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May 03, 2010

Miyamoto Musashi III: Birth of the Nito-Ryu Style

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Miyamoto Musashi: Nitoryu Kaikan
Tomu Uchida - 1963
AnimEigo Region 1 DVD

Into the third entry of the Miyamoto Musashi series, I feel like I am watching something that in structure resembles something like Robert Altman's Nashville. What I mean by this is that, taken as as whole, characters weave in and out, and are all connected in some way to Miyamoto, although many are unaware of those connections. This particular episode also made me think of Altman in that several of the characters are looking for each other unsuccessfully. Miyamoto's story almost takes a back seat to the narrative strands of several supporting players. I'm not sure if I can even relate what goes on in the film without charts and diagrams.

Miyamoto is still roaming around Japan, looking to pick fights with the masters of other martial arts schools. The aging master of one school won't even see anyone because he has retired. Otsu, the young woman pining for Miyamoto, acts as the old man's assistant, and never knows that as she walks past a country inn, Miyamoto is behind the door. The bat shit crazy woman who would have been Otsu's mother-in-law is still convinced her son is dead, and that it is Miyamoto's fault, chasing after him with a sword. Jotaro, Miyamoto's young courier, kills the dog belonging to the old master after it has scratched his face. By the end of the film, virtually all of the main characters from the first three films have either crossed paths or in some way have been accounted for.

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Added to this mix is a new challenger, Sasaki Kojiro. Ken Takakura makes a great entrance, standing in the bow of a small ship. Sasaki is also out to prove that no one is better than him with a sword. His first demonstration is to lop off a rival's top knot. Still very boyish looking, Takakura hardly resembles the actor best known to western audiences for his role in Sydney Pollack's The Yakuza.

Tomu Uchida's visual style is more functional here than in the first two film films. What is even more noticeable is a sense of artificiality. Everything looks like it was shot on a set, even when I'm pretty certain that it was not. The use of color, especially in the final shot with the rosy finger of dawn streaking the sky, made me think of another classic film about journey that leads to self knowledge, The Wizard of Oz. That the journey, rather than the destination, is what interests Uchida is noted in this excerpt from a dialogue with Yasujiro Ozu: "Large groups are no good. If you go out on your own, you don't have to determine where you're headed. On a Sunday morning you can put on a backpack and head out with no specific goal in mind."

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Posted by peter at May 3, 2010 12:32 AM