Well, I finally got around to finishing up Hiroshi Inagaki’s SAMURAI trilogy, starring Toshiro Mifune as Japanese legend Musashi Miyamoto. The first two stories concern Musashi learning humility as he kills people using his natural talents. As the third film starts, he has settled into a life of non-violence. I’m really happy to have found this trilogy! I watched KETTO GANRYUJIMA (SAMURAI III: DUEL AT GANRYU ISLAND) (1956) on 9.15.12. It was my first viewing of the film. This is, easily, the best film of the trilogy. This isn’t the sort of series wherein the first two just provide the exposition for the third film’s action. Instead, the third film stands mostly on its own, though the rising tension of the entire trilogy is also resolved satisfactorily.

This is also the best of the series to look at aesthetically (save for the bandit scene, though I will get to that later). The filming of this is beautiful, the above shot from the final duel a perfect example of the sort of artistry on display. Inagaki really seemed to develop a specific tone as the series went on, and the third film is excellently paced and wonderfully realized visually.

Mifune is, once again, an absolute force as Musashi. He is more intimidating for his peacefulness, and both an early scene with a young brutish fighter and a later scene at an inn show how much Musashi can do to manipulate a situation even through non-violence or complete inaction.

This is also the best script of the three. Musashi is still being pursued by his younger admirer Sasaki (Koji Tsuruta). Sasaki desperately wants to make a name for himself by killing Musashi in a proper duel. They get delayed a bit in doing so, but the title leaves no doubt as to the ultimate finale. In the meantime, Musashi takes up a farm. He somewhat rekindles his relationship with Otsu (Kaoru Yachigusa). A showdown with a group of bandits is coming, and we sense the build heading towards the first of two climaxes.

The attack by the bandits on the village is, sadly, a low-point of the series. The choreography does not step up, which is not a major problem (though it is not of the quality of the final encounter in the second film). The major issue is that the shooting is weak. The colors are saturated, the light quality fluctuates, and the result is hard to watch. It’s certainly a visual letdown after a movie filled with lovely images.

Inagaki gets back on track for the final duel, which occurs between Musashi and Sasaki on a beach. It is carefully paced, expertly shot, and contains a shocking moment (which I won’t reveal). I was worried about this final moment after the bandit attack, but ultimately was given an absolute great film duel instead.

Other than the one unfortunate scene, everything about this movie works. The parallels between Sasaki and the Musashi we knew as a young man are unmistakable. The romance is still a little cheesy, but it is effective in getting us to care. While the first two films were not stellar, they were certainly enjoyable. The third film is a large step up from the previous two. I really did enjoy the heck out of it, and I’m really glad I finally saw this entire trilogy.



Two bonus points, one for Musashi’s theme music which I loved. I noticed it early in the series, but found myself anticipating it with glee by the third film. The second bonus point is for the excellent final duel. The ‘film’ score would have been a little higher if not for the horrendous bandit scene, but I wanted to make a point of singling out the final duel as superb.



~ by johnlink00 on September 16, 2012.

One Response to “johnlink ranks KETTO GANRYUJIMA (SAMURAI III: DUEL AT GANRYU ISLAND) (1956)”

  1. […] S III link here […]

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