Samurai II: Duel at Ichijoji Temple (1955)

Samurai II: Duel at Ichijoji Temple [続宮本武蔵 一乗寺の決闘] (1955)

Starring Toshiro Mifune, Koji Tsuruta, Mariko Okada, Kaoru Yachigusa, Michiyo Kogure, Mitsuko Mito, Akihiko Hirata, Daisuke Kato, Kuroemon Onoe, Sachio Sakai, Yu Fujiki, Machiko Kitagawa, Ko Mihashi, Kokuten Kodo, Eiko Miyoshi, Eijiro Tono, Kenjin Iida

Directed by Hiroshi Inagaki

Expectations: High. I thought it was OK when I saw it a number of years ago, but after rewatching the first, I’m stoked.


Like Samurai I, I had seen this film many years ago, but re-watching it confirmed to me that I had never really seen it. I had watched its battles and I had taken in its sounds, but its power was lost on me, an action-hungry teen looking for the next Asian thrill. I remember expecting that by including “duel” in the title, it would be the action film I had wanted the first to be. I also remember being disappointed with it, so much so that I never watched the third film at all. But those thoughts of days long gone have been wiped away, as I have seen Samurai II: Duel at Ichijoji Temple with new, more careful eyes.

Picking up the threads of Samurai I, Duel at Ichijoji Temple tells not just Musashi’s story, but that of his old companion Matahachi and the mother/daughter that sheltered them in the first film, his love Otsu, and a small selection of brand new characters. The film isn’t all that long, so focusing on telling everyone’s concurrent stories makes the focus drift a bit from Musashi. This is a definite flaw of Samurai II, but it creates a rich tapestry surrounding him that eventually grows into an integral part of the tale. Looking back on the film, it wouldn’t be nearly as effective a story without the supporting characters, but actually watching some of their storylines made me lose interest in the moment.

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House of Bamboo (1955)

Starring Robert Ryan, Robert Stack, Shirley Yamaguchi, Cameron Mitchell, Brad Dexter, Sessue Hayakawa, Biff Elliot, Sandro Giglio, Elko Hanabusa, DeForest Kelley

Directed by Samuel Fuller

Expectations: High. Sam Fuller.


If Hell and High Water was Fuller’s ability to shoot CinemaScope within confined spaces, then House of Bamboo is Fuller proving that he can apply the techniques to shooting wide-open vistas and dense cityscapes. House of Bamboo, while definitely being a minor Fuller film, is one of the best shot CinemaScope films I’ve ever seen. Literally every shot is gorgeously composed and full of vibrant life. Modern filmmakers using the widescreen ratio definitely need to sit down with this one, as they could stand to learn a lot from it and Fuller in general.

House of Bamboo is a tale of Westerners in Japan, but not like you’d expect; it’s a heist noir with heavy overtones of melodramatic interracial romance and homoeroticism. I’ll admit that I didn’t see much in the way of homoeroticism while watching House of Bamboo, but after reading a couple of essays on it (and Fuller’s own words), it is clearly his intention. I guess I have a tendency to take everything too literally.

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