by HELEN GEIB
Directed by Hiroshi Inagaki and starring the great Toshiro Mifune, Musashi Miyamoto, Duel at Ichijoji Temple, and Duel at Ganryu Island are the Samurai Trilogy (1954-1956), a masterpiece of historical fiction.
The trilogy is adapted from Musashi, an influential pre-War Japanese novel by Eiji Yoshikawa that told a dramatized account of the life and legends of Musashi Miyamoto, a seventeenth century samurai renowned for his mastery of swordsmanship and bushido, the philosophical code of samurai life. Mifune’s performance as Musashi is an indelible depiction of a man who has been transformed by contemporary popular culture into an almost ubiquitous character of Japanese film, television, manga, anime, and video games – both in and outside of stories of the samurai era.
The trilogy charts Musashi’s evolution from rough and wild peasant, to disciplined master swordsman, to a man who exchanges his sword for a plow because he has gone beyond the need to prove himself in the world. In the course of Musashi’s journeys, he:
– finds love with a woman who is one of the very best female characters in samurai cinema;
– picks up a delightful acolyte in the person of a boy who attaches himself firmly to Musashi’s side;
– defeats literally scores of weapons masters, bandits, and dishonorable samurai;
– contends with great lords and an irascible monk; and,
– duels with a rival swordsman who may be his equal with the blade.
These films are more than a must-see for fans of samurai movies. It’s a terrifically entertaining series with just about everything you can look for in a movie. Dramatic, exciting, humorous, romantic, thoughtful, and beautifully filmed in gorgeous color, this is a series with universal appeal.
The Samurai Trilogy is available from The Criterion Collection in a box set or packaged individually. The release is light on extras, including only the theatrical trailers and short essays printed in the DVD inserts, but picture and sound quality are excellent. Get the set– you can’t watch just one.
New releases this week: Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead, Mr. Magorium’s Wonder Emporium, My Kid Could Paint That