Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Miyamoto Musashi aka Samurai I

Note: I like to think of this blog as my own thoughts on these films; I try not to read any published reviews on these films before I write here.

Hiroshi Inagaki's Miyamoto Musashi (aka Samurai I) is the first film in the so-called Samurai trilogy, based on the 17th century Japanese warrior Musashi. The film is available on Criterion Collection DVD set. Last month I watched the final film in the trilogy and it raised this question in my mind. Samurai I follows the same theme in that it traces the beginnings of this samurai fighter to answer the question I had earlier.

I found one particular part of the plot, the capture of Takezo (Miyamoto) by priest Takuan, to be the most interesting. Takezo is hung from a tree for many days as a punishment for being a menace to society. Otsu, a kind village girl, and also Miyamoto's beloved, helps him escape from this punishment. Later priest Takuan again captures Miyamoto, this time in a jail-like room, where only books are his companion. Very subtly the film gives us an interesting view on how this fighter really learns. We are shown Takezo's good qualities - a trustworthy friend and brave soldier. But it is also shown that simply these are not enough to excel in the code of samurai conduct. Takezo has acted irrationally many times to the point of killing people simply for having a different opinion than himself. Now he is terribly punished for these crimes. This to me is the essential 'rite of passage' which the film depicts beautifully. It is the manner in which this man is simply stripped of all his dignity, made to realize his place in the world among fellow men, and also his insignificance in front of God. Musashi Miyamoto passes this test in over three years. The result is a samurai warrior with a a far tougher mind and a skilled, disciplined body.

I hope to watch Samurai II soon (and expect some action in it).