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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