Toshiro Mifune did not just portray old men and handsome painters. For a good portion of his career, he portrayed samurai. It is up for debate which samurai was his most iconic, Musashi Miyamoto is definitely in the running. This is not just because of his portrayal but also because the character was based on a real person whose work is still read today.
This movie is the first in a trilogy based on the life of Miyamoto. It essentially chronicles his origin into becoming one of the greatest known samurai in Japanese culture. We see Miyamoto when he is still called Takezo. He plots with his friend of escaping their home town and joining an army so they can fight and become samurai. They join up together only to be assigned the most menial of jobs, digging ditches. One day they hear the war is over, but they had yet to fight. The army disperses and Takezo finds himself carrying his wounded friend to a house in the middle of nowhere. In this house is a mother and daughter who are alone. While his friend recuperates, Takezo trains in sword play and tames a wild horse. But the mother and daughter are not just simple herb farmers. They actually take the valuables off of dead samurai and sell them. This gets them in trouble with the local gangsters. The gangsters threaten the mother and raid her house. Takezo fights them off only using a wooden sword. After the gangsters are gone, the mother offers herself to Takezo only to be rebuffed. Takezo flees and returns the next day to find out that his friend and the two women are gone. His friend was engaged to a young woman in their home town but it seems that is now over.
Takezo goes to the home town to tell his friend’s mother and fiance what happened. But on his entry into the town, he makes enemies of the townspeople. He fights his way through the town, only to be trapped by his friend’s mother. Through a series of events he is an outlaw who is captured by a monk. The monk offers to train Takezo into becoming a samurai and Takezo accepts reluctantly. I say reluctantly because he is in love with his friend’s fiance. Takezo takes the name Miyamoto and completes the training at the dojo. But he feels he is not ready yet and leaves to gain experience, promising the love of his life that he will one day return.
The look of this film is so completely different from the previous two films that I watched with Mifune in them. First off, this was not directed by Kurosawa, but instead by a contract director for Toho. So the film is given this epic quality that Kurosawa usually shies away from. It was also shot in color and made to look like an ancient Japanese print. And of course Mifune does little here but fight and be a stoic individual. I have to say that although I am intrigued to see the next two installments, this has to be the least favorite of the three films I have watched. I guess I prefer my Mifune non-samuraied up.