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The Samurai Trilogy – The Criterion Collection #14,15,16 (a J!-ENT Blu-ray Disc Review)

June 29, 2012 by  



For those who have watched and enjoyed many samurai films in their life, “The Samurai Trilogy” are three films that one must watch in their lifetime.  And for Criterion Collection or samurai film enthusiasts, “The Samurai Trilogy” on Blu-ray is definitely worth owning!  Highly recommended!

Image courtesy of © 2012 The Criterion Collection. All Rights Reserved.

TITLE: The Samurai Trilogy – The Criterion Colletion #14,15,16 (Samurai I: Musashi Miyamoto, Samurai II: Duel at Ichijoji Temple, Samurai III: Duel at Ganryu Island)

YEAR OF FILM: Samurai I: Musashi Miyamoto – 1954, Samurai II: Duel at Ichijoji Temple – 1955, Samurai III: Duel at Ganryu Island – 1956

DURATION: Samurai I: Musashi Miyamoto – 93 Minutes, Samurai II: Duel at Ichijoji Temple – 103 Minutes, Samurai III: Duel at Ganryu Island – 104 Minutes

BLU-RAY DISC INFORMATION: 1080p High Definition (1:33:1 Aspect Ratio), Color, Monaural

COMPANY: Janus Films/THE CRITERION COLLECTION

RELEASE DATE: June 26, 20112

Samurai I: Musashi Miyamoto

Directed by Hiroshi Inagaki

Based on the Play by Hideji Hojo, Hiroshi Inagaki, Tokuhei Wakao

Based on the Novel by Eiji Yoshikawa

Produced by Kazuo Takimura

Music by Ikuma Dan

Cinematography by Jun Yasumoto

Edited by Hideshi Ohi

Production Design by Kisaku Ito

Set and Art Direction by Makoto Sono

Starring:

Toshiro Mifune as Musashi Miyamoto (Takezo)

Koji Tsuruta as Kojiro Sasaki

Rentaro Mikuni as Honiden Matahachi

Kuroemon Onoe as Takuan Osho

Kaoru Yachigusa as Otsu

Mariko Okada as Akemi

Mitsuko Mito as Oko, Matahachi’s Wife

Eiko Miyoshi as Osugi, Matahachi’s Mother

Akihiko Hirata as Seijuro Yoshioka

Kusuo Abe as Temma Tsujikaze

Eitaro Ozawa as Terumasa Ikeda

Akira Tani as Kawarano-Gonroku

Michiyo Kogure as Dayu Yoshino

Daisuke Kato as Toji Gion

Kuroemon as Onoe as Priest Takuan

Yu Fujiki as Denshichiro Yoshioka

Eijiro Tono as Baiken Shishido

Kenjin Iida as Jotaro

The Samurai Trilogy, directed by Hiroshi Inagaki and starring the inimitable Toshiro Mifune, was one of Japan’s most successful exports of the 1950s, a rousing, emotionally gripping tale of combat and self-discovery. Based on a novel that’s often called Japan’s Gone with the Wind, this sweeping saga fictionalizes the life of the legendary seventeenth-century swordsman (and writer and artist) Musashi Miyamoto, following him on his path from unruly youth to enlightened warrior. With these three films—1954’s Oscar-winning Musashi Miyamoto, 1955’s Duel at Ichijoji Temple, and 1956’s Duel at Ganryu Island—Inagaki created a passionate epic that’s equal parts tender love story and bloody action.


While many viewers from the west are familiar with Akira Kurosawa and his samurai films, there was another filmmaker known in Japan for his samurai films and also working with actor Toshiro Mifune.

The filmmaker is Hiroshi Inagaki.  A stage actor who joined Nikkatsu back in 1922 but wanted to become a director in 1928.  And within the next 20 years, Inagaki would direct several films including “Muhomatsu no Issho”, a film that was selected as the 8th best Japanese film of all time according to a 1989 poll with Japanese film critics and filmmakers.

In America, Hiroshi Inagaki is best known for the “Samurai Trilogy” which included the following films: “Samurai I: Musashi Miyamoto” (1954), “Samurai II: Duel at Ichijoji Temple” (1955) and “Samurai III: Duel at Ganryu Island” (1956).  The first film in the trilogy, would earn Hiroshi Inagaki an honorary Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film.

All three films revolve around the Japanese swordsman known as Shinmen Takezo or Miyamoto Musashi.  Musashi is the founder of the Hyoho Niten Ichi-ryu swordsmanship and the author of “The Book of Five Rings” and is considered in Japan as one of the greatest warriors of all time.

Part of the popularity about Musashi is that unlike samurai’s who serve a master, Musashi was a warrior who was not interested in that.  All that mattered was becoming the best swordsman.  And there are many legendary stories of how Musashi took on the greatest swordsmen in Japan and also taking out an army.

And with every decade, there are fictional stories about Musashi, may it be for anime, manga or video games.

But if there was one fictional storyline that have inspired the stories, it would be from Hiroshi Inagaki’s three films.

Back in 1999, “The Samurai Trilogy” would be released in America on DVD courtesy of The Criterion Collection.

In June 2012, The Criterion Collection has released “The Samurai Trilogy” on Blu-ray featuring a new high-definition digital restoration of all three films with uncompressed monaural soundtracks and three interviews for each film with translator and historian William Scott Wilson about the real-life Musashi Miyamoto.

“Samura I: Musashi Miyamoto” revolves around a man named Takezo.  Takezo (as portrayed by Toshiro Mifune) dreams of becoming a samurai but knows that in order to do that, he will have to take his swordsman techniques and use it in combat.  His childhood friend Matahachi (as portrayed by Rentaro Mikuni) is more reluctant.

Matahachi is engaged to the beautiful Otsu (as portrayed by Kaoru Yachigusa) but decides that in order to become a man and make his family proud, he would join Takezo in the battle of Sekigahara.

Unfortunately, both Takezo and Matahachi were in the losing side and Matahachi was injured in battle.  The two would seek shelter with Oko (as portrayed by Mitsuko Mito) and her daughter Akemi (as portrayed by Mariko Okada).

While Takezo is seen as strong, Matahachi is seen as weak, Akemi falls for Takezo and her mother, starts falling for him as well (after Takezo defeats a man that is expecting payment from the mother).  But for Takezo, he is more interested in becoming a famed swordsman and not interested in women.

With Oko feeling the pain of being turned down by Takezo, she tells her daughter and Matahachi that Takezo tried to assault her.  And because Takezo has murdered a man, they have no choice but to leave their home and flee to Kyoto.

But when Takezo returns, he is upset that Matahachi left along with the women, especially when he made a promise to marry Otsu.

So, Takezo has no choice but to return home.  But when his village wonders what happened to Matahachi, Takezo can’t bare to tell anyone that he ran off with women, but just tells them that he is alive.  But because Takezo is not telling the full truth, Matahachi’s mother, Otsu and others think he is lying.  And now, the village wants him arrested for treason.

A fugitive on the run, through self-discovery (thanks to a Buddhist priest willing to give him a chance) and knowing that he must leave the identity Takezo in the past, a man named Miyamoto Musashi is born.

In the second film “Samurai II: Duel at Ichijoji”, Miyamoto Musashi continues his training to follow the sword.  It has been nearly three years since he had left.  Since then, Musashi has been targeting many famous swordsmen around Japan and has emerged victorious.

This time, Musashi is targeting Seijuro Yoshioka (as portrayed by Akihiko Hirata). And while waiting at the Yoshioka home, many of Yoshioka’s men try to go one on one with Musashi but are killed or severely injured.  Musashi does not want to fight against anyone weak, only the best swordsmen and so, he wants to battle Seijuro.  So, Musashi leaves a note saying that the will wait near a bridge at a designated time for their battle.

The Yoshioka clan are a proud family and as the leader of clan, Seijuro knows that if he doesn’t fight Musashi, he would lose his pride.

In the same village, Otsu now works in the area, hoping one day she will come across Takezo.  Akemi meets Otsu, not knowing that both are in love with the same person.  But both wish each other luck in reuniting with the man they love.

When rumors circulate that a great swordsman has come to town, Akemi, Oku and Matahachi feel that it is Takezo, now going by the name of Musashi.  For Yoshioka, he doesn’t understand why Akemi cares so much but learns that  the woman he loves, is in love with Takezo (now known as Musashi).  And because Yoshioka has become jealous of Akemi’s affections towards Takezo/Musashi, he wants to claim Akemi before Musashi does, so he rapes her, thinking that she would stop thinking about him.

As Musashi awaits at the bridge, he is reunited with Otsu, who has traveled and waited for his return.  But the happy reunion must wait as Yoshioka sends his men to kill Musashi instead of fighting him one-on-one.

Meanwhile, as Musashi takes on large group of swordsmen sent by Yoshioka, another great swordsmen watches from afar.    His name is Sasaki Kojiro (as portrayed by Koji Tsuruta) and amazed by Musashi’s fighting style, Kojiro wants nothing more but to fight the greatest swordsman.

And as Yoshioka continues to send his men after Musashi, as people are trying to kill anyone who may be Musashi, one man who is slayed falls near Matahachi.  Matahachi learns that the man is delivering a scroll to Sasaki Kojiro, showing that he trained under a well-known swordsman.  But instead of giving the scroll to Kojiro, Matahachi feels that since he is a coward and knows his family would hate him for being less than a man, decides to use the scroll and take on Sasaki Kojiro’s identity.  And when he tells his parents that he is Sasaki Kojiro, his mother gives him the order to kill Musashi and also his former fiance Otsu.

For the third film “Samurai III: Duel at Ganryu Island”, the events for this third and final film in the trilogy, takes place a year after the events of the second film.  Both Musashi and Sasaki Kojiro are well-known swordsmen in Japan.  And with Sasaki Kojiro defeating the Daimyo’s vassal, now both Musashi and Kojiro are being considered by the Shogun to become a teacher and vassal.

But with news that Musashi is back in the region, Sasaki Kojiro has waited for a battle with Musashi.  Musashi has gotten stronger, wiser but one of the priests has told him he has yet to find love.  And for Musashi, in his mind, he still thinks about Otsu.

But as the Daimyo’s interest towards Musashi is getting stronger, because Musashi is more of the type to enjoy taking part in battles with elite swordsmen, he declines the Shogun and chooses to live away from the village and raise vegetables.  Pretty much starting a new life.

But when the village is in trouble against a group of bandits who have terrorized the village of elders and have literally stolen or driven the women away, can Musashi protect the village?

Meanwhile, Otsu and Akemi, driven by their love for Musashi, both make their way towards Musashi’s new home.  But as Otsu is driven by her love for Musashi, Akemi who wants to be loved by him is also threatened by her Uncle Toji to distract the village, so he and his men can slay Musashi.

And on an island, Sasaki Kojiro awaits Musashi, for their long awaited battle.

VIDEO:

“The Samurai Trilogy” is presented in 1080p High Definition (1:33:1).  As a previous owner of the original 1999 DVD set, for many Criterion Collection fans back then, there were many who felt the quality was not up to par with other Criterion Collection DVD’s and many have wished for a remaster using newer technology.  While the Criterion Collection did remaster many of their earlier releases, “The Samurai Trilogy” was an unknown situation because who knows how bad the original negative source was in order to make a brand new digital transfer.

This time around, Criterion Collection went back and gave a new high definition transfer of the three films.  Not only are thinks much lighter, colorful and showcase much clarity, one of the biggest problems of the DVD is how murky and blurry it looked.  There color flickering and unevenness with the old DVD’s but on Blu-ray, this is no longer the case.

The new version has a fine layer of grain, colors and scenes look much better than ever before.  While not pristine, as the film does have scenes with a few white specks, the Blu-ray release of “The Samurai Trilogy” is so much better than the original DVD’s.  Even during the darker moments of the film, where the DVD looked too murky and blurry…not anymore. Even the third film which uses vignettes, no longer is the video too dark.

There is greater clarity, colors are consistent and you can tell that the Criterion Collection put a lot of time into fixing the video of these three films for the 2012 Blu-ray release.

According to the Criterion Collection, these new high-definition digital transfers were created on a Spirit Datacine from a 35 mm low-contrast prints struck from the original camera negatives.  Criterion also corrected the occasional color fluctuations inherent in the decades-old Eastmancolor stock on which these films were originally shot. Thousands of instances of dirt, debris, scratches, spices and warps were manually removed using MTI’s DRS and Pixel Farm’s PFClean, while Image Systems’ Phoenix and PF Clean were used for small dirt, grain, noise reduction, jitter and flicker.

AUDIO & SUBTITLES:

“The Samurai Trilogy” is presented in monaural.  Dialogue is crystal clear and I heard no pops, clicks or any audio problems during my viewing of the film.

According to the Criterion Collection, the original monaural soundtracks were remastered at 24-bit from the 35 mm optical positives.  Clicks, thumps, hiss and hum were manually removed using Pro Tools HD.  Crackle was attenuated using AudioCube’s integrated workstation.

Subtitles are in English.

SPECIAL FEATURES:

“The Samurai Trilogy” on Blu-ray comes with the following special features:

  • On Musashi Miyamoto Part I – (8:37) Translator and historian Wilson (author of “The Lone Samurai”) discusses”Samurai I: Musashi Miyamoto” and similarities and differences of the first film to the real life of Musashi Miyamoto.
  • On Musashi Miyamoto Part II – (7:13) Translator and historian Wilson (author of “The Lone Samurai”) discusses “Samurai II: Duel at Ichijoji Temple” and similarities and differences of the first film to the real life of Musashi Miyamoto.
  • On Musashi Miyamoto Part III – (7:13) Translator and historian Wilson (author of “The Lone Samurai”) discusses “Samurai III: Duel at Ganryu Island” and similarities and differences of the first film to the real life of Musashi Miyamoto
  • Trailer I – (2:51) The original theatrical trailer for “Samurai I: Musashi Miyamoto”.
  • Trailer II – (3:46) The original theatrical trailer for “Samurai II: Duel at Ichijoji Temple”.
  • Trailer III – (3:12) The original theatrical trailer for “Samurai III: Duel at Ganryu Island”.

EXTRAS:

Included is a 28-page booklet featuring the essay “Musashi Mifune” by Stephen Prince and “The Book of Five Rings” by William Scott Wilson.

A path of self discovery.  A path to become the greatest warrior.  This is the journey of Takezo/Musashi.  A swordsman who follows the sword, not a master nor a woman.

Hiroshi Inagaki’s “The Samurai Trilogy” plays out like poetry.  Unlike other samurai films, the story of legendary swordsman/warrior Miyamoto Musashi is exciting for people in Japan and also those interested in samurai culture.  Having been portrayed in a variety of media in so many different forms, may it be video games, anime or manga, because there is not one perfect way to describe Musashi’s life, because information that far long ago is scarce, one must go through Musashi’s own book or historical documents.

We know that Hiroshi Inagaki’s version of the character of Musashi is fictionalized, but when it comes to capturing the elements of that era and also elements of Musashi’s life and battles, there is no doubt that “The Samurai Trilogy” has been looked at as a primary source for people to gain information of the famous swordsman.

The film has inspired many storylines, especially of a soldier or a fighter who chooses a life of loneliness in order to pursue their goal of becoming the greatest warrior.  We can see how Musashi’s character has permeated to Japanese modern entertainment in different forms such as Ryu of the “Street Fighter” video games to other samurai film adaptations.

Musashi represents man in search of himself, his true inner power, his happiness and fulfillment.  The first film “Samurai I: Musashi Miyamoto”  deals with one man wanting fame and having been educated through books and adopting a new name.  The second film “Samurai II: Duel at Ichijoji Temple” deals with one man’s quest to become the great swordsman, but also torn by his emotions of whether he should be in love or pursue a life of loneliness and continue to follow the sword.

The third and final film features a much more wiser Musashi who has accomplished a lot in life.  Understanding the value of life but also knowing that his greatest rival is waiting for a battle.  While this wiser Musashi has changed from the more unruly Takezo (as seen in the first film), we see how much he has matured by the third film and also considering love but knowing that his search for finding the greatest warrior, will probably come to an end, whether he lives or dies when he battles Kojiro Sasaki.

And while the film is about a man’s journey to self-discovery, we also see how life is for the two women who have fallen for Musashi.  For Otsu and Akemi, these two women have gone through tremendous burden and have traveled long and far to be with him.Will Musashi end his swordfighting days to finally marry a woman and have a family?  Who knows.

But the story is quite poetic as like the four seasons, we see the maturation and change within Musashi in each film.

As for the fighting, this is another major plus for “The Samurai Trilogy” as the fighting choreography is absolutely excellent, well-planned and well-executed.  It does help to have the talented Toshiro Mifune, who has worked closely with both Hiroshi Inagaki and Akira Kurosawa, but the commitment to capturing the action during that time was well-done.  If there is any fault to these films is that the realism of showing blood or disembowelment or loss limbs is not prevalent until years later in Japan.  But still, “The Samurai Trilogy” did work remarkably well.

And as for the Blu-ray release, as mentioned earlier, having owned the original Criterion Collection DVD’s, the video quality has been a sore spot for owners when it was first released.  The video looked dark, murky and colors were often inconsistent.  But still, many hoped for the next decade for a re-release of “The Samurai Trilogy” and to tell you the truth, I wasn’t sure if it would happen or could happen because of the original source where the transfer was made from before.

But the Criterion Collection really pulled out the stops for this Blu-ray releae of “The Samurai Trilogy”.  All the problems that I had with the original DVD are non-existent with this Blu-ray release.  Better colors, better video, lossless soundtrack and special features.  Also, as a major plus for fans, no need to purchase all three films separately.   All three films are included in the Blu-ray release of “The Samurai Trilogy”.

So, yes…Hiroshi Inagaki has quite a few masterpieces in his filmmaking oeuvre, but “The Samurai Trilogy” are three films that will be forever remembered.  Wonderful storyline, the set design and costume design were excellent.  The acting performance by Toshiro Mifune was fantastic but also the acting by the two women of the film, Kaoru Yachigusa (Otsu) and Mariko Okada (Akemi).

Overall, for those who have watched and enjoyed plethora of samurai films in their lifetime, “The Samurai Trilogy” are three films that one must watch in their lifetime.  And for Criterion Collection or samurai film enthusiasts, “The Samurai Trilogy” on Blu-ray is definitely worth owning!  Highly recommended!

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