Samurai III: Duel at Ganryu Island (1956)

Samurai III: Duel at Ganryu Island [宮本武蔵完結編 決闘巌流島] (1956)
AKA Bushido

Starring Toshiro Mifune, Koji Tsuruta, Kaoru Yachigusa, Mariko Okada, Michiko Saga, Takashi Shimura, Minoru Chiaki, Daisuke Kato, Haruo Tanaka, Kichijiro Ueda, Kokuten Kodo

Directed by Hiroshi Inagaki

Expectations: High. Can’t wait to finish the trilogy.


[Editor’s Note: There will be spoilers, although I don’t know how much spoilers come into play on this film, as it’s pretty clear from the get-go what the end result will be.]

Early on in Samurai III: Duel at Ganryu Island, Musashi Miyamoto bests a fighter dominated by physical strength by using his own strength as tempered by his calm spirit. This tells us that the journey shown in Part 2 of the trilogy was a success; Musashi has indeed become the complete swordsman he set out to become. This is reinforced throughout the film through the encounters that Musahi has, such as moments when he settles a dispute simply by catching flies with chopsticks, or his increased focus on the arts (specifically woodworking). My favorite of these clues that Musashi has attained his goal was the subtle changes in the trilogy’s bombastic theme, which takes on a more reserved and calm tempo in this film.

As the title suggests, Samurai III: Duel at Ganryu Island is mostly focused on the duel between Sasaki and Miyamoto. While the actual duel doesn’t take place until the closing minutes of the film, its shadow looms over the entire film and creates a sense of impending tragedy for the two men. We are led to believe that Musashi will handily defeat Sasaki, but Sasaki has also proven to be quite the formidable samurai. Even in the final moments, the duel is anyone’s game, and this is what makes the duel so thrilling to watch.

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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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Samurai I: Musashi Miyamoto (1954)

Samurai I: Musashi Miyamoto [宮本武蔵] (1954)

Starring Toshiro Mifune, Rentaro Mikuni, Kuroemon Onoe, Kaoru Yachigusa, Mariko Okada, Mitsuko Mito, Eiko Miyoshi, Akihiko Hirata, Kusuo Abe

Directed by Hiroshi Inagaki

Expectations: Moderate. I liked this well enough when I saw it 10–12 years ago.


Sometimes you see films too early in your life and their intricacies are lost in a haze of unfulfilled desires and expectations. Samurai I: Musashi Miyamoto is one such film for me, as I saw it roughly 10–12 years ago, hoping for a rip-roarin’ samurai action film. It’s a film about the most famous samurai of all time so he should totally kick the most ass, right? While that logic still makes sense to me, it is a flawed way to approach this film, and is a big reason why I only moderately enjoyed it back then. This time, however, I was able to fully appreciate it for what it is: a tale of how Musashi Miyamoto becomes Musashi Miyamoto.

As the film opens Takezo (Toshiro Mifune) and Matahachi (Rentaro Mikuni) watch warriors marching to battle from their vantage point high in a tree. Takezo wants nothing more than to be out of his hometown, where people look down on him as a ruffian and a troublemaker, so he talks Matahachi into joining the troops with him. They fight together in the Battle of Sekigahara, but their faction loses and control of the area slips to the enemy party. Takezo and Matahachi now find themselves fugitives, and with Matahachi wounded they need to find shelter at all costs.

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