The Series (5/5)
I first discovered the story of the samurai Miyamoto Musashi in a Crash Cinema box set of the Hiroshi Inagaki Samurai trilogy starring the film legend Toshiro Mifune. Through that set I discovered that Miyamoto Musashi was not just a character in a movie, but a real-life hero in Japan. I worked at a bookstore at the time, and quickly ordered his Book of the Five Rings, which I found similarly amazing, and gave a lot of depth to the story presented on screen. At the time I found out there were other films based on Miyamoto Musashi's life story, but I could not easily find them. Plus, and I hate to admit it, but I thought the Samurai trilogy was probably the ultimate version of his story. I was wrong, and Animeigo proved it with their 5 Disc Ultimate Samurai Miyamoto Musashi collection.
Miyamoto Musashi was born under the name Takezo (Nakamura Kinnosuke ). As the movie begins he convinces his best friend Matahachi (Kimura Isao) to leave their small village to become soldiers. It is not long before they find themselves in the midst of a battle, and unfortunately, end up on the losing side. During the course of the batatle Matahachi is injured, and as they are on the losing side, they both have become outlaws. Fortunately for the pair, they have found sanctuary with a young woman Akemi, and her Mother. The Mother takes care of the injured Matahachi until he is well, and then the 3 of them (sans Takezo) decide to run off together.
Having nowhere else to go Takezo returns home to the village. Once there he has to report the news of Matahachi's well-being to his fiancee Otsu, and his Mother Obaba who are obviously not too happy with what has transpired. Obaba then takes it upon herself to report Takezo to the authorities. Before he can be captured he runs off into the mountains and must fight for his existence.
Miyamoto Musashi II: Duel at Hannya Hill
The second film in the series picks up 3 years after the first. In that time Takezo has dedicated himself to his studies, and has become determined to become the ultimate samurai warrior. The local Lord offers the young Takezo a job, he however declines the position so that he may continue his studies and travel abroad. The lord also convinces Takezo to change his name, and at the Lord's insistence Takezo becomes Miyamoto Musashi. The first leg of his journey takes him to the famous Yoshioka Dojo, where he intends to fight the master, but ends up getting ambushed by several of the students. He injures some of them, and flees only to find solace in a temple that teaches a form of spear combat. He battles one of the temples monks, and kills him in the process. This, unsurprisingly, angers the remaining monks, and they too now set their eyes on bringing upon the downfall of Miyamoto Musashi.
Miyamoto Musashi III: Birth of the Nito-Ryo Style
This film takes place moments after the conclusion of the second film. Miyamoto Musashi is continuing his studies, and has concluded that the next step in his evolution as a samurai is to go to a dojo in the mountains and duel with it's master Yagyu Sekishuusai. The duel is not fated to happen, as Yagyu has given up the life of the sword for a more peaceful life. Musashi will not accept this, and he plans to duel anyone in the dojo until Yagyu with come forth.
Miyamoto Musashi IV: Duel at Ichijyo-Ji Temple
At the beginning of this film Musashi finally gets to have his duel with the master of the Yoshioka Dojo. He easily wins as the master is not as experienced as Musashi. The school now shamed by the loss challenges Miyamoto a rematch. This time with a 13 year old student, however, since the boy is too young 73 other students take his place (I fail to see how this is a good substitute for a 13 year old) in a battle that might just prove too difficult for Musashi.
Miyamoto Musashi V: Duel at Ganryu Island
The movie picks up soon after the last film. Musashi is considering the repercussions of his last battle, when he meets a young farm boy whose Father recently passed away. He decides to put down his sword, and become a man of the land, and helps the boy to restore the farm. Unfortunately, bandits have invaded the village, and Musashi must step forward and defend them. After the conclusion of this battle, he decides that he must move on, and takes the boy with him. Eventually he meets up with Kojiro, a rival swordsman, who has been stalking Musashi for some time. He challenges Musashi to a final duel, to prove once and for all who the greatest swordsman truly is.
Animeigo has once again proven that they are truly the Criterion of Samurai cinema. They have presented the Ultimate Samurai Miyamoto Musashi collection in a series of spectacular 2:35:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer. The level of detail is incredible for such old films, and the colors are very bright. There is a minor amount of film grain and print damage throughout, but overall the transfer is absolutely magnificent.
The audio is presented in the original Japanese mono track with optional English subtitles. The track similar to the video presentation is crisp and clear. All dialogue, music, and effects can be heard clearly throughout the films. The subtitles maintain the same quality as other Animeigo releases, and are color coded so the dialogue in multi-character conversations is more easily understood.
The extras on this release are limited to theatrical trailers for the films, image galleries, translation notes, and a commentary by film historian Stuart Galbraith IV (on the first film only). His commentary is interesting, and provides not only historical depth on the character, but also goes into the films history. It's too bad he couldn't do the commentary for the other 4 films.
I never thought I would love a version of the Miyamoto Musashi story more than the Samurai trilogy, but with this five film set I have been proven wrong. The acting is superb, and the direction flawless. The story here goes into much more depth than the other films, but is compelling all the way through. This set is extremely recommended for fans of Samurai cinema, and to fans of great cinema altogether.