Samurai III: Duel at Ganryu Island

A part of this viewing list: Criterion Collection Spine #16: Hiroshi Inagaki’s Samurai III: Duel at Ganryu Island.


Unintentional Mifunefest concludes with Samurai III: Duel at Ganryu Island. Most folks say that this is the best of the three films, and I have to agree at least in terms of plot and characterization. I think that Samurai I has the best cinematography and Samurai II has the best editing. III takes place an unspecified [unless I missed it] number of years after II, which we can tell because Musashi’s disciple, Jotaro, is much bigger and mouthier. Musashi’s legend has also spread, undefeated and unscratched in 60+ duels, he has become sought after as a trainer for various lords. Kojiro is still living in Musashi’s shadow, and his resentment has made him wholly evil and without compassion. He almost seems mad, so obsessive is his desire to duel with Musashi and prove his mastery. From the start we see how the characters have changed over the intervening years, Musashi is not as quick to accept a fight, and indeed chooses to defuse such situations, he has mastered his strength. Kojiro kills indiscriminately in order to gain attention.


They end up running into each other in a graveyard and arrange a duel for the next day. Musashi has a change of heart, however, and goes off to become a farmer, instead. He first arranges a rain check for a year in advance. Then he will meet Kojiro. Kojiro sets Akemi after Musashi, as usual, and Otsu is also walking herself to death searching for him. They both end up at the village, which is promptly attacked by bandits and burned just in time for Musashi to go fight Kojiro. Otsu pursues him once again [they since reconciled from the almost-​rape in Samurai II] and manages to see him before he hops on a boat for Ganryu Island and his duel with Kojiro. He requites her love, and she tries to get him to give up the sword. On his way to the island he carves a bokken out of an oar and fights Kojiro with that instead of his katana. Of course, Kojiro is killed, but he manages to cut Musashi, a first for anyone, with his fancy swallow-​tail cut. The film ends with Musashi weeping as his boat returns to the mainland. The one thing he has been unable to cope with is the feeling of regret for all of the lives he has taken in his duels over the years.

Musashi the man and Musashi the legend are pretty inextricably bound nowadays. He was definitely an interesting person and his myriad skills and intriguing personality ensure his continuing importance to many people. If you’ve not read his book of five rings, I’ve left a link to it below.


My review of Samurai I: Miyamoto Musashi.
My review of Samurai II: Duel at Ichijoji Temple.
Criterion Essay by Bruce Eder.
The Criterion Contraption Review.
• Read The Book of Five Rings. [English] [Japanese]

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