Reviewby Theron Martin,
Fusé: Memoirs of a Huntress [Premium Edition]
The time is somewhere around 1854. Hamaji, a girl who has grown up in the mountains and become quite a proficient huntress, lost the grandfather she lived with a season earlier, so she decides to answer a letter from her brother and join him in Edo. When she arrives, she learns that family connections were only part of the reason for his invitation; he also wanted the help of her hunting skills in tracking down the last couple of Fusé, shape-changers who could appear in human or a human/dog hybrid form who had been terrorizing Edo to the point that Shogun Iesada Tokugawa had put out a substantial bounty on their heads. Her brother Dousetsu's plan is to use tracking them down both for the reward money and as a stepping stone to becoming a government-employed samurai. Hamaji's skills do, indeed, prove useful to that end, but a problem arises when the last Fusé turns out to be Shino, the kabuki actor who thoroughly charmed her during previous encounters. Hamaji was taught to hunt by making a connection with her target, and this may be more of a connection than she bargained for.
Fusé: Memoirs of a Huntess is a 106 minute long late 2010 movie which is based on a novel which is somewhat of a spin-off of the epic Japanese novel Nanso Satomi Hakkenden. That point is not made clear until more than halfway through the movie, however, when a kabuki performance reveals that the origin of the Fusé is the story from Hakkenden about a princess becoming pregnant by an heroic dog, although astute viewers may be tipped off earlier by the fact that there were originally eight of these dog-men before they started getting killed off for bounties. In fact, towards the end of the movie one character indicates that the original purpose behind the writing of Hakkenden and its story of eight “dog-brothers” was to subtly promote a more sympathetic portrayal of Fusé, who are implied here to be at least as much a persecuted people as actual dangerous killers. The literary cleverness involved in this set-up gives a boost to a movie whose strengths otherwise lie much more in its details than its storytelling.
And the details are one of the two places where the movie truly shines, as it is clearly a very meticulously-researched work. The city of Edo is reconstructed down to the smallest detail, including the names and designs of bridges, the designs of hovels and shops, even how wood planks were used to pave alleyways. It explores the city from the interior of Edo Castle, with its “roots as strong as a mountain” and soldiers learning to use rifles in the wake of Matthew Perry's arrival, to the den of iniquity that is the pleasure district of Yoshiwara, in all its glory and seaminess. It looks at how wood prints were done and distributed, how kabuki performances were carried out, some of the food that was served at the time, and the hygienically disgusting beauty practice that was apparently common amongst married women at the time. It even shows how fire-prone Edo was notorious for being; the tower that Hamaji climbs at various points is a fire lookout tower. Hamaji's gun design is rather fanciful, but aside from the supernatural elements the only other obvious historical inconsistency is that Kyokutei Bakin, the author of Hakkenden, is portrayed as being alive in Iesada's era when he actually died six years earlier. (Reference to him dictating the last parts of Hakkenden to his daughter-in-law due to his failing eyesight are accurate, however.)
The Fusé are interesting in that they are not exactly traditional werecreatures. They do have superhuman strength and agility, can transform limbs into bestial forms (sometimes unwillingly), do turn into hybrid human/dog forms when they die, and can heal rapidly from most wounds. However, they also feed on human souls, which they apparently must regularly devour to maintain the height of their superhuman characteristics, and they have all of the emotional frailties and foibles of normal humans. Attempts to make them seem sympathetic or persecuted are only sporadically successful, though.
Also only sporadically successful – and certainly more typical – is the underlying storyline. Hamaji comes in from the country, meets assorted odd characters in the city (including the enterprising granddaughter of Bakin!), starts falling for Shino over assorted encounters, and is unsettled by hunting a quarry that is much more human in character than any animal she has hunted before. (The latter is likely meant to be one of the underlying messages: that the techniques for hunting animals take on a different flavor when applied to people.) Meanwhile Iesada Tokugawa, who was historically known to be of frail health, has a side obsession going on which is actually connected to the Fusé and manifests in a bizarre way near the end of movie. A side complication or two comes up concerning Dousetsu and a woman who serves food to the community he and Hamaji live in, but that's about it. The twists, while not entirely predictable, are not big ones, and the ending is about what one will come to expect after a certain point.
Fortunately the artistic production, courtesy of TMS Entertainment, does provide a lot to look at. The character designs are far from the prettiest; in fact, aside from Shino, hardly any character in the movie (the star included) could even be called attractive. Hamaji definitely looks better when she finally wears her hair down late in the movie, but she typically dresses in an unflattering fashion and is depicted with far more prominent hips than one would normally see on an anime leading lady. For all of that, though, the wealth of detail even in background characters is impressive, and the fluid animation even of background characters gives the movie a busy look too rarely seen in anime movies. The gorgeous color scheme is what truly stands out the most about the visuals, though, and that is where the movie benefits the most from the Blu-Ray transfer. Despite the emphasis on courtesans and prostitutes in some scenes, very little actual salacious content is present, but other scenes do get very graphically violent.
Music director Michiru Oshima (probably best-known for Fullmetal Alchemist, Blast of Tempest, and Le Chevalier D'Eon) provides a score which primarily anchors itself in classical symphonic music pieces. However, in long stretches – especially when Hamaji is exploring Edo – it also uses accordion-centered numbers reminiscent of themes heard in the series Simoun. Along with an ending theme and insert song, the music is effective without being particularly special. The same can be said for the Japanese voice work.
Like all NISA releases, this one offers no English dub. It also comes in NISA's traditional sturdy artbox, which includes a long hardcover book containing concept art for characters and settings, a layout of Yoshiwara, an interview with director Masayuki Miyaji, several pages of bonus art gallery, and translated major credits. On-disk Extras are limited to trailers and special previews for the movie. The Blu-Ray disk comes with options for both DTS Master Audio 5.1 and LPCM Japanese 2.0 Surround, while visuals are the standard 1080p AVC MPEG-4.
Fusé may not be a masterpiece as anime movies go, but it is a solid, entertaining, and well-animated work of historical fiction.
Overall (sub) : B+
Story : B-
Animation : A-
Art : A-
Music : B+
+ Color, animation, attention to mundane detail.
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