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Tuesday, June 26, 2012
Toshiro Mifune, Kaoru Yachigusa, Rentaro Mikuni, Mariko Okada, Kuroemon Onoe, Mitsuko Mito, Eiko Miyoshi
This begins director Hiroshi Inagaki's trilogy based on 17th-century Japanese warrior Musashi Miyamoto. Oscar for best foreign-language film.
Samurai (2004) | Review
Why immerse yourself? Well, The Samurai Trilogy tells one continuous tale of perhaps the most celebrated folk hero in Japanese history, Musashi Miyamoto (Toshiro Mifune). The three films follow him from a reckless youth in Samurai I: Musahi Miyamoto, to a daring and bold wandering sword master in Samurai II: Duel At Ichijoji Temple, and conclude with a wise and true master of the blade in Samurai III: Duel At Ganryu Island. All three films were crafted by the same director, Hiroshi Inagaki, from 1954 through 1956. The same cast of characters are implemented in each film, so I found the character work to be engrossing.
I'm a pretty avid fan of samurai films, but after my third run through the Lone Wolf and Cub series recently, this trilogy was a bit of a welcome return to classical filmmaking and legitimate drama. While the Lone Wolf and Cub films tell a gruesome, over the top, bloody tale of action and adventure, where danger lies around every corner for our heroes, The Samurai Trilogy is set in a very real and grounded 1600s Japan. Musashi wanders the land as what is known as a shugyosha, developing mastery of his swordsmanship by challenging other masters to duels. Although he encounters villains and has adventures, Musashi's tale offers us many glimpses at a more authentic way of life for a traveler in those days.
To get right down to the spiritual meat of The Samurai Trilogy, these films are all about discipline and self-mastery. Yet immersing oneself in a sweeping tale like this is to be transported to a time and age entirely devoid of Judeo-Christian beliefs. Today, regardless of what you believe about God or morality, if you live in the West you live in a society firmly rooted in a Judeo-Christian ethic of right and wrong. I actually love stories that take me completely outside of my comfort zone like this.
The code of the samurai, and the perfection of sword technique, simply is not familiar to us Westerners. In order for Musashi to become an undefeated duelist and secure his place in history, he killed countless other swordsmen. This feels murderous to my sensibilities. But the duels of the second and third films in this series are set up in accordance with the customs of that time. Musashi's duels were honorable and just. He was not a wild outlaw by any means.
There are other examples of instances where Musashi's growth in wisdom and self-mastery don't quite jive with what you or I would do. Throughout the films, as Musashi grows in renown, women fall hopelessly in love with him, and male characters lust after challenging him to the blade. If The Samurai Trilogy were Western tales, Musashi would get the girl, and find revenge against all who had wronged him. Instead Musashi endlessly wrestles with his feelings for the doting Otsu, as well as the manipulative and jealous Akemi. Both women will play important roles throughout the three films, but Musashi's enlightenment of detachment, and his love for the way of the sword, will prevent a traditional love relationship from developing. Western romantics would absolutely come unglued on this point.
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