The mother of a feudal lord's only heir is kidnapped away from her husband by the lord. The husband and his samurai father must decide whether to accept the unjust decision, or risk death to get her back.
February 17 to March 3, 1860, inside Edo castle. A group of assassins wait by Sakurada Gate to kill the lord of the House of Ii, a powerful man in the Tokugawa government, which has ruled ... See full summary »
In the Edo period, a nameless ronin accepts an assignment to go to a mountain pass and wait. Near the pass he stops at an inn where a collection of characters gather, including a gang set ... See full summary »
The strengths of this movie are a simple story with wonderful characters set to a background of beautiful scenery and costumes using skillful cinematography. Unlike today's movies with emphasis on action, special effects and fast cuts to move the story along, this movie unfolds its drama at a leisurely pace and introduces us to the title characters so we feel well acquainted with them.
Samurai I sets the foundation for the story. It introduces us to Musashi, Otsu, Matahachi and his mother, and Akemi and her mother. There is also a priest named Takuan who captures a youthful Musashi in order to break his wild, free spirit. Matahachi is Musashi's friend who is set to marry Otsu, but the civil war in Japan during that time separate them and put their plans on hold. What drives the first part of the trilogy are the characters, especially the rambunctious Musashi and what he does for his friend Matahachi and his mother. Musashi is an orphan and has grown tired of his existence as a farmer in Miyamoto village. He longs to become a great warrior by joining the civil war. What impressed me was the acting of Toshiro Mifune. He portrays a young and wild Musashi in Part I and the viewer is easily drawn to believe in his portrayal. In Mifune, we can see what the young Musashi is thinking and feeling about what is happening around him. Part I ends with Musashi professing his love for Otsu, but also leaving her in order to further his warrior training.
Samurai II is again driven by its characters, but this time the cinematography opens up to show us breathtaking scenery and backgrounds. The background and costumes of Japan during medieval times make for a very Zen-like and peaceful atmosphere despite the story is about fighting and developing the warrior's skills. The love story between Musashi and Otsu as well as Akemi continue. Mifune shows us Musashi getting more mature and developing as a swordsman. Musashi is torn between his love for the sword and for Otsu. We are also introduced to another important character in Part II, Kojiro Sasaki. Kojiro is an interesting character. He's seen as an actor by people who are familiar with him. He certainly has a flair for the dramatic, but is one who has ambitions to become a great swordsman in his own right. Kojiro seeks fame and fortune, but wants to do it his way. His tastes are different from the simpler Musashi, and each character is developed to portray them as very strong individuals.
Samurai III shows us the final battle at last between Musashi and Kojiro and is easily the most artistic of the trilogy. Both characters have grown to appreciate each other in their skills with the sword, and with it they have used the other to better themselves in their skills. Each are different individuals with different goals, but their motivations to become the best fencer in Japan are the same. Musashi was about to duel Kojiro to the death early in Part III, but decided at the last minute that there were things in life he still wanted to do. He returns to his roots -- the soil and does some farming again. The best part of Part III is the duel scene at Ganryu Island. The final scenes with Musashi and Otsu and the climactic battle between Musashi and Kojiro are shot beautifully. One can see the painful detail it must took to capture the right light and color for those scenes.
Early in his career, director Hiroshi Inagaki trained as a painter. In the Samurai Trilogy, one can appreciate his use of color and composition of the scenes, e.g. the bridge scenes in Samurai I, the opening title sequences in II or the final battle scene in III. The cinematography was wonderful in framing a shot to show the artistry of those scenes. One would have to have an understanding of color, hue and texture to get all the dramatic effects the scenes achieved.
I saw the Criterion version and can accept some of the change of light and fuzziness in the film because of the age, but I do have to complain about the darkness, especially in the fight scenes of Part II. The filtering of the shots made it almost incomprehensible to see the action on the screen. I was thinking why didn't they fight in the daytime, but then it wouldn't have been as authentic I suppose. However, the quality and artistry of the finale in Part III makes up for the digression in Part II.
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