DVD of the Week – The Samurai Trilogy Box Set (1954-1956)



Directed by Hiroshi Inagaki and starring the great Toshiro Mifune, Musashi MiyamotoDuel 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

One response to “DVD of the Week – The Samurai Trilogy Box Set (1954-1956)

  1. I recently read the source novel for the trilogy (in a fine translation by Charles Terry, 1995) before viewing them again. The book is a great read and I recommend it to anyone who admires the films and would like to know more about the characters and culture. The films must and do work without knowledge of the larger story but I found it very much enriched my appreciation for them. The novel immerses us in the world of medieval Japan and presents the literary equivalent of a ‘cast of thousands’. The novel is about Musashi and his spiritual development, but many of the characters who appear incidental in the film are also given significant attention. We see a lot more of Otsu and Jotaro; we follow Kojiro’s career; Matahachi, Akemi, and Oko all have fuller roles (I will tease the reader that they also have different fates than the movie gives them). Surprisingly, the most significant difference is the promince of Matahachi’s mother, Osugi, in the novel. She pursues Musashi relentlessly in a quest which unexpectedly parallels Musashi’s own.


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