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Having seen and loved most of Akira Kurosawa's samurai epics and after discovering that Tôshiro Mifune could glue me and anyone I ever introduced to him to a screen anytime, I figured I'd check out the Samurai trilogy, despite the fact that it wasn't Kurosawa. Inagaki crafted these films (in beautiful color, as opposed to B&W favored by Kurosawa at the time)while Kurosawa was also using Mifune for two of his most famous B&W films (seven Samurai, Hidden Fortress. The great Kurosawa dodged color for long since the process wasn't good enough by his standards yet. I wasn't expecting the visual feast on display here. Furthermore, Kurosawa's love for Noh theater often showed in his films, musically and in his direction, albeit to a masterful effect. This series of films is more accessible to a western audience in both aspects. Both directors boast different strengths, yet common aspects render their films grand, as they do this: sense of photography and of casting, great screenwriting abilities... and Mifune. Mifune most of all. You'd expect to have a strong leading man to carry such a trilogy, and you'd be right. But Mifune can hardly be summed up as only "good". Here, he displays even more than his swordsmanship and physical strength: he shows a trotured and honest humanity that lifts an already very good film into the higher class of truly great and powerful films. I chose to comment part 2 because it is a good sample of the trilogy, the middle chapter always being the most difficult one, often suffering of "bridge symptom". This one isn't that way. It is everything a middle part should be, keeping us entertained as much with its sharp dialogue as with one of the craziest fight scenes in history (think uneven odds and you'll still be far off) enforced by Mifune's mounting fury. Creating great anticipation for the trilogy's conclusion while being highly entertaining while steadily improving throughout on the already very good first film, this is the most satisfying second chapter in a trilogy (including Two Towers) that I've ever seen, bar Empire Strikes Back. Inagaki must have given Kurosawa many sleepless nights with prospects of rivalry. And the best part of it all? Knowing that there's more ahead and that, by most accounts, part 3 is even better! Masterpiece on its own, unmissable as a whole!
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
"Duel at Ichijoji Temple" is one of the greatest samurai films I have
seen. It is the second part of the trilogy about Japan's most famous
and arguably greatest swordsman Miyamoto Musashi, author of the book
"Five rings". Mifune is again superb as the lone wolf hero who is torn
between his love to the orphan girl Otsu and his own samurai call. Koji
Tsuruta was unknown to me before this and was a pleasant surprise as
the charming, ambitious and cunning Kojiro Sasaki, who later becomes
Musashi's principal rival. Daisuke Kato, one of the Seven Samurai,
makes a fun appearance as one of the most loathsome characters in the
movie and the trilogy.The actresses playing Akemi and Otsu were quite
impressive as well.
Hiroshi Inagaki was a highly capable director and proves that clearly here. His attempt to cross swordfighting action with melodrama works very well. The photography is excellent and is one of the real treats of this movie. The scenery was even more spectacular in the third film, but here it doesn't disappoint either. The ending might disappoint those waiting for a happy end and to see Musashi and Otsu get together at last. It is a bit of a letdown, but it also makes you more eager to see the third and final part. There is nothing to criticize here, those who do are missing the point and shouldn't have seen the film in the first place.10/10
The great cast that was in Musashi Miyamoto, the first part of this
samurai trilogy continues in the second part with a few additions.
By this time Musashi Miyamoto has been on the road for three years and is still learning. The most important lesson as a Samurai will not be learned until the film is almost over. Another important lesson comes quickly after that, and it will interesting to see how it plays out in the final part.
In the opening Musashi Miyamoto is doing battle with a samurai similar to our buddy Hanzo. They are the only two I have ever seen use chains.
After this he heads to Kyoto to do battle with the best in the capital, and also to get himself mixed up with the two women who are in love with him.
Love, fickleness, treachery, rape, revenge, honor, and great sword fighting all have a place in this magnificent film.
The amazing cinematography and scenery also place an important part.
This is truly a samurai classic.
This comment about the "Samurai Trilogy" starts on the page for Miyamoto Musashi (Samurai I). My first viewing of the second episode was memorable because I got to take the train into town all by myself, and view it in a Tokyo theater. The first episode had just been shown on base, in a sort of cultural exchange, and my parents saw it and were pleasantly non-outraged-- I was a 9-year-old samurai-movie addict, and they believed enthusiasm beyond a certain intensity should be curbed. It was the same conflict as comic books some few years earlier. Technicolor was a big deal back then, especially in Japan, and it became the issue on which my viewing of "swordfighting movies" was decided-- the ones in color were historical films worth viewing, and even had something to teach. The black-and-white ones shown in Irumagawa and surrounding villages-- I had to sneak off to see. Ichijoji no Ketto (Duel at Ichijoji Temple) shows Miyamoto-san's achievements, while barring no holds on the issue of what they cost him. The romantic subplot continues, though its development in the western sense (toward union, wedded bliss) is thwarted at every turn. The issue is always a conflict between love and duty, and each deferment of gratification spells out a new step in the redefinition of the national character that is being mapped here. Again, some of the importance of all this is lost, even to modern Japanese audiences for whom the issues are long settled-- at the time, though, they were cliffhangers. A new character is introduced, Kojiro Sasaki who will emerge in part 3 as a rival for Musashi-- his equal except for certain features in their respective character. By the way, the score is excellent and haunting-- it extends like a symphony through all three parts, and has a leitmotif "hook" that will cause your ears to pick up in recognition, perhaps years from now, when you hear it again.
"Miyamoto Musashi" was already a great movie but this movie is even a
better one on basically every front.
This movie is part of a real trilogy, that follows one story and one main character. It's therefore also best to watch these 3 movies in a row, to appreciate it best. All 3 movies closely follow each other, in which the first movie is being really used as a movie to set up things, while this second movie is mostly being used to build up to its climax that will occur in the third movie.
This time the movie flows better because the story gets used better as well. Like mentioned earlier, the first movie was still being mostly a setup movie for the series. In this movie we actually get to see more epic moments and fights, as it follows the further travels of Musashi Miyamoto, on his way to become a master-swordsman. Its story and different characters all work out nicely, as things also gets developed more, with its drama and romance.
There are a couple of really great fight sequences, of course mostly featuring Toshirô Mifune. It makes the movie often exciting to watch, as does the overall look for the movie. The movie benefits from its beautiful natural environments, as well as some nicely done studio work. Using color wasn't quite that common yet for '50's Japanese cinema, since it was quite costly and not as advanced yet as in the western world. However color had always worked out nicely for these three movies and it helps to make the movie a really great looking one. You also have to give credit for this to the movie its cinematography, done by Jun Yasumoto, who strangely enough worked on just the first two movies but didn't shot the third and final one.
A movie that really has everything in it.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Without the first and third movies in the trilogy, this movie would
probably seem like a better flick. But considering how strong the movie
began and how it finished even stronger, it is natural that there was a
lull in the middle. It reminds me of the Empire Strikes Back--certainly
not as exciting at the first Star Wars picture they made and not as
satisfying as the conclusion because nothing was particularly resolved
in the flick.
This movie concerns the transformation of Mifune from a young samurai warrior to a COMPLETE samurai. In other words, he is learning that there is more to being a samurai than just being able to beat others in combat. Exactly what this ideal samurai is to be seems uncertain, however Mifune is convinced by the end of the movie that there is no room on this path for the beautiful and ever faithful Ostu. Poor Otsu! It is important to note that these movies were made nearly 50 years ago and existing copies on DVD are in poor condition--with fading and sepia tones instead of the vibrant original. This became VERY apparent when I saw the beginning of the 3rd film. The color was nearly perfect for the initial scene and that is great, as it's a beautiful and extremely artistic shot. At times throughout the movie, some of the scenes are once again vivid while others are faded and lose their impact. You can't blame the film for that, but you wish Criterion would try to digitally enhance the prints they've got to improve the colors and get rid of some scratchy cels.
Step the second in my cinematic sojourn through these Musashi Miyamoto
films. The first part was setting up the story, visually resplendent
but leaves you out in the openit could go on any number of ways. In
this second part, the direction is solidified. Musashi is set up to
choose between the way of the sword or love for the girl Otsu, while
having to face his nemesis Sasaki Kojiro, foreshadowed for the closing
What puts me off this second chapter, which I rate the lowest of the three, is that we had a set of characters in the first film, and suddenly we have another set of characters. The film revolves around his feud with the Yoshioki school.
So in a way, this loose narrative foreshadows the third chapter. As it emerges in this second film, the film is not one long epic split in three parts. Neither is each of the two films so far self-enclosed. The narrative is a loose stitching together of episode and digress, thrust and feint in many directions; observant viewers will notice the same in the elliptical shooting mode.
I will not say more about this as a film since we are still halfway there, instead I'm going to pack all cinematic insights in the comment for the third.
As promised, I'm going to be providing with each comment some context around the films. Here, I'm talking on the fluidity of self.
This is a core precept of Buddhism, which features prominently in the films; Musashi receives key lessons by monks, his journey is one of self-realization, internal abating of ego.
In terms of religion, this fluidity is seen in the transmission and establishment of Buddhism in Japan over several hundred years through several attempts, several travels of Japanese monks in China. Both notable Zen schools in Japan were initiated by monks of the Tendai sect who had been to China. The film's main two centerpieces take place outside Buddhist temples (one is referenced in the title, the other is Sanjusangen-do), both belonging to Tendai. The Sanjusangen-do, a marvelous structure, is also famous for housing one thousand and one statues of the thousand armed Kannon, this is the boddhisatva of compassion. The little wooden statuette that Musashi is seen carving in spots, is of Kannon.
Now simply saying that the self is illusory in nature sounds weird, metaphysical or philosophical at best. Buddhists have many of the same lofty words as we do, about 'void' and 'self', but whereas we're accustomed to theoretical construction and analytical philosophy (we love words in the West), they resort to words as a last means of describing practiced stuffalso evident in Musashi's own writings where he stresses experiential appreciation.
So when they say 'void', they don't mean a generality but something which can be felt, has been felt, as one feels the temperature of water. When they say 'self', they mean when a single thought arises while you're washing the dishes.
So it's a pain in the ass to talk of it, because how can you say exactly how warm it is? It either is to you or isn't. Just stick your hand in. Zen Masters (as well as Musashi whose 'Way of strategy' is Zen-flavored) knew this, which is why they often concocted non-sensical mindgames, loved paradox, urged silence or beat and kicked their students when they asked logical questions. The point is knowing for yourself. A similar thing happens to Musashi in the first film when he is tied by a Zen monk from a tree, a fictional event.
This monk, Takuan, existed, though his interactions with Musashi in the film are fiction, presumably he did know Musashi. He wrote on this business of illusion and nonself using sword metaphors, because the writings were intended for Yagyu Munenori, sword instructor to three shoguns and with Musashi the most famous swordsman in his day. Munenori briefly appears in the third film.
Munenori and Musashi both wrote books with background in all this. Both are still being widely read in the martial arts and business worlds, by people looking for insights on either real or metaphorical war.
Musashi's first four books comprise technique and strategy. The last one and shortest, Book of the Void, which is held in separate esteem, probably because of the portentous title, is where Musashi speaks of the Zen void as deeper principleit should be the most interesting but isn't, Musashi's practical conveyance falls short. No, it's the books on strategy that deserve study once you look past hand-to-hand combat, at least for our purposes here.
Suffice to say, both Zen and Musashi urge direct observation of mind instead of general reasoning. Suffice to say, from the perspective of Zen a Kannon statue is no more sacred than the piece of wood it was carved from. And that the act of carving is the manifestation of self, this can be practically observed in the carved imageis it sloppy, elegant? This is important. So neither spoken word, nor teachings in a book, nor sacred image, nor Zen or not Zen, but observation of the mind behind. I'm going to wrap this in the third post.
I've watched the entire trilogy of the Musashi Miyamoto films, of which
film is the second part. The first film, titled simply "Musashi
introduces us to the characters of this and the third film. Without
seen the first film and developing some interest in the welfare of the
characters, I certainly wouldn't have sat through the second and third
"Duel at Ichijoji Temple," this film, deals with Musashi's exploits as a sort of samurai knight-errant, seeking glory in a very ambiguous and roundabout way. Two women are trailing after him, as Kurosawa films would say, "like goldfish dung." Musashi himself is a flat character on whom Toshiro Mifune's acting skills are wasted. He displays very little emotion or intellect, despite his supposed interest in one of the women and enlightening education by his monk teacher (as we saw in the first film).
If Musashi is flat, the female characters are steamrolled. Their hand wringing, collapsing, and sobbing is typical of American movies of this time period and grows tedious in a samurai film. Having seen other films from this time period set in the days of samurai, I've seen that much more can be done with female characters. The plot was likewise predictable and slow-moving.
If you don't care about characters or plot, the high points of the movie may compensate: beautiful color landscapes and Toshiro Mifune's thrilling fight scenes. Otherwise, I recommend films by Kurosawa or Mizoguchi ("Sanjuro," the mysterious "Ugetsu") over this trilogy. 5/10
The follow-up to 1954's excellent Musashi Miyamoto, Duel at Ichijoji Temple picks up the story several years later, as an exiled orphan-turned-swordsman gains notoriety via a bloody tour of fatal duels. His reputation precedes him in returning to his hometown, where old rivals of both a violent and intimate nature await. This is a film about personal growth - specifically that of the samurai himself, who struggles to learn the key concepts of what his new life actually entails and where the rift lies between honor and reverence. We're never quite sure if Musashi takes this lesson to heart, particularly since he's so keen to maintain an impenetrable outer facade in almost every situation. It's a tricky role for period veteran Toshiro Mifune, who struggles with the more nuanced, flatter aspects of the character. In the previous episode, with the fires of young-adulthood to toy with, he excelled. Here, faced with the malaise of mid-life and the accompanying questions of his own being, his performance is far less sublime. The plot, cramped with too many faces and several seemingly-pointless subplots, does him no favors in dancing around the issues and repeating itself on more than one occasion. This could have been an excellent one-act show, and the final half-hour could still stand alone as precisely that. It lacks the gumption of its predecessor, however, and too often cuts away just as the action is getting good.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Hiroshi Inagaki's 1954-1956 three part color film, The Samurai Trilogy,
is unlike many filmic trilogies for the very fact that it is, indeed,
one exactly five hour long film, and not three separate linked films,
for the first two films have no real endings. In this way it has much
in common with The Lord Of The Rings trilogy. However, whereas those
three are separate films, more or less, their source work is not. Yes,
J.R.R. Tolkien's book is often printed in three separate volumes, but
it is one work. This three part film is also derived from one singular
literary work, from Eiji Yoshikawa's 1935 novel Musashi, loosely based
upon the real life 17th Century Japanese folk hero, the samurai Musashi
Miyamoto, who penned a classic book called The Book Of Five Rings. That
all stated, the landscapes of Japan and sheer numbers of extras in this
film are far more impressive, visually, than the CG crap that the Lord
Of The Rings films spewed. Overall, The Samurai Trilogy is a good film,
but while the narrative story gets better and tighter with each
succeeding film, the visual quality of each succeeding film worsens on
The Criterion Collection's three disks, both in the original film stock
and the poor transfers.
If nothing else, this film, The Samurai Trilogy, can be seen as a sort of training ground for the great Toshiro Mifune to try out and perfect a wide range of acting styles and characters within character that he would unleash on the film lovers of the world throughout the rest of his career, be it in his films with Kurosawa, or long after. And, if a film can be said to have allowed something like that to happen, then its merits are certainly more than its flaws, melodramatic or not. But, even on top of that, a film like this acts as a sort of entrée into the greater and deeper art put out by the aforementioned masters, and allows those great works of art to be more greatly appreciated, for contrast can clarify what the mists of the ineffable do not. In such a spirit, thank you sensei Inagaki.
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