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.