(director/writer: Hiroshi Inagaki; screenwriter: from the play by Hideji Hojo/from the novel by Eiji Yoshikawa/ Tokuhei Wakao; cinematographer: Jun Yasumoto; editor: Robert B. Homel/Hideshi Ohi; music: Ikuma Dan; cast: Toshirô Mifune (Takezo), Kaoru Yachigusa (Otsu), Mitsuko Mito (Oko), Kuroemon Onoe (Priest Takuan), Mariko Okada (Akemi), Rentaro Mikuni (Matahachi), Mitsuko Mito (Matahachi’s Mother); Runtime: 92; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Kazuo Takimura; The Criterion Collection; 1954-Japan-in Jaspanese with English subtitles)
“Ingaki does a nice job in blending together battle sequences with plot and character development.”
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
Miyamoto Musashi was the first and most powerful installment in Japanese filmmaker Hiroshi Ingaki’s Samurai trilogy (Duel at Ichijoji Temple and Duel at Ganyru Island). It’s based on a long novel by Eiji Yoshikawa and set in 17th century feudal Japan. It combines an adventure story of fighting skills with spiritual training and romance. Toshirô Mifune as Takezo, a crazed warrior with no parents and relatives who despise him for his “lawlessness,” is an idler living in the remote farming village of Miyamato when he yearns to join the raging battle taking place between the East and the West forces of Japan in order to gain fame as a great warrior. He talks his friend Matahachi (Mikuni) into teaming with him, who acquiesces even though he is engaged to a sweet girl living in the temple opposed to the war. Mifune’s warrior character finds himself on the losing side of the civil war. As a result of the bloody battle at Sekigahara, the wounded Matahachi seeks shelter in the home of a widow, Oko (Mito), and her daughter, Akemi (Okada). Matahachi falls for the woman who treated his wounds, Oko, forgetting his betrothal vows to the virtuous Otsu (Yachigusa).
Matahachi, Oko and Akemi go to Kyoto, but Takezo rebuffs the ladies’ advances and returns to his home village. Matahachi’s family rejects Takezo’s report and has him arrested for treason, but he escapes. His chance at redemption comes when an unorthodox Buddhist monk (Onoe) rescues him from death and puts him on the path of enlightenment by locking him in a room for three years with nothing but Zen manuscripts. Otsu and Takezo fall in love, and she promises to wait for him forever.
Not a bad action movie, indeed. Especially if you have an affinity for samurai flicks with old-fashioned themes about loyalty, trust and bravery. It doesn’t reach the level of Kurosawa’s samurai classics, but Ingaki does a nice job in blending together battle sequences with plot and character development. This high-budget film was produced by Toho and was their first color film, going against the grain of most samurai films during that time frame of being shot in black and white. Miyamoto Musashi received an honorary Oscar for Best Foreign Film, in a film that proved to be popular with Western audiences.
REVIEWED ON 5/30/2004 GRADE: B-