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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