29 January 2008 | paulszymkowicz
The third and final episode of the "Samurai Trilogy"
This film is the final installment of director Hiroshi Inagaki's "Samurai Trilogy," three films covering the life of Musashi Miyamoto (Takezo,) Japan's most famous swordsman of the early 17th century and perhaps of all time.
He was an icon of the warrior-philosopher model. He survived numerous duels to the death and retired to painting and writing. His best known work is the "Book of Five Rings," a book which gained popularity recently when it was championed by the Harvard Business School.
All three films of Inagaki's trilogy, made in 1954, 1955, and 1956, are part of the elite Criterion Collection of classic films.
Briefly, this movie resolves the conflict of the two women in Takezo's life, Otsu and Akemi, and leads up to Musashi's showdown with the second most famous swordsman of the day, Sasaki Kojiro. This is the famous Duel at Ganryu Island of the title.
Although I cannot appreciate the Japanese language and must rely on the English subtitles for the meaning of dialog, I do appreciate the beauty of this early widescreen color film. (I believe Tojoscope is a Japanese version of cinemascope.) One could take almost every frame of this film and it would make a stunning still. The costumes and the sets reflect an attention to detail of color, lighting and composition.
For its sense of rather understated action, I particularly enjoyed the opening scene. Sasaki Kojiro demonstrates his signature Swallowtail Turn, a move whereby he severs the tail feathers of this notably swift and agile bird in flight. It's not the portrayed animal cruelty that I enjoyed; it's the human quickness and skill that would be required to accomplish such a feat. I certainly hope that no birds were actually harmed in the making of the film.