The Daily Stream: Sword Of The Stranger Is Perfect For Fans Of Samurai Movies, Wuxia, And Animation

(Welcome to The Daily Stream, an ongoing series in which the /Film team shares what they've been watching, why it's worth checking out, and where you can stream it.)

The Movie: "Sword of the Stranger"

Where You Can Stream It: Crunchyroll, Funimation

The Pitch: It's the Sengoku period in Japan. Samurai clans are warring with each other and the Chinese Ming dynasty maintains influence over their island neighbors. The era sets the stage for this beautifully animated adventure, which plays out like "Lone Wolf and Cub" meets "Rurouni Kenshin."

An anonymous samurai (called Nanashi, literally "No Name") is haunted by the violence he inflicted and the innocent people he killed during the Feudal wars. So, he's become a ronin, wandering Japan alone. That is until he meets young Kotaro, an orphan being pursued by Ming warriors. Kotaro's dog Tobimaru (the most adorable badass in the movie) is wounded saving Nanashi from attackers. So, the man and boy agree to travel together to get the dog medical care, and then to take Kotaro to a safe haven temple. In spite of their initial mutual dislike, they grow to care for each other.

The Ming, though, won't let Kotaro slip through their fingers. They believe that he is the boy prophesied to grant their emperor immortality via a human sacrifice. The leader of Kotaro and Nanashi's hunters is Luo-Lang, a Caucasian-Chinese swordsman. However, he's also in pursuit of a worthy challenge and in Nanashi, he may find it.

Why it's essential viewing

"Sword of the Stranger" isn't out to reinvent the samurai movie, though its simple story is part of the charm. If there's one thing that sets it apart from other Jidaigeki (period drama) films of its ilk, it's the focus on cultural clash. The Chinese characters adhere to hierarchy more; their Emperor has the Mandate of Heaven, after all. In turn, they're sometimes confounded by the Japanese characters' more mercenary attitudes. The score (courtesy of Naoki Satō) also uses Chinese instruments, creating sweeping emotion in action and establishing shots like a good Wuxia film does.

What makes "Sword of the Stranger" stand out is its animation, though. Studio Bones was and remains more well-known for their TV anime. Indeed most of their films, such as  "Cowboy Bebop: Knockin' On Heaven's Door" (a collaboration with the studio Sunrise), are TV spin-offs. "Sword of the Stranger" is the rare original film project for Bones; it feels like their team taking all their experience and trying to prove what they're capable of on the big screen. They stretch their animators' talent to the maximum and the results are stunning.

The film's colors are subdued, with an earthy and naturalistic palette. Oftentimes, the most colorful sight onscreen is the blood splatter flying through the air. The action is where things get jaw-dropping. During duels, characters don't just swing their swords, but their whole bodies too. The ferocity of Nanashi and Luo-Lang's final duel, and the swiftness of the camera following them, is only possible thanks to the animated realm it unfolds in.