Sunday, June 01, 2008

What Makes A Good Fighter?

Hiroshi Inagaki's "Samurai III - Duel At Ganryu Island" is a 1956 Japanese film, the last part in the samurai trilogy based upon the famous seventeenth century japanese warrior Musashi Miyamoto. If summarized in a sentence, the film is a quest to decipher the answer to the ultimate question - 'What makes a good fighter?'.

The film develops the characters to give us a very balanced answer to this question. A true samurai is not the one who is the best at fencing, neither is he the one who has killed the most people, or won most fights. The film's hypotheses is that the true measure of a fighter is in the discipline displayed by her. Musashi Miyamoto is already a highly respected samurai, perhaps the best in Japan. He has, however, neither grown proud of his accomplishments, nor has given up his warrior instincts and discipline. He has simply attained a state of mind in which he believes that he neither has to display his skills to earn more respect nor has to shed innocent blood to awe people. He is sharp but at the same time very humble - the hallmarks of a true samurai at the pinnacle of his form.

In contrast, the challenger to Miyamoto's legacy is a young, brash samurai called Kojiro Sasaki, whose very existence is defined by the promise of a duel with Miyamoto. Sasaki is also shown to be ruthless in the pursuit of his goal (he kills four innocent samurai of one clan to draw Miyamoto's attention). Many times during the course of the film Sasaki displays the spirit of a true warrior. One example is the scene in which he visits the house of a competitor he crippled in a duel and apologizes for the pain he caused. On the whole Sasaki symbolizes the promise of a greater warrior but at the same time fails to deliver on the promise. His dream, of being the greatest fencer in Japan, has overtaken his judgement and discipline. He is also hurt because lady Akemi, whom he likes, chooses Miyamoto over him. Thus suffering from a double blow, Sasaki feels his only redemption lies in a duel-to-death with Miyamoto.

My Moment Of Zen - In the duel at the very end, Miyamoto approaches Ganryu island from the sea, while Sasaki waits inland. The duel takes place at the very edge of the ocean, with the sun setting behind Miyamoto's back. Besides the great cinematography, the scene is also symbolic of the broader struggle. Miyamoto, in life as in the duel, is constantly in chaotic waters (and the sun is setting on his reign), yet he has the better warrior spirit of the two samurai along with an unmatchable mastery of the game.

Samurai III Duel At Ganryu Island

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