Samurai Trilogy (1954)

Samurai I: Musashi Miyamoto (1954)

Samurai II: Duel at Ichijoji Temple (1955)

Samurai III: Duel at Ganryu Island (1956)

The "Samurai Trilogy", directed by Hiroshi Inagaki, an epic life of Musashi, from his humble beginnings, through his travails as a soldier and outlaw, to his progress as a masterless samurai who, without training or school, became one of the great sword-fighters in history.

He often fought with a wooden sword and here his climactic duel is with a sword whittled from a boat oar.

If possible, see these over three days to reenforce the continuity of the story. The score, actually very Euro-orchestral sounding, helps bind the films together. They were made separately, but I can't choose between them or review them as single films.

The composition and camera work are very fine, without being arty in a self-conscious way. Some of the scenes are presented as historical pageant, suggesting classical paintings of the events, but the look never becomes dull or formulaic.

It's natural to compare these with the costume stories Kurosawa was doing at the same time. Here Toshiro Mifune seems more like a person and less a broad "character". He suffers from doubt and embarrassment while on his life-long spiritual quest for self-mastery.

We have much better roles for women than you find in Kurosawa, and an intense romance plot that would not interest him.

I love the presentation of spiritual levels: the mass of people are emotional and flailing, while the seeker strives to calm his turbulent ego, but then we have the society of masters -- such as the sword-smith and the prominent priests -- where all is calm, ease, and peaceful mind.

Filmed in Eastmancolor.

Criterion Blu-rays. No commentary tracks, but the booklet says this is the second Musashi trilogy by the director, and that Kurosawa played off Mifune's samurai image as developed in these films.