The Samurai Trilogy

He was the best swordsman I will ever face.

A review by Mike Shea   Movie Rating: ( * * * * * )    DVD Rating: ( * * · · · )

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In the 1950s, Toshiro Mifune, perhaps the best Japanese actor of all time, and are known as the "Gone with the Wind" of Japan. They are pure examples of classic cinema, and while I can't recommend them for everyone, if you are movie buff or a samurai buff, they are a treasure.

The shadowy figure, Sasaki, stands on a wooden bridge watching our hero cut through waves of assassins. One of the assassin leaders aproaches Sasaki and they trade insults. "I do not believe in modesty, I could behead you with a single stroke". The assassin draws his sword and in a flash of movement he falls to the ground thinking he fell out of range of the "swallow turn" cut. The picture shifts to the figure, already sheathing his huge blade, "Cloths Rod", and walking away. Only then does the assassin notice his missing topknot, lying next to him. Like Kurosawa's flicks, Inagaki chooses to have skill defined in posture, subtle cuts, and unseen skill. There are no huge duels, there are no backflips. Sword cuts happen off screen and people fall dead for unknown reasons. Our hero can detect how good someone is by just looking at the types of wounds on his victims. When confronted by a local horse trader / "tough guy", Musashi proves his skills not with a sword but by plucking flies out of the air with chopsticks. Luckily the horse trader is able to see this subtle strength.

Criterion's release of the Samurai trilogy is probably as good as we can expect. The transfers are from original 4x3 film prints including the cigarette burns and scratches. The resolution is poor but the color is excellent. Sound is all mono but still does justice to the wonderful score. Little of Mifune's performance is lost in the transfer.

The Samurai trilogy is filled with textbook examples of physical acting, set design, costume design, action, and drama. They are a showcase for the talent of Toshiro Mifune, although they get a bit out of hand with the love triangle and the use of the term "brace up" when someone is dying. Still, The Samurai trilogy stands as a monument to great film.