johnlink ranks ICHIJOJO NO KETTO (SAMURAI II: DUEL AT ICHIJOJI TEMPLE) (1955)

Here is part two of Hiroshi Inagaki’s SAMURAI trilogy concerning Musashi Miyamoto 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 two.

I watched ICHIJOJO NO KETTO (SAMURAI II: DUEL AT ICHIJOJI TEMPLE) (1955) on 8.22.12. It was my first viewing of the film.

This second installment in the Miyamoto trilogy is very different from the first. Where the first spans a long time and many battles, DUEL AT ICHIJOJI TEMPLE occurs over just a matter of days or weeks, and is relatively isolated. It is better for it. While the shot selection and color scheme leave no doubt that this film was not turned over to another director, the creation of the film is more mature than in the first movie.

Perhaps most interestingly, Miyamoto is the focus of the film mostly through the eyes of others. Where part one was undoubtedly the story of a man finding his way in life, part two is about the building of a legend. We see women throw themselves at him only to be turned down. We see men want to be him. We see enemies who want to kill him. In most of the first two acts, the reaction shots are on those around him, rather than on the work Mifune is doing in playing Miyamoto. This is a successful strategy for building reverence.

It would be as if a James Bond movie were made in which the focus was the women he discards (the difference being that Bond would sleep with them first), the young agents who envy him, and the villains who want him dead. Rather than just showing all the amazing situations Bond can manipulate, we would instead be seeing the wake of the path he leaves behind. Of course, in act three, Bond would still need to kick some ass.

And so, all the drama and near-misses of characters looking for each other all leads to the titular duel. The origin of the fight is born from Miyamoto randomly selecting a House to train at in the film’s first act. He incidentally kills a few men at the Yoshioka House while the Master (Akihiko Hirata) is away. The Master feels he must fight Miyamoto to defend his honor, but the men of his house continually keep the two from meeting, thinking that they will kill Miyamoto. Of course, nobody kills Toshiro Mifune, so it all leads to a duel which (SPOILER ALERT) becomes more of an 80-1 ambush rather than a fair fight.

Meanwhile, three different women all state that Miyamoto is the love of their lives. Two of them are from the first film: Akemi (Mariko Okada), who helped nurse a young Miyamoto after his first battle, and Otsu (Kaoru Yachigusa) who seems to be the true love of his life. The third woman is a geisha who seems mostly unnecessary to the story (though I wouldn’t be surprised if she returns in part three).

I like the build of the story, and I really like the presence of another young swordsman named Sasaki (Koji Tsuruta) who is following Miyamoto’s career. Sasaki adds the presence of someone who is a budding legend in his own right, but who still seems to worship Miyamoto. It is hard to tell if they are headed towards a partnering or a fight, but I’m really looking forward to what part three has in store for these two guys.

Some of the love story is a little cliche, and a heck of a lot of time is spent dwelling on it. I could have used less love story and more action, but that is probably the right side of my brain talking. The final duel is worth waiting for, even if the others are surprisingly underdeveloped. I also love that the final duel is strategically anti-climactic. It works well for the development of Miyamoto as a character.

I do need to note just how amazing a presence Mifune is. He is larger than everyone, more impressive than everyone, and more still than everyone. He is the central heavenly body around which all others revolve, and if his presence wasn’t so well realized the entire thing would fall apart. He is just spectacular to watch.

Although this second installment (much like the first) did not blow me away, it does very much leave me wanting to see the third. I’m very curious where these love stories and character arcs are headed!

SCORES

FILM: 6; MOVIE: 7; ACTING: 6; WRITING: 7

6+7+6+7+0=26

FINAL SCORE: 6.5

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~ by johnlink00 on August 22, 2012.

3 Responses to “johnlink ranks ICHIJOJO NO KETTO (SAMURAI II: DUEL AT ICHIJOJI TEMPLE) (1955)”

  1. Ah I am glad you like the 2nd installment better than the first and you will probably like the third better than the second. Keep an eye on Kojiro, but I disagree that Kojiro worships Musashi, I believe he is playing the pretty boy and is a bit sarcastic or arrogant depending on how you look at things. The Kojiro’s acting seems to be one of a watcher, someone waiting to see how things shake out–a little stand offish. I also believe that the scenery and sets are even more beautiful than in the first movie. I can’t wait to see your take on number 3.

  2. Looking forward to number 3. Regarding the sets and scenery: It’s interesting. I feel the same way. But the 2nd and 3rd were shot on studio lots at Toho, whereas the first film was filmed on location. I feel like the first looks more authentic, but the 2nd looks better… if that makes any sense.

  3. […] S II link here […]

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