Thursday, March 14, 2013

Samurai I: Musashi Miyamoto

Based on the novel Musashi by Eiji Yoshikawa, Samurai I: Musashi Miyamoto is the first of a three-part story about the adventures of a lone samurai who starts out as a soldier only to become a skilled samurai warrior who is defined by his introspection. Directed by Hiroshi Inagaki and screenplay by Inagaki and Tokuhei Wakao, the first part is about a warrior’s growth as he becomes a fugitive during a civil war as he seeks to find redemption. In the lead role of the samurai warrior Musashi Miyamoto, he is played by the iconic Japanese actor Toshiro Mifune. Also starring Rentaro Mikuni and Kaoru Yachigusa. Samurai I: Musashi Miyamoto is an incredible film from Hiroshi Inagaki.

In the first part of this trilogy that chronicles the journey of Musashi Miyamoto in his search for enlightenment and a reason to become a true samurai warrior. The first part is about how he would go into this journey that would take him all over Japan as he starts out as a soldier seeking fortune and fame. Instead, he becomes deserted by his best friend and eventually a fugitive where a Buddhist priest captures him where he would later guide the man that would become Musashi Miyamoto into a path of self-discovery. In the course of this journey, the man who was then called Takezo would encounter all sorts of things as he is this wild warrior who has a lot of spirit but no sense of direction.

The screenplay does have a traditional structure as it plays into Takezo’s development from warrior to enlightened samurai. It starts off with a sense of innocence where Takezo and his friend Matahachi (Rentaro Mikuni) having dreams of being part of this civil war that is happening in the early 17th Century in the hopes they become war heroes. Instead, they lose the war as they seek shelter in the home of a woman and her daughter where something happens that leaves Takezo disappointed and deserted prompting him to return home. The experience of being disillusioned and deserted by his own friend would cause Takezo to act out as he becomes this fugitive with no direction as if he feels the world had abandoned him. After attacking some men, he gets into trouble as a lord from his village seeks a bounty on him where Takezo does endure more betrayal and disappointment.

The first half is about Takezo’s descent into disillusionment and his desire to die until he is captured by the Buddhist priest Takuan Soho (Kuroemon Onoe) and Matahachi’s fiancee Otsu (Kaoru Yachigusa) in the film‘s second half. Soho would use tricks to get into Takezo’s head while he would offer him guidance into a life where Takezo could find redemption as well as a reason to live. While the tormented Otsu would also help Takezo as she had already felt betrayed by the people in her life where Soho would do something that would play to their fate. Notably as its aftermath would force Takezo to ponder everything he had been through where he would make a sacrifice in order to go into this journey to find out who he is as Musashi Miyamoto.

The direction of Hiroshi Inagaki is quite epic in scale though it is presented in a full-frame aspect ratio. Still, Inagaki does create something that is entrancing in the direction from the way some of the battles are presented to scenes where people are searching for Takezo with these wide shots to cover the landscape. Inagaki also uses a lot of stylistic shots to help present some dramatic moments including a scene of Takezo being hung on a tree as punishment for his actions. Inagaki’s framing of these intimate moments with this backdrop of nature allow him to create something that is touching but also engrossing in the way Takezo seems to find a sense of humanity in a brutish savage like Takezo.

Some of the film’s actions are quite intense such as this very rainy, muddy battle scene early in the film as well as scenes where Takezo fights off bandits and those who are trying to pursue him. While Inagaki’s approach is more low-key, he does create something that is still thrilling in what Takezo is all about as a man as well as someone who is lost. By the third act where Soho does play into the fates of Takezo and Otsu, there comes a moment where Takezo and Otsu realize what they have to do in a new place but in very different ways. The third act also has a moment where Inagaki looks at what happens to Matahachi that reveals his fate and how it compares to the fate of Takezo just as he’s about to take on this journey as a new man. Overall, Inagaki creates a very captivating and mesmerizing film about a man’s journey to find himself.

Cinematographer Jun Yasumoto does brilliant work with the film‘s very colorful cinematography from the gorgeous colors of the film‘s landscapes to the some of the nighttime interior and exterior scenes that features some unique lighting schemes with help from Shigeru Mori. Editor Eiji Ooi does wonderful work with the editing as it‘s quite stylized with its use of dissolves and suspenseful cuts to play out the drama and intensity of the action. Art directors Kisaku Ito and Makoto Sato do fantastic work with the set pieces from the home of the women that Takezo and Matahachi meet to the temple where the priest lives.

The sound work of Choshichiro Mikami is terrific for the atmosphere is created in some of the film‘s intimate moments including some of the exterior scenes with nature as the backdrop. The film’s music by Ikuma Dan is great for the mixture of intense orchestral score with a mix of Japanese folk as well as serene string pieces to play up the drama that unfolds in the film.

The film’s cast is remarkable as it features some notable small roles from Akihiko Hirata as a village official putting the bounty on Takezo’s head, Kusuo Abe as a bandit Takezo confronts, Eiko Miyoshi as Matahachi’s mother, Mitsuko Moki as a widow Mitahachi and Takezo meets, and Mariko Okada as the widow’s daughter Akemi. Rentaro Mikuni is excellent as Takezo’s friend Matahachi who later deserts him in favor of a widow and her daughter as he later has regrets over what he did. Kaoru Yachigusa is wonderful as Otsu who felt betrayed by Matahachi while dealing with her own anguish as she later tries to help out Takezo. Kureomon Onoe is great as the priest Takuan Soho who captures Takezo as he later tries to steer him into a path that would be helpful for Takezo to find redemption and reason. Finally, there’s Toshiro Mifune in a magnificent performance as Takezo/Musashi Miyamoto where Mifune displays a fierce intensity to a man lost in the world as well as a sensitivity in the way he deals with people as it’s definitely one of his most defining performances.

Samurai I: Musashi Miyamoto is an incredible film from Hiroshi Inagaki that features a towering performance from Toshiro Mifune. The film is definitely one of the most entrancing studies of a man seeking to find a place in a world where he feels rejected. It’s also a film that deviates a bit from most samurai films in order to explore a man’s evolution as he learns what it takes to be both a man and as a samurai. In the end, Samurai I: Musashi Miyamoto is an extraordinary film from Hiroshi Inagaki.

Hiroshi Inagaki Films: (Sword for Hire) - Samurai II: Duel at Ichijoji Temple - (The Lone Journey) - Samurai III: Duel at Ganryu Island - (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)

© thevoid99 2013

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