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The film begins when the legendary swordsman Miyamoto Musashi is still named Shinmen Takezo. After being on the losing side of the Battle of Sekigahara, Takezo and his friend manage to escape and come across a young woman and her mother.
Set at the end of the Siege of Osaka this film follows the exploits of several members of the defeated Toyotomi clan as they cope with the post battle chaos and the persecution of the Shogun's army.
Five samurai decide on different fates when it becomes clear that their side is being destroyed. One wants to attack the enemy head on in a final honorable death. Another decides to commit hari-kiri but wants to find a glorious view to do it. His close friend, the "coward", just wants to run and give up the life of a samurai. The final two set their own castle on fire to garner favors from the enemy and therefore avert their own death during the massacre of all defeated soldiers as ordered by the shogun. The hari-kiri samurai is disrupted in his task when a Toyotomi princess shows up with the infant male heir to the clan. She is being pursued by three Iga ninjas. He defends her and kills a ninja who turns out to be the father of the other ninjas, a woman and her brother. He escapes with the princess and the infant but loses the infant later when they are ambushed at a safe house. The Iga ninjas have vowed revenge against him as well. Meanwhile the two who set the castle on fire are hired by the shogun's army to start a rebellion against the shogun but to give the army the plans so the rebels can be easily rounded up and killed. The honorable samurai goes crazy and the "coward" becomes a successful merchant. In the midst of this is a mysterious man, dressed as a monk, who fights with a bamboo flute. A side story concerns the princess' elder sister becoming a cynical prostitute after being raped by one of her own clan members. It all comes together at the end for a big unexpected climax.
A very well mounted production from Toho with an excellent score partially composed by Godzilla composer Akira Ikufube. The battle scenes are well mounted with extensive miniature work from special effects master Eji Tsuburaya. It great to see what the man could do when given a good budget. The story is convoluted with the numerous stories running but it works very well. There is some melodrama but all the actors are excellent. Toshiro Mifune is great as the mysterious man but is not the main character.
Many of the themes present in this film have been done elsewhere before and after but that shouldn't prevent you from enjoying this well made production. Recommended.
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