi with a poisonous kunai, but Nanashi is saved by Tobimaru, who is injured as a result. Nanashi finally manages to kill Kingai without unsheathing his sword. Although he attempts to leave, Nanashi is stopped by Kotarou, who demands that the ronin save the dying Tobimaru. He presents Nanashi with the small gem, which he claims is valued at ten ryo. Kotarou proclaims that he will give Nanashi the treasure if he saves Tobimaru’s life and takes them to the Mangaku Temple in Shirato. Although at first hesitant, Nanashi later agrees.
The daimyo, Lord Akaike, meets with his chief vassal, Shogen Itadori, to discuss the plans of the Ming Emperor. It is revealed that the Emperor has ordered the building of a large structure on the Shishine fortress grounds for unknown reasons. The daimyo sends spies to find out. At the abandoned temple, Doshi, another of the Ming group, who arrives to collect Kingai’s body, is ambushed by Akaike soldiers, who set the temple on fire. Nanashi and Kotarou ride arriving at nightfall in the next village, where a doctor provides medicine to heal Tobimaru. Nanashi rents a room for him and Kotarou for the night. Tobimaru remains unresponsive, which strains the relationship between Kotarou and the ronin. The Ming group also arrives in the village the next morning. After purchasing a saddle in the village, Nanashi is drawn into a fight by Luo Lang. Weng Fu intervenes, however, after revealing that Kingai and Doshi were killed.
Tobimaru recovers his health, which, in turn, warms the relationship between Kotarou and Nanashi. As they take a bath in a hot spring, Kotarou questions Nanashi’s life as a samurai, to which Nanashi replies that he enjoys his present life much more than his previous occupation as a general. It is revealed that Nanashi has frequent nightmares about his past. Kotarou realizes that Nanashi dyes his hair black. Unsure of his origins, Nanashi reveals that his natural red hair drew fear from everyone around him, but the problem was mitigated after he learned the method of dying his hair. As the pair dry themselves by a fire, Nanashi notices that they are being pursued by two men. He prompts Kotarou to begin speaking of his past to give the impression that the pair do not notice them. Kotarou reveals that he is an orphan, and the day before he was to be sold, the monk Shouan, who came to Ming to train, saved him and brought him to Japan. The pursuers, who are revealed to be mere thieves, are easily overwhelmed by Nanashi.
During one of Itadori’s kendo sessions with his students, Luo Lang appears and manages to injure Itadori during a spar. Itadori remarks that Luo Lang was the second man he met with such reputable power and talent. The first was a man he fought alongside in war, who later grew weary of fighting and disappeared after a battle. The man is later revealed to be Nanashi.
Nanashi and Kotarou finally arrive at the Mangaku Temple, where Shouan greets them. As such Nanashi prepares to part ways with Kotarou, Kotarou gives Nanashi the small gem he promised earlier for the work Nanashi did for him though the gem turns out to be only worth one ryo. Despite that, Nanashi and Kotarou say goodbye on happy terms.
As Kotarou follows Shouan to meet the Mangaku Temple Head, a few of the Ming group are there. Kotarou realizes that Shouan had betrayed him on the orders of the Mangaku Temple head and under the Ming threats. The Ming capture Kotarou and prepare to return to the Shishine fortress. As they are leaving the temple, the Lord's soldiers launch a surprise attack on them to capture Kotarou for ransom. The Ming easily overpower them and ride off. The commotion in the temple gets Nanashi's attention and he comes back only to see the Ming taking away a tied Kotarou. Unable to catch up with them, Nanashi returns to the temple to get Tobimaru. There he confronts Shouan. Shouan questions Nanashi saying that if Nanashi was in his position, he would have done the same and given up Kotarou. While this statement disturbs Nanashi and gives up memories of his past as a soldier, Nanashi replies that Shouan is undeserving of being a monk and leaves with Tobimaru to rescue Kotarou.
Lord Byakuran is informed by Rarou and his bird not only of Kotarou's capture but that the locals have betrayed them. Lord Byakuran, Luo Lang and the other Ming move quickly to pay a visit to the local daimyo Lord Akaike. Whilst one female Ming poisons the horses, Luo Lang kills the daimyo's guards and the daimyo is taken hostage instead.
Shogen Itadori arrives at the temple to find many of his troops slain, the monk Zekkai captured and Shouan has committed suicide in shame. He is informed of the daimyo's capture and heads off to lead the army approaching the Ming fortress, not before condemning Zekkai to death for working with the Ming. Itadori and Nanashi each separately race for the Shishine grounds as the Ming prepare to sacrifice Kotarou; the former rides on horse back while the latter is guided by Tobimaru following his master's scent.
Itadori's army reaches the fortress first, but Itadori has his Lieutenant kill the captive daimyo when he is propped up on a pole to stall for time. Itadori, plotting to create a territory of his own and promising the hand of Akaike's princess to his Lieutenant, storms the temple grounds. The two female Ming engage the army first, one of them inflicting heavy casualties with her bow while the other fights on the ground. The first Ming is defeated by Itadori's Lieutenant, who shoots an arrow clean through her head before being killed by the second Ming in a scene similar to the fight between Luo Lang and the bandits at the beginning of the film. The second Ming is then pinned to a wall by Itadori's spear where she is shot with dozens of arrows while reaching for her weapon.
Itadori's army advances onto the grounds, but is harassed by the remaining Ming and suffers heavy casualties. Nanashi arrives during this only to be caught up in a series of explosions that claim the lives of most of Itadori's men. He relives the moment that made him put aside his sword: his execution of two young children on the orders of his Lord. He awakens and climbs out of the wreckage, racing along the roof tops of the temple grounds as the time of sacrifice comes. As he approaches the altar, one of the Ming gets in his way after dispatching a team of Itadori's surviving troops. In a moment of fury and desperation, Nanashi rips through the bindings on his sword's hilt and unsheathes it for the first time in years, slicing through the Ming easily and then throwing it across a great distance into the neck of the Ming assigned to execute Kotarou-who is still alive thanks to Tobimaru briefly stalling the sacrifice.
Meanwhile Itadori's men are finished off, and Shogen himself is injured by Lou Lang. He intends to keep fighting even with an injured knee, a knife in his neck and his spear broken, but is shot by Lord Byakuran. The four remaining Ming regroup, where they decide to recapture Kotarou and wait for the next time of ceremony. Nanashi and Kotarou reunite and try to leave, only to be ambushed by the two subordinate Ming while Lou Lang and Byakuran watch from below. Unarmed, Nanashi stalls until Kotarou throws him one of the Mings' discarded swords, which he uses to kill one of his opponents before being blinded by a spray of blood. He manages to send himself and his second opponent over an edge and cause the Ming's other sword to go through his own neck.
Nanashi, wounded and dazed, is left hanging at another fall while Kotarou attempts to help. Lou Lang admires Nanashi's skill, and saves him from Byakuran before the Lord can shoot him. He slices off Byakuran's left hand and cuts his gun in half first; then he takes Byakuran's other hand when the Lord attempts to attack him, and finally he throws a knife into his head when the old man attempts to scold him, thinking Lou Lang wants the mythical medicine for himself. Lou Lang offers some of his drugs to Nanashi, who has reacquired his own sword, but the ronin refuses.
In a climactic battle, Nanashi and Lou Lang fight until both of their swords have shattered, and stab one another at the same time. Nanashi is saved by the gem given to him by Kotarou, and Lou Lang dies while commenting on how being stabbed feels. Kotarou, Tobimaru and Nanashi then ride to the coast where Kotarou comments on how they could visit a foreign nation or take up various vocations. Nanashi blacks out, and a trail of blood can be seen being left behind the horse, leaving Nanashi's fate ambiguous.
Nameless/Nanashi (名無し?) (means "No Name" or "Nameless", referring to warriors that were lost in battle)
- A ronin haunted by his terrible past, he has sworn to keep his sword sheathed. However, upon meeting Kotaro, he finds himself re-evaluating his life. While traveling with the young Kotaro, Nanashi finds himself acting as a bodyguard for the boy. This in turn leads to his prolonged struggle against the Ming warriors, particularly Luo-Lang.
- Kotaro (仔太郎?)
- Kotaro is a young orphan, seen in the opening scene being told by the priest Shoan to run far away from the monastery. He is pursued by the Ming swordsmen as well as the soldiers of Akaike. With no idea why he is being chased. He seeks protection from Nanashi, after encountering him. His sole traveling companion until meeting Nanashi is his Shiba Inu, Tobimaru.
- Luo-Lang (羅狼?)
- The blonde-haired, blue-eyed, European second-in-command of the Ming group and an extremely skilled swordsman. Luo-Lang is driven by a thirst for great power, and craves finding an equally strong opponent to fight so that he may improve his skills.
- Shogen Itadori (虎杖 将藍?)
- One of the chief vassals of Akaike. He is a warrior whose swordsmanship skills have helped him rise above the rank-and-file soldiers and into power. He is driven by the ambition of one day becoming the ruler of an independent territory.
- Master Bai-Luan (白鸞?)
- The leader of the Ming group. He is responsible for chasing Kotaro on the Emperor’s order. He is completely dedicated to the Emperor and is just using Luo-Lang for his strength.
- Tobimaru (飛丸?)
- Kotaro's dog, and a principal character in the movie. Tobimaru is poisoned by a Ming warrior early in the film. Curing him provides the catalyst for Nanashi and Kotaro to work together. Nanashi helps Tobimaru by taking him, along with Kotaro, to an apothecary. After he is cured, Tobimaru worries about Kotaro, and after his master is captured, he helps Nanashi find the Sacrificial Altar before Kotaro is sacrificed.
- Shoan (祥庵?)
- Lord Akaike (金亥?)
Festivals and awards
- 24th Amsterdam Fantastic Film Festival
- Asia Filmfest
- Asia Pacific Screen Awards 
- Camera Japan
- FANTASPOA  (International Fantastic Film Festival of Porto Alegre)
- Leeds International Film Festival 
- London Barbican's Japanimation
- Sci-Fi London's Oktoberfest
The film won the award for Best Animated Feature at FANTASPOA (International Fantastic Film Festival of Porto Alegre) in Brazil and was a nominee for Best Animated Feature Film at the Asia Pacific Screen Awards
The film was also submitted to the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences for consideration as a nominee for Best Animated Feature at the 81st Academy Awards.  There were fourteen films vying for the three nomination spots, including Sword of the Stranger.
Sword of the Stranger has so far appeared on a select number of cinema screens in the United States and reception has been positive.
Anime News Network reviewer Justin Sevakis gave the film an overall A- and labeled it as: "Breath-taking action scenes wrapped around a compelling story that actually makes sense." In her Anime News Network column entitled Shelf Life, reviewer Bamboo Dong profiled the Blu-ray release as "a gorgeously animated, blood-soaked samurai romp that entertains for its full 102 minute run." Firefox News summarized their view on the dubbed and subbed versions of the film by saying:
The film was also positively received on its festival run in the European Union, receiving a rating of 4.07 out of 5 from viewers on average from Camera Japan and being well received at Oktoberfest, Sci-Fi London's anime all-nighter. The film has been ranked at #1 in JapanCinema.net's "Top 10 Anime Films of the Decade" list.
Sword of the Stranger was released to Japanese theaters on September 29, 2007. The DVD and Blu-ray were released in regular and limited editions on April 11, 2008. The film premiered in the United States on February 15, 2008. It was dubbed into English through Ocean Studios in Vancouver, British Columbia and released by Bandai Entertainment. The English-dub was released on DVD and Blu-ray on June 16, 2009.
- Sevakis, Justin (2008-07-07). "Anime News Network Review: Sword of the Stranger". Anime News Network. Retrieved 2009-06-15.
- Dong, Bamboo (2009-06-22). "Anime News Network: Shelf Life - Sword of the Stranger". Anime News Network. Retrieved 2009-06-22.
- "Top 10 Anime Films of the Decade". JapanCinema.net. Retrieved 24 February 2012.
- Sword of the Stranger at the Internet Movie Database
- Sword of the Stranger (film) at Anime News Network's encyclopedia