Samurai I: Miyamoto Musashi

A part of this view­ing list: Criterion Collection Spine #14: Hiroshi Inagaki’s Samurai I: Miyamoto Musashi.

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Miyamoto Musashi is the first in­stall­ment of Hiroshi Inagaki’s Samurai Trilogy, an ac­tion-packed se­ries of films that fol­lows the life of Japan’s great­est war­rior as he grows into his leg­end. This ini­tial film shows a very dif­fer­ent Musashi from the one most peo­ple are fa­mil­iar with; when he was known sim­ply as Takezo, and was a hunted and feared ban­dit. Toshiro Mifune, who plays Musashi, is per­fect for the role; one might ar­gue that thoughts about Musashi are at the core of most of his samu­rai per­for­mances. Yet, in this first film we see lit­tle of the nu­ance that Mifune is ca­pa­ble of, in­stead we are im­mersed in the un­fet­tered and un­fo­cused in­ten­sity that is his other strength.

The cin­e­matog­ra­phy is care­ful to re­move most of Takezo’s hu­man­ity, of­ten show­ing him in shadow, ob­scured by brush, or pur­sued by picket lines of searchers, like a hunted boar. As he gives him­self up wholly to this wild­ness he be­comes dark­ness per­son­i­fied, and years later as he emerges as a fo­cused and strong samu­rai, there is a par­al­lel with his emer­gence into light. Every as­pect of Musashi’s char­ac­ter growth is care­fully man­aged and pack­aged in such a way that, al­though we are rarely privy to his ac­tual thoughts, we un­der­stand his mo­ti­va­tions as if they were our own.

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There is an ar­ray of sup­port­ing char­ac­ters whose own jour­neys and mo­ti­va­tions add im­por­tant con­text to Musashi’s life. His friend Matahachi has more cun­ning, but is a cow­ard and faith­less. Otsu, Matahachi’s for­mer be­trothed, is shown to have a strength of char­ac­ter and well of kind­ness that is likely more in­stru­men­tal in Takezo’s re­form than the Buddhist priest Takuan’s own meth­ods. In the later films this de­vo­tion be­comes much more promi­nent, cul­mi­nat­ing in one of the most Romantic ro­mances of all time.

Takezo is an echo of his time as well, the coun­try was split in war and the Tokugawa Shogunate would emerge vic­to­ri­ous at about the same time that Takezo be­comes the samu­rai Musashi. At the end of the film, Musashi is told to go ronin, much like a knight er­rant, to build his skills and hone his dis­ci­pline, in or­der to be fit to serve his mas­ter. Setting the stage for the se­quel, which I’ll re­watch and re­view when­ever it comes in from the li­brary.

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My re­view of Samurai II: Duel at Ichijoji Temple.
My re­view of Samurai III: Duel at Ganryu Island.
Criterion Essay by Bruce Eder.
The Criterion Contraption Review
• Kung-Fu Cinema Review

3 thoughts on “Samurai I: Miyamoto Musashi

  1. Please check out my fea­turette on Miyamoto Musashi and The Art of Strategy at 

    I hope I’ve done him jus­tice, any feed­back would be greatly ap­pre­ci­ated. Gotta warn you
    It’s very texty

    Joseph

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