johnlink ranks MIYAMOTO MUSASHI (SAMURAI I) (1954)

I have a bunch of series to finish up. I need to watch the last three original STAR TREK films. I desperately need to get to ARMY OF DARKNESS. I also want to see the new BOURNE flick (just in theaters this week), and MEN IN BLACK 3 since I am a completest. Instead of gathering in one of those options I started up a new series. Hiroshi Inagaki’s SAMURAI trilogy aired on TCM this weekend, and I gobbled them on my DVR. This sprawling story, with Toshiro Mifune in the lead role, is one I’ve always to see.

 I watched MIYAMOTO MUSASHI (SAMURAI I: MUSASHI MIYAMOTO) (1954) on 8.11.12. It was my first viewing of the film.

Miyamoto Musashi is a legendary Japanese figure. He was an expert swordsman, an artist, a philosopher, and a writer. Inagaki’s trilogy is based on a novel about Musashi, so it is more folk lore than biography. Much like Davy Crockett for Americans, it is possible to separate Musashi the legend from Musashi the man. However, the two blend together into a single idea.

When we meet Musashi (Mifune) in SAMURAI I, he is a young man who yearns to become famous through battle. He runs from his village to involve himself in a war which quickly ends. His friend is injured, and he helps him to the safety of a rural home. Musashi becomes a hero there, only to be turned away. Angry and without loyalty, he becomes a fugitive. The major story of this film involves an entire village hunting for him. He must learn to be humble. He must learn to find peace. He must learn to be less hateful of life.

This is a movie which feels like it is missing pieces. Coming in at 93 minutes, we don’t learn much about Musashi before the action starts. Entire pieces of the timeline are missing. We don’t know why the villagers hate him as much as they do, or what he has done to be as hunted as he is. We know he will kill to defend himself, and we know that love (to him) is just something which gets in the way of becoming a samurai. This movie feels as though it could be a half hour longer, though perhaps that is just the opinion of this American used to a certain structure. I’m not here saying that I didn’t like what I saw. On the contrary, this is a great story. But I would have loved to have seen more.

I haven’t seen a ton of Japanese film from this era, so I can’t speak as an expert. I can say that Hiroshi Inagaki is an able director. His color palate is mature for 50s film, and he has a nice eye for mise-en-scene. However, the scope of this film sometimes feel small. This could, and perhaps should, feel like a minor epic. Instead, it is a very small and isolated film.

Again, my enjoyment of the picture wasn’t lessened by the filming, but my appreciation of the artistry of this movie can’t match, say, SEVEN SAMURAI. I did love meeting Musashi. Despite the fact that Mifune is a playing a character at least a decade younger than he is as an actor, the performance really does resonate. I’m not sure I remember a feature in which the hero acts so selfishly and so poorly for so long. The advantage of knowing this would be a trilogy, then, is evident in this film’s ability to drag out Musashi’s development as a mature young man.

I did really enjoy the way the characters grow. The major female, Otsu (Kaoru Yachigusa) makes a drastic decision about her feelings about Musahi. We can only deduce her reasons, because they aren’t worn on her sleeve. We assume there is a sense of guilt, and a sense of desperation. But the film doesn’t care to be too obvious. Same goes for the ‘training’ of Musashi by Takuan (Kuroemon Onoe). Takuan puts Musashi up in a tree at one point. He lies to him regularly, and we are left wondering how far he would have gone with Musashi had Otsu not interfered. One can only wonder if Takuan would have left him up there UNTIL Otsu interfered.

When I went into this year saying I wanted to visit a multitude of film series, this was certainly not one which I had in mind. It’s a series I’d always heard of, one I had wanted to watch, but one which I would not have found had it not fallen in my lap. After seeing the first film I can see room for improvement in the series. Yet, at the same time, I anxiously await what the next two films will bring.





~ by johnlink00 on August 11, 2012.

4 Responses to “johnlink ranks MIYAMOTO MUSASHI (SAMURAI I) (1954)”

  1. I am a huge Musashi fan, I have reviewed the NHK 49 episode Japanese TV series, the Mifune trilogy and the five part Musashi series starring Nakamura Kinnosuke and directed by Uchida Tomu (1961-1965). I think you would probably like either the NHK series or the Kinnosuke/Tomu better than the trilogy–at least I do. One thing about the trilogy are the sets and scenery most of it what either shot on location or else intricate sets built by hand. I look forward to reading you takes on the next two of the trilogy.

  2. […] as played by Japanese legend Toshiro Mifune. I was satisfied, though not overwhelmed, by part one (here is a link to that article). Very much glad to get to part […]

  3. […] S I link here […]

  4. […] Link Movies The Samurai Trilogy Samurai I Samurai II Samurai […]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: