Toshirô Mifune had already starred in several of Akira Kurosawa’s films when he starred in this series of films based on the life Musashi Miyamoto. In fact when the first film Samurai I: Musashi Miyamoto was released in 1954, it was the same year that Kurosawa’s epic Seven Samurai was released which also co-starred Mifune as a young farmer who wants to be one of the seven samurai.
Director Hiroshi Inagaki made all three films based on the novel Musashi by Eiji Yoshikawa which was very loosely based on the real life of Musashi Miyamoto, a samurai from the 1600’s who wrote a couple of novels about the life of a samurai. His most famous novel. The Book of Five Rings was about Musashi’s beliefs and theories about how a samurai should live his life. His nine basic rules were:
1. Think in honest and direct terms.
2. Forge yourself in the Way.
3. Touch upon all the arts.
4. Know the Ways of all occupations.
5. Know the advantages and disadvantages of everything.
6. Develop a discerning eye in all matters.
7. Understand what cannot be seen by the eye.
8. Pay attention even to small things.
9. Do not involve yourself with the impractical.
The first film focuses on Musashi Miyamoto’s early life when he was an arrogant youth. Musashi and his childhood buddy run off to war where they end up on the losing side. They end up taking refuge at widowed woman’s home. She lives there alone with her daughter and makes a living scavenging off of dead samurai. After the woman tries to put the moves on Musashi, he leaves them with his buddy and tries to return home where he is hunted and hated. Eventually a priest captures him with the intent to rehabilitate him. The first film won Best Foreign Film at the 1956 Academy Awards.
The second film follows Musashi as he challenges a powerful sword school to a duel. Which leads to many duels. During his many fights, Musashi crosses paths with the great and deadly swordsman Sasaki Kojirō which leads to the third film where he finally faces off against Sasaki in a really cool fight on the beach.
When I first saw these films, I was blown away. The movie was awesome but the film quality was lacking. Criterion had released them but the actual film prints were in pretty rough shape, especially the second and third films. Earlier this year Criterion has re-released them restored and in high definition and while not outstanding, the films are vastly improved. This is probably the best they are ever going to look and they are worth a look. There is also a comic book adaptation of the novel called Vagabond that fleshes out more characters and story and is also well worth a look. Although after 33 volumes, it still isn’t complete yet but it looks amazing.