Saturday, January 2, 2010

The Samurai Trilogy (1954 - 1956)


The Samurai Trilogy is a 3 part series centered around the life of legendary sword fighter Miyamoto Musashi (Toshiro Mifune). As the films progress our character molds from trench digger to the legendary sword fighter he is remembered as today.

Samurai I: Miyamoto Musashi

- For me, the first film in the trilogy was by far the weakest. Hiroshi Inagaki manages to utlize a beautiful score and great cinematography to present the trilogy's protagonist, and really concentrates on his wild upbringing. As well we are introduced to many of the characters that will prevail throughout the trilogy. These include the love interest Otsu, the best friend Matahachi, the corrupt widow Oko, and her daughter Akemi. Unlike the following two installments, Samurai I doesn't end with a climatic fight scene, but rather in an emotional farewell, and a hint of things to come. Much of the film is spent developing the personality of Miyamoto, and the great transformation, and personal setbacks, that would plague him throughout his journey.

Inagaki shows great passion for Miyamoto, especially the backstory of his life. We develop a sort of bond with him, an attraction to his odd personality, and social habits. Granted, the first installment feels as if too much is thrown in at once, especially considering the importance of each. Alas though it's a captivating kickoff to the series, one that will definitely get your curiosity a turning.

Score: 6.75/10

Samurai II: Duel at Ichijoji Temple

- After years of journeying and fighting, Miyamoto Musashi returns to the town of Kyoto, where Otsu has been waiting, to fight an infamous school and make his name known. As well also introduced to the character of Kojiro Sasaki (Koji Sasaki), an expert swordsman whose dream is to defeat Miyamoto Musashi.

At the core of this second installment is the introduction of the the Akemi, Otsu, Miyamoto love triangle which weighs heavily on the 3rd film. Serving as an interlude between the first and third installment, here we find the overall care Inagki has for the battles, spending a great deal of time setting up the epic final battle. Inagki is very concerned with the character development for each battle that will take place, allowing them to create a strong impact. As well as giving the viewer a chance to see how each character has grown since we last saw them. Here we are privy to far more stylized action sequences (including the infamous sword vs. ball+chain - which influenced a similar battle in Kill Bill Vol. 1), all of which culminate in another emotional finale.

Score: 7.25/10

Samurai III: Duel on Ganryu Island

- The 3rd, and final, installment is quite easily my favorite. Here we follow Miyamoto Musashi as he slowly turns his back on dueling, instead wanting to better learn how to fight via various methods. At the same time Kojiro gains high status as a swordsmanship teacher and challenges Miyamoto to a duel, which they agree will take place in one year.

Duel on Ganryu Island solves many of the plot points presented in the precious two, and finally puts some closure to the continued Miyamoto-Otsu love saga. As well the film's finale presents us the known and praised Miyamoto Musashi style, in a beautifully designed final battle. Throughout we gain strong new insight to Otsu and Miyamoto, the trials they have endured throughout their life, and the dreams they each possess. The final shot of Miyamoto is simply priceless, and gives extreme depth to the character and his view on dueling.

Score: 8.50/10

Overall though The Samurai Trilogy is an engrossing tale, riddled with it's fair share of flaws. It doesn't have any strong, positive female characters (perhaps a victim of its time), and the editing at times feels a bit sloppy.

Yet there's a lot of beauty in the Samurai Trilogy, and it's hard to not acknowledge the great performances given by each actor. Hiroshi Inagaki does such a stellar job with compressing a vast and complicated story into 3 films (none of which are very long) that he deserves an award. Yet watching these films, it became quite clear to me that they really have to be watched together, and are by no means stand-alone films. They're a powerful portrait of possibly the most important Samurai in history, regardless of their personal quality.

1 better thoughts:

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