Swordsman of the Two Sword Style

Year: 1956
Rating: 7.5

The duels, actions and adventures of Miyamoto Musashi have been related in masses of books and films over the years. The first film about him was made in 1928 and perhaps the most famous was the trilogy directed by Hiroshi Inagaki starring Toshiro Mifune in the 1950s. Musashi was a real historical figure living from 1584 to 1645 who became the most famous swordsman in Japanese history and innovated the two sword style - i.e. a sword in each hand. He fought over sixty duels during his life and never lost. His first duel was fought at 13 years of age when he fought a samurai with a stick, knocking him down and then beating him to death. He was considered a Ronin, a masterless samurai but in truth he was never really a samurai - more a master swordsman who from time to time entered into service for a Lord to fight in a battle. He fought at the Battle of Sekigahara on the losing side, one of the most significant battles in Japanese history that established the Tokugawa shogunate (and is also the subject of many films).

Duels were a part of life for samurai back then - from different schools of swordfighting - and sort of like our old time Westerns, once you had a reputation you would be challenged by someone who wanted a reputation. And since Musashi was a Ronin without a school or clan behind him, he was considered an affront to the samurai code and often after winning a duel supporters of the dead man would follow up and try to kill him. His most famous duel was against Sasaki Kojirō on Ganryu Island which was the title of the third film in the trilogy. Sasaki was a very well regarded swordsman on his own and well liked. His character has also appeared in many films. The actor who plays him in this film also played him in other films. And the actor who portrays Musashi did the same in other films.

This film begins with the duel at Ganryu Island and Musashi (Chiezô Kataoka) kills Sasaki (Chiyonosuke Azuma) and immediately leaves on a small boat. This angers the followers of Sasaki as well as Sasaki's fiancée and for much of the rest of the film they follow Musashi and attempt to kill him. Musashi is portrayed here as a middle aged man (though in truth in real life Musashi was only 30 years old) with many duels already behind him and torn between settling down and marrying his old girlfriend Oko (Yumiko Hasegawa) and continuing his life-long obsession to lead an ascetic life so that he can refine his skills to perfection.

This is an old-fashioned samurai film shot in black and white with dollops of drama, aborted romance and action. The action is blood free but we still see the seeds of the more violent samurai films of the 1960s - primarily quick slashing sword fights but also ending in a large scale fight of one against many. Actor Chiezô Kataoka was quite well known at the time for being in period and samurai films with his rugged but not handsome face. As Musashi he plays him honorably with no desire to get into pointless challenges but when the time comes he doesn't hesitate.