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May 01, 2010

Miyamoto Musashi II: Duel at Hannya Hill

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Miyamoto Musashi: Hannyazaka no ketto
Tomu Uchida - 1962
AnimEigo Region 1 DVD

Fifteen monks with spears to the left. About twenty-five unkempt ronin to right. What's a lone swordsman to do? The second installment of the Miyamoto Musashi series is a transitional episode that can not be judged in the same way as a stand alone film. The film is essential a road film chronicling a bit more of Miyamoto's development, both in his abilities with the sword, and with his outlook towards life.

Some of the characters from the first film appear again briefly. The young woman, Otsu, who was his friend's fiancee, now has her heart set for Miyamoto. The friend, Matahachi, has married the older woman, Oku, and runs an inn with her and Oku's adopted daughter, Akemi. The story, as such, is of Miyamoto showing up at various schools to prove his mastery in martial arts. On his journey, he is accompanied by a young boy, Jotaro, who acts as his courier.

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The film begins with Miyamoto stepping out of the room he has been cloistered in for three years. If the equation of sunshine and enlightenment was missed by anyone who watched the first film, it won't be missed with two mentions of illumination within the first few minutes of this second film. Uchida uses a camera setup frequently with the camera looking up at the camera, with the blue sky and some white clouds in the back. This constitutes one of his repeated stylistic flourishes. There is some imagery of the very small characters almost lost in the landscape, though not to the extent of the first film. As for action, it doesn't take place until the title scene, with Miyamoto dispatching the scruffy ronin each with a single well placed blow of the sword. One guy gets his head lopped off, which causes a fellow ronin to observe of Miyamoto: "This guy is tough".

The real payoff is at the end of the film. The leader of the spear wielding monks takes a group of small stones, and has a Buddhist prayer written on each one. The stones are then set on each of the dead ronin. Miyamoto rejects the notion that his rivals are worthy of any kind of human consideration. One of the frequent elements in Buddhist parables, and the central part of the life of Shakyamuni, is the theme of the journey. That Uchida's version of the life of Miyamoto Musashi is to be understood as something of a Buddhist parable is made clear for the viewer, even when the title character is unaware of the philosophical path his life will take.

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Posted by peter at May 1, 2010 12:38 AM