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May 05, 2010

Miyamoto Musashi IV: Duel at Ichuyo-ji Temple

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Miyamoto Musashi: Ichijoji no ketto
Tomu Uchida - 1964
AnimEigo Region 1 DVD

What interests me about the way Tomu Uchida is filming his series on Miyamoto Musashi are his stylistic choices. Each film in the series is done in a consistent visual style, yet the consistency is only within each film rather than carried throughout the series. The fourth film begins with a recapping of the events of the first three films, but with mock period paintings, in color, alternating with black and white shots from the preceding films. At first it appears as an odd conceit, but the reasons for Uchida's visual choices becomes more clear as the film progresses.

Musicianship and painting, art in general, symbolize alternative modes of life and expression. Otsu makes her appearance known to Musashi by playing her flute by the side of a road. The father of the boy, Jotaro, is identified by his playing of an older Japanese woodwind instrument. Musashi spends part of his time contemplating an abstract looking Chinese painting. In a key scene, Musashi spends the night with a courtesan. The courtesan, Yoshino, plays the stringed instrument, the biwa, which she cuts open to explain how the sounds are created. She compares Musashi to a taut instrument that will easily break, as opposed to the hidden flexibility within the biwa.

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The narrative is about the students of the martial arts school seeking revenge for their young master having been defeated by Musashi. The hot headed Denshichiro leads the students, ignoring warnings that he may overestimating his own capabilities. The title of this episode refers to the scene of battle, with Musashi standing against the seventy-three members of this dojo. The sequence is in monochrome. I have no idea why Uchida chose to break from color for this part of the film. The contrast is immediate when, after the battle, we see Musashi lying in a field of red leaves, an image that consciously evokes the flames of hell.

Red, of course, is the color of blood. Red is used in various ways also in the color of some of the costumes. The connection of red, blood and nature is also connected within a bit of dialogue. When Musashi returns from a brief sword fight, Yoshino tries to blot some blood from his clothing while entertaining a group of men. One man, taking notice, asks if what he saw was blood. The reply is, "I believe it is a crimson peony petal".

Uchida seems to have used this film to explore his own ideas about art in the way he uses the wide screen. Within each shot one can identify ways of dividing the space vertically as well as horizontally. Much of the vertical space is broken up by the panelling of the houses in interior shots, and trees for the exterior scenes. Most of the shots are relatively long takes with the use of pan, tracking and crane shots to emphasize the unity of the characters within the shot. The visual style is integrated within the film without calling attention to itself. It could well be that in working with what is a very familiar story, filmed several times previously, that what interested Tomu Uchida was not the story of Miyamoto Musashi, but how he could tell the story. Uchida was a well established filmmaker who's real interest was in continuing to find new ways of expressing himself artistically.

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Posted by peter at May 5, 2010 12:51 AM