Masterless, a film by writer/director Craig Shimahara, tells a powerful double-edged tale of real life and the spiritual plane. On one plane, Kane Madison (Adam LaVorgna) is an architect in Los Angeles, and on another, he is a ronin in an ancient other world where warriors battle with swords and arrows. When a seizure sends Madison’s wife, Emi (Okiko Saito), into a coma, he finds himself at a crossroads of faith and life that will be determined in both worlds.
Shimahara’s tale appears simple in the real-world context. Madison is floundering to find purpose, especially after he is laid off, but work is all he has ever known. His atheistic decisions are a far cry from Emi’s faith and his parents’ beliefs, but he sees no reason for God in the world around him. This is the reality of too many people today, who see problems in the world as an argument against God’s existence and see their own success as self-governed.
On the other plane, designed by thirty artists working over the last year, things are simple and complicated at the same time. While the artistry and filmmaking here is more multilayered, it is ultimately the story of a man on a quest to find his master. What little I know about Japanese samurai motifs reminds me that a ronin is disgraced and without purpose until he has a master. Shimahara has used this beautifully to provide a parallel to the way that we flail about without Jesus as our Master, teaching us to be disciples.
In the real world, and this spiritual plane, Madison finds himself encountering roadblocks to faith. There is in fact a series of tests or battles he must fight that show that he is up against an adversary who is intentionally trying to kill his spirit. I Peter 5:8 states that “Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour,” and Ephesians 6:12 reads “For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.” Both of these are apropos to what Shimahara has laid out visually and metaphorically through his script.
But even if you know nothing about the life of the ronin in ancient Japan, the imagery is spellbinding. There are some instances where the script is more ‘obvious’ than others. As Madison reads the Bible in L.A., he is granted a sword of God in the spiritual plane, but he doesn’t know how to use it. There are implications that wandering and journeying are two different things - one has a purpose - and the people that the spiritual Madison experiences along the way are of various mindsets that reflect good and evil. [And, of course, there's the name "Kane"... or Cain.]
Still, one of my favorite aspects of the film was the seamless way in which Shimahara integrated scripture into the dialogue. At one point, Madison ‘prays’ without knowing who he is praying to, while using the words of David from Psalm 143:11: “For your name's sake, LORD, preserve my life; in your righteousness, bring me out of trouble.” This is fine art - to share a story that contains within it a message of life and faith, beautifully rendered and delivered in a multi-layered canvas.
Masterless is unlike any movie I have ever seen. And I eagerly await the next installment.