Based on the novel Musashi by Eiji Yoshikawa, Samurai III: Duel at Ganryu Island is the third and final film of a trilogy of films chronicling the life of Musashi Miyamoto. Directed by Hiroshi Inagaki and screenplay by Inagaki and Tokuhei Wakao, the film is an exploration into Miyamoto’s search for peace and meaning just as he goes into a final duel with a man who had been seeking to defeat him. With Toshiro Mifune playing the role of Miyamoto, the film also stars Koji Tsuruta, Kaoru Yaschigusa, Mariko Okada, and Takashi Shimura. Samurai III: Duel at Ganryu Island is a magnificent film from Hiroshi Inagaki.
In the course of three films that explores the life and evolution of Musashi Miyamoto, here’s a man who is on the search for something bigger than himself as he goes into a journey as he seeks to find answers on identity and spirituality. Meanwhile, another samurai warrior in Sasaki Kojiro (Koji Tsuruta) is also seeking the same things as the years passed since their first meeting as they meet again. This time around, the circumstances have changed as two men are being pursued by people wanting them to represent their houses. Of course, it only troubles the two men as Miyamoto decides to leave the samurai life to become a farmer at a village while Kojiro has become a ronin warrior as they chose to postpone their duel for a year. Eventually, the two men do meet with men of prestige watching this duel yet it would be a duel set into their own terms.
The screenplay is much more structured than in previous stories as the first act is about these two men preparing to duel as they both go on different paths but circumstances beyond their control involving those betting on the men and other issues forced the two to postpone it. The second act is about Musashi leaving the samurai life to find something with more meaning as he stays at a village ravaged by bandits as he becomes their savior while he is also being pursued by the two women in his life in Otsu (Kaoru Yaschigusa) and Akemi (Mariko Okada). The former is still anguished over Miyamoto’s abrupt departure as she goes on a journey to find him as she ponders if he really does lover. The latter, who was also with Kojiro early in the film, wants Miyamoto for herself but comes across bandits where one of them is her mother’s former lover Toji Gion (Daisuke Kato) who had become a bandit to stay alive. Yet, Akemi is conflicted over what to do as she is torn over her feelings for Miyamoto and her hatred towards Otsu.
The second act also has a sense of irony about the role that Miyamoto has chosen where he is able to find peace in this new role but the presence of bandits and the specter of this duel with Kojiro still looms. By the time he decides to get ready for his duel with Kojiro, Miyamoto tries to come to terms with everything he’s learned as well as everything he’s sacrificed along the way. The third act unveils how far these two men have come from their different journeys in life while both seeking for an element of peace before they embark on this duel.
The direction of Hiroshi Inagaki is a mixture of the two elements of the first films from the naturalist tone of the first with some of the more stylized approach in the second film. In this film, the two styles finally come together for a much richer look that mixes a bit of naturalism with an element of style. While still presented in its full-frame format, there is more scope to the presentation as it features scenes set in a world outside of cities while being mixed with a world that is changing where things are in conflict over what is right and what is wrong. For these two men, they just want to do things with honor as both Kojiro and Miyamoto do face opponents but show compassion towards them. There is also an air of melodrama as it concerns the women in their lives as Kojiro is in love with a young woman in Omitsu (Michiko Saga) as she along with Otsu and Akemi all struggle with men’s roles as samurais.
While there are action scenes that occur, it’s not as violent as the previous film while it does involve some horrifying moments that would test both Miyamoto and Kojiro. Even as they get involved in unwanted conflicts as there’s also the eventually conflict between Akemi and Otsu. The second act ends on a somber note over what Miyamoto encounters as well as the fact that the ending also features an element of redemption in a key character. Still, the film is about this duel between Miyamoto and Kojiro as it does finally come to ahead in the film’s climax. It is a moment in the film where everything comes together as it’s presented with such great beauty and intensity as these two men are aware of what they have to do. There’s no fear in either one as they both accept the fact that either one of them could die. It is truly one of the most unforgettable scenes in film as Inagaki presents it in such an understated manner. Overall, Inagaki creates a truly mesmerizing and intoxicating film about acceptance and what it takes to be a man of honor.
Cinematographer Kazuo Yamada does amazing work with the film‘s lush and colorful cinematography from the gorgeous exteriors in the day to the more low-key look of the scenes at night that includes some wonderful lighting schemes by Tsuruzo Nishikawa while the climatic duel is presented with such beauty that it‘s impossible to describe it in detail. Editor Koichi Iwashita does superb work with the editing to create some nice cuts in some of the dramatic moments while using dissolves to help display a few flashback scenes. Art directors Hiroshi Ueda and Kisaku Ito do wonderful work with the set pieces from the homes some of the characters live in to the decayed inn that Miyamoto stays in the first act.
The sound work of Masanobu Miyazaki is terrific for the calm atmosphere it creates in some of the film‘s meeting as well as the scenes involving nature. The film’s music by Ikuma Dan is brilliant for its understated orchestral music to play out the melodrama as well as some bombastic moments in the scenes involving the bandits.
The film’s cast is just outstanding as it features some notable small roles that include Kokuten Kodo as an old priest Miyamoto met in the second film who is amazed at how much progress Miyamoto has made, Haruo Tanaka as a horse thief who tries to challenge Miyamoto, Kenjin Iida as Miyamoto’s young disciple Jotaro, Minoru Chiaki as a boatman who takes Miyamoto to Ganryu Island for the final duel, Daisuke Kato as Akemi’s mother’s old lover who has turned into a selfish bandit, and Takashi Shimura in a small yet memorable role as a court official who looks over the terms of the duel that is to happen. Michiko Saga is wonderful as Kojiro’s lover Omitsu who struggles to deal with his role as well as the fact that he’s finding peace over what might happen to him. Mariko Okada is terrific as the troubled Akemi who tries to pursue Miyamoto while feeling neglected by Kojiro as she seeks to find meaning in her life.
Kaoru Yaschigusa is superb as the anguished Otsu who struggles to deal with Miyamoto’s role while goes onto her own pursuit for him where she eventually has to accept the role that she is set to play for Miyamoto. Koji Tsuruta is brilliant as Sasaki Kojiro as a man who sees Miyamoto as his equal as he tries to deal with the expectations of being a samurai as well as going into his own journey to find inner peace. Finally, there’s Toshiro Mifune in a towering performance as Musashi Miyamoto as a man who is still trying to find his role in life as both a man and as a samurai as he struggles with this duality while being aware of the mistakes he’s made as he eventually finds acceptance as well as the attributes to be a great samurai.
Samurai III: Duel at Ganryu Island is a phenomenal film from Hiroshi Inagaki that features another spellbinding performance from Toshiro Mifune. It’s a film that is definitely one of the great films of the samurai genre while elevating its predecessors in the trilogy to form one of the great trilogies in film. Notably as it this film reveals how far Musashi Miyamoto has gone from a lost man into a man who finds inner peace and reason as a samurai. In the end, Samurai III: Duel at Ganryu Island is an incredible film from Hiroshi Inagaki.
Hiroshi Inagaki Films: (Sword for Hire) - Samurai I: Musashi Miyamoto - Samurai II: Duel at Ichijoji Temple - (The Lone Journey) - (Arashi) - (Yagyu Secret Scrolls) - (Yagyu Secret Scrolls Pt. 2) - (Rickshaw Man) - (The Birth of Japan) - (Life of an Expert Swordsman) - (Chushingura: Hana no Maki, Yuki no Maki) - (Samurai Banners)
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