Friday, March 15, 2013

Samurai II: Duel at Ichijoji Temple

Based on the novel Musashi by Eiji Yoshikawa, Samurai II: Duel at Ichijoji Temple is the story of Musashi Miyamoto’s journey into finding himself and enlightenment as he later deals with warriors trying to take him down as well as the women in his life. Directed by Hiroshi Inagaki and screenplay by Inagaki and Tokuhei Wakao, the film is the second part of a trilogy that explore Miyamoto’s evolution as a samurai warrior as he’s played once again by Toshiro Mifune. Also starring Koji Tsuruta, Mariko Okada, and Kaoru Yachigusa. Samurai II: Duel at Ichijoji Temple is an incredible film from Hiroshi Inagaki.

In the second part of a trilogy that explores the life and evolution of Musashi Miyamoto, the film takes place three years later after the events of the first film where Miyamoto is a man seeking guidance in his training to become a samurai. While he has won many duels in his journey, he is still unfulfilled in his search for enlightenment as he meets an old priest in his journey who tells him exactly what he needs to do. Upon his arrival at Kyoto, Miyamoto asks to challenge a master at a school only to find himself in trouble with that master‘s many disciples. Adding to the chaos is the fact that Miyamoto is still drawn to Otsu (Kaoru Yachigusa) who is nearby while another young woman in Akemi (Mariko Okada) is also pursuing him. Meanwhile, another samurai warrior in Kojiro Sasaki (Koji Tsuruta) is watching from afar as he realizes that Miyamoto might be his greatest opponent.

The screenplay explores Miyamoto’s search for meaning in his life as he is still craving knowledge as well as someone who he feels can be a worthy opponent. Yet, he is also troubled by elements of his past as he does meet Otsu for a brief moment as he is unsure if he can be there for her. Even as Otsu starts to struggle with her own feelings as she would also meet Akemi for the first time who knows a lot about Otsu as she tries to manipulate her in order to win Miyamoto. Still, Akemi is going through her own troubles as she is in an uneasy relationship with a young samurai master in Seijuro Yoshioka (Akihiko Hirata) who is the master of a nearby samurai school whom Miyamoto wants to challenge. Once Akemi hears about Miyamoto’s challenge, she hopes to that Miyamoto will kill so she can get a chance to win Miyamoto.

Still, Miyamoto finds himself troubled by the chaos he caused at the Yoshioka house as he reluctantly hides in various places including a geisha house as a courtesan (Michiyo Kogure) falls for him. The presence of Kojiro Sasaki, whom Miyamoto has heard of, adds a unique element to the story since he is someone who is younger but more experienced in the art of the samurai as he too is still in the learning stages. He tries to intervene in order to make sure that the conflict is dealt with fairly and with honor as he sees Miyamoto and Seijuro Yoshioka as men who want to maintain that. Unfortunately, there’s people in Yoshioka’s camp who don’t believe these rules as the results not only disappoints Miyamoto but also makes him realize what he has to do to be a true samurai.

Hiroshi Inagaki’s direction is far more stylish than in the previous film as a lot of it is set in soundstages where it’s filled with forest and rivers that is part of Miyamoto’s journey as he often feels lost in his search for enlightenment. While the framing is still intimate at times including in some of the dramatic moments. There is also a lot of tension that includes a meeting between Akemi and Otsu that is about a battle of passion between the two women over Miyamoto. Inagaki does use a lot of wide shots to establish this tension even though it’s presented in its full-frame format. Notably as there are moments where it is about characters trying to figure themselves out while some like Sasaki is watching from afar though there are moments where he interacts with some of the people present in the conflict. The action is far more gripping but also psychological such as the first duel that Miyamoto has where it is about how someone can attack without getting hit as well as not making the wrong move.

Once Miyamoto starts to be ambushed by a large group of unruly men, the camera is presented with wide shots and cranes to establish the sense of chaos that Miyamoto is in. Notably as it reveals the lack of honor these men have when confronting Miyamoto as they’ve become more concerned with getting rid of him only to disgrace the name of the house they worked for. There also some bits of back stories that are involved that relates to the first film as it concerns Matahachi (Sachio Sakai) who has become a cowardly opportunist where he and his mother try to get rid of Miyamoto only for their plans to fail. The film’s climax does finally involve the duel that Miyamoto is set to take part in but the aftermath is a big step into his evolution but also a step where he once again has to walk into a path of the unknown. Overall, Inagaki creates a film that is compelling but also engaging in a man’s journey into becoming a samurai.

Cinematographer Jun Yasumoto does amazing work with the film‘s cinematography filled with colorful imagery in some of the forest scenes with some gorgeous backdrops along with some lighting schemes by Shigeru Mori in some of the film’s nighttime sequences to establish the chaos of the battle Miyamoto is in. Editor Hideshi Ohi does great work in the editing to use dissolves and other stylish cuts to play out some of the drama while using rhythmic cuts for some of the film‘s intense action scenes. Art directors Makoto Sono and Kisaku Ito do brilliant work with the set pieces from the look of the geisha house that Miyamoto hides in to some of the forest exteriors created to establish the murkiness that Miyamoto encounters

The sound work by Choshichiro Mikami is wonderful for the atmosphere created in some of the film‘s action scenes as well as some of the quieter moments involving nature. The film’s music by Ikuma Dan is superb for the calm yet evocative string-orchestral score to play up the sense of drama and action that occurs along with some quieter use of the folk-based music to express some of the emotional aspects of the film.

The film’s cast is excellent as it features some remarkable small roles from Kenjin Iida as a boy Miyamoto meets early in the film who later is taken to Priest Takuan, Yu Fujiki as Seijuro’s older brother who tries to defend the family honor against Miyamoto, Daisuke Kato as a family friend of Oko who organizes the attack on Miyamoto, Mitsuko Mito as Akemi’s mother Oko who tries to get Akemi to marry Seijuro, Eiko Miyoshi as Matahachi’s mother who plots to kill both Miyamoto and Otsu, and Sachio Sakai as the disgraced Matahachi who has become a cowardly bum filled with regret. Kuroemon Onoe is wonderful as Priest Takuan who tries to help Otsu find a path in life after being anguished over Miyamoto. Akihiko Harata is terrific as the young samurai master Seijuro Yoshioka who is eager to defend his family honor despite the actions of his disciples.

Michiyo Kogure is superb as the courtesan Lady Yoshino who is intrigued by Miyamoto as she falls for him as her words would provide some guidance for Miyamoto. Mariko Okada is great as the conniving Akemi who tries to manipulate Otsu into believing that Miyamoto doesn’t love Otsu while dealing with her own issues with Seijuro. Kaoru Yachigusa is amazing as Otsu as a woman eager to see Miyamoto again while dealing with her feelings as well as being confused about what path in life she should take. Koji Tsuruta is brilliant as the young samurai warrior Sasaki Kojiro as a man who is a skilled and experience warrior who believes that Miyamoto would be his greatest opponent while dealing with outside forces trying to stop Miyamoto. Finally, there’s Toshiro Mifune is an awesome performance as Musashi Miyamoto as a man who is eager to find peace but is becoming more troubled by his lack of direction and holding on to the past as it’s a more compassionate yet chilling performance from Mifune.

Samurai II: Duel at Ichijoji Temple is a fantastic film from Hiroshi Inagaki that features a thrilling performance from Toshiro Mifune. The film is definitely a much more exciting film than its predecessor while being balanced by its drama to establish a man trying to find himself. It’s also a film that explores the code of the samurai and how some lose sight into these rules for selfish reasons as there’s those that are trying to hold on to that ideal. Overall, Samurai II: Duel at Ichijoji Temple is a tremendous film from Hiroshi Inagaki.

Hiroshi Inagaki Films: (Sword for Hire) - Samurai I: Musashi Miyamoto - (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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