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