Samurai I: Musashi Miyamoto (Japan, 1954)

834835968Directed by: Hiroshi Inagaki. I thought I’d go on a mini excursion into samurai territory. The steam is winding down I think, but in the meantime, this was a very nice little movie. Perhaps I’m selling it short. This is, after all, just the first in an epic trilogy based on a novel that is often referred to as the Japanese “Gone With the Wind”, and if that’s not epic, I don’t know what is. This first film is pretty interesting, though, as it follows the hero from his humble origins to become a full-fledged samurai. The personal story of broken friendship is pretty compelling, and the twisted romances that happen are pretty fresh and captivating. The emotion between Toshiro Mifune and the leading lady, Kaoru Yachigusa, is pretty genuine. What I found really cool was how many tokens and markers, both in the plot and in the camera shots, were borrowed from Hollywood Westerns, at least to my eyes. The lone samurai warrior who must ultimately leave the woman he loves in order to finish his training—the whole thing reminds me of Henry Fonda as Wyatt Earp, but also Luke Skywalker decades later. I admit I wasn’t 100% enthralled with this narrative, but it is a very well told story, and Mifune’s acting is surprisingly subdued—although I just remembered his almost mute performance in Kurosawa’s The Bad Sleep Well. In this film, he’s really holding back, but he hints at some kind of intense emotion underneath that I suspect he’ll let loose in full fury by the time this trilogy is over. I keenly await to see how it unfolds.

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