Directed by Uchida Tomu
Starring: Nakamura Kinnosuke, Kimura Isao, Kogure Chiyo
“If one were to say in a word what the condition of being a samurai is, its basis lies first in seriously devoting one’s body and soul to his master”
Is there anything better in this life than a great samurai film? Anyone who knows me how much I love a good chambara film. Animeigo recently released Miyamoto Musashi: The Ultimate Samurai (5 disc set) on DVD and I gave it a spin.
Here is a quick lesson on Miyamoto Musashi (1584-1645): Miyamoto Musashi was a Japanese swordsman and samurai famed for his duels and distinctive style. Musashi, as he was often simply known, became renowned through stories of his excellent swordsmanship in numerous duels, even from a very young age. He was the founder of the Hyōhō Niten Ichi-ryū or Niten-ryū style of swordsmanship and the author of The Book of Five Rings a book on strategy, tactics, and philosophy that is still studied today.
And, before I dig into this set, this is not the 3 film series Samurai Trilogy directed by Hiroshi Inagaki and starring Toshiro Mifune, which is also great. But I digress.
Let’s take a look at these one by one, shall we?
The film opens as Takezo (Nakamura Kinnosuke) convinces his best friend Matahachi (Kimura Isao) to leave their small village and the safety of their home to become brave soldiers. Takezo and Matahachi become soldiers and Matahachi is wounded. They convince a woman and her young daughter to hide them in her barn. After he is healed, he leaves with this woman and her daughter. This leaves a pleasant task for Takezo to perform: he has to return home to tell Matahachi’s family and other friends and family and Takezo’s own fiance Otsu what has happened. To thank him for this, Matahachi betrays Takezo and turns him into authorities. It isn’t long before Takezo finds himself living in the woods and fighting for his life.
Miyamoto Musashi II: Duel at Hannya Hill
The second film begins 3 years after the first film completed. What has Musashi been up to? Well, he has been in the tower of a castle and he has emerged as one bad ass samurai. He gets a promising job offer from the lord of the area, but he says no. Instead, he wants to study more. The lord tells him that he should change his name for his journey on the path of the sword and he does: he becomes Miyamoto Musashi. He travels to the Yoshioka Dojo where he wounds several students. Musashi wants to fight the master of the dojo but instead he is ambushed by the students. How does he avert this attack? And if this wasn’t enough, he has angered the monks of a monastery and they are after him too.
Miyamoto Musashi III: Birth of the Nito-Ryo Style
In the 3rd film in the series, the film opens as Musashi is continuing his studies and is yearning to study with Yagyu Sekishuusai, a famous swordsman that resides in the mountains. Musashi soon learns that Yagyu spends his days painting and arranging flowers and has long abandoned the life of a swordsman. Musashi decides he is going to force a duel and prove himself next to this master of the sword. And, the reappearance of Kojiro in this film is troubling to Musashi.
Miyamoto Musashi IV: The Duel at Ichiyo-ji Temple
In the 4th film, Musashi has bested every student and master at Yoshioka Dojo. The students are not happy about this and want bloodshed and revenge. Kojiro shows up again to negotiate an agreement, one that Musashi just can’t live with. It isn’t long before Musashi has to face upwards of 73 opponents. Can he do it or is his ego and his body going to take a bruising?
Miyamoto Musashi V: Duel at Ganryu Island
In the final and 5th film, Musashi makes a surprising decision: he is going to abandon the life of the sword and live a simple life as a farmer. In this village he has chosen, bandits arrive to steal the harvest from the farmers and town folk. Well, Musashi can’t stand for that and fights for the village folk. He decides he needs to go to another town. And who is in this town? That would be Kojiro and he decides to challenge Musashi to a duel that will finally decide who is the best swordsman between the two.
Even if you have seen the story of Musashi in other samurai films or you have seen the Samurai Trilogy by Hiroshi Inagaki, do yourself a favor: don’t miss this series. It is simply fantastic.
The films are beautifully shot, solidly acted and the blending of Musashi’s stories of battles along with his interpersonal relationships, not only with his fiancé Otsu, but others that he becomes involved with is handled with a deft hand. I appreciated that Musashi is not shown to be “superhuman”, rather that he is a man with emotions and conflicting feelings just like any other person, despite his extraordinary skills.
This is a film series that samurai film fans simply cannot miss.
The films are presented in anamorphic widescreen. The black levels are respectable and the overall transfer is decent. There is just a bit of grain, but the source material would be the blame for that. This isn’t going to look like Avatar on Blu Ray, but as always, Animeigo does a great job.
The films are presented in the original Japanese Mono soundtrack with English subtitles. Animeigo always does a fantastic job with subtitles and in this set that has not changed. I wish other companies took the care to outline the subtitles, color code for different characters and other features Animeigo simply provides in each of their releases.
The Packaging and Bonus Features
The set is presented in a cardboard slipcase with each of the 5 films in their own slimpack amaray case.
There are some great bonus features to peruse on this release. Each film included in the boxset comes with translation notes, image galleries and theatrical trailers.
Noted film reviewer Stuart Galbraith IV provides a great commentary to the first film that is definitely worth your time and attention. My only wish is that there was a commentary to each of the films offered.
Overall (Not an Average) 7/10
The Movies 8.5/10
The Video 7/10
The Audio 6.5/10
The Packaging and Bonus Features 7/10
Overall (not an average) 7/10