Samurai II: Duel at Ichijoji Temple

A part of this view­ing list: Criterion Collection Spine #15: Hiroshi Inagaki’s Samurai II: Duel at Ichijoji Temple.

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Unintentional Mifunefest con­tin­ues with the cre­pus­cu­larly spec­tac­u­lar Samurai II: Duel at Ichijoji Temple. Even as a mid­dle por­tion of a tril­ogy this film is strong enough to stand on its own. The lack of firm res­o­lu­tion might have been a prob­lem back in the ‘50s but would fit right in with con­tem­po­rary pro­duc­tions and the viewer is given enough back-story to feel com­fort­able. Musashi is gone ronin as a train­ing ex­er­cise to hone his abil­i­ties and to gain the nec­es­sary cul­tured bear­ing that will en­able him to be a true samu­rai. The fo­cus on char­ac­ter de­vel­op­ment is just as strong as in the first film, but since Musashi has pro­gressed far­ther along the road to mas­tery there are glimpses of the man­ner in which he will be­come a leg­end.

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Right from the start we are pre­sented with the prob­lem that Musashi will strug­gle with through­out the film. It is a con­tin­u­a­tion of his strug­gle from the first film to con­trol his strength. A monk he meets at the be­gin­ning states that he is true strong, and that a true samu­rai lives a life of chivalry, which is all that sep­a­rates him from a com­mon thug. So while Musashi has con­trol of a sort over his power, he as yet does not pos­sess the wis­dom to know when to use it, or when to take an­other path. The peo­ple who take him un­der their wing all provide the puz­zle pieces for his ad­vance­ment. After of­fend­ing an en­tire fenc­ing school and killing the brother of its mas­ter in a hasty duel, he re­treats to the geisha side of town and learns to ap­pre­ci­ate mu­sic, sumi-e and the ben­e­fits of still­ness. Meanwhile all of the sup­port­ing char­ac­ters con­tinue their machi­na­tions and quests, Otsu and Akemi are op­po­site sides of a coin when it comes to their un­re­quited love of Musashi. The viewer is in­tro­duced to the main an­tag­o­nist, the am­bi­tiously skilled fencer Kojiro Sasaki, who clev­erly ma­nip­u­lates the Yoshioka school as a way of test­ing Musashi’s strength.

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The Yoshioka school pub­licly pro­claims Musashi a cow­ard, which pulls him from hid­ing. They agree to terms and the mas­ter Seijuro will duel Musashi at the pine tree of Ichijoji Temple. Most of the ac­tion takes in twi­light, and can be seen as some­thing of a re­flec­tion of ob­scured mo­ti­va­tions of many of the char­ac­ters. Although the duel has been arranged in pub­lic and fairly, 80 or so Yoshioka stu­dents have planned from the start to am­bush Musashi on the road to the tem­ple. He catches wind of this from Kojiro-by-way-of-Akemi and de­cides to pay them a lit­tle visit. Then starts the ass-kick­ing. There is an ex­cel­lent shot, a pan over the swamp [wa­ter is an­other re­flec­tion of feel­ing in this film] while we here the death cries of Musashi’s en­e­mies in the dis­tance. After killing most of the am­bus­caders, Musashi runs into Seijuro [who has fi­nally man­aged to free him­self of the re­tain­ers who tried to re­strain him], and they fight. Musashi gets Seijuro at his mercy fairly quickly, but in­stead of killing him out­right, he fi­nally re­al­izes that chivalry means al­ways tak­ing the high road. He spares Seijuro and hits the high road with Otsu; even­tu­ally set­tling in the moun­tains.

He still isn’t a samu­rai how­ever, since he nearly rapes Otsu when his re­pressed feel­ings burst forth. There is yet an­other shot of a rush­ing moun­tain stream in­ter­cut with this se­quence. Ashamed of his be­hav­ior, and con­vinced that Otsu is an­gry at him, Musashi leaves once again to con­tinue his train­ing and strengthen his dis­ci­pline and wis­dom. Kojiro is still out there, and wait­ing.

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My re­view of Samurai I: Miyamoto Musashi.
My re­view of Samurai III: Duel at Ganryu Island.
Criterion Essay by Bruce Eder.
The Criterion Contraption Review.

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