The Ultimate Samurai Miyamoto Musashi Box Set
The title for this box set speaks for itself. Miyamoto Musashi (1584-1645) was the greatest Japanese swordsman of all time. A man so skilled, he never lost a duel and was a masterless samurai who created Nito-ryu Style or Nitoryu Kaigan, a duel-sword technique. Later in life, he wrote The Book of Five Rings, a book that blended fighting strategy with philosophy, is still in print today. In 1935, writer Eiji Yoshikawa wrote the novelization of Musashi’s life in newspaper serialized format, which would be later collected in book form. It was based on historical facts with Yoshikawa adding fictional elements to Musashi’s life. Musashi or Miyamoto Musashi has sold over 120 million copies worldwide. Sadly, I haven’t read the novel (The English version of the novel is abridged.), but the closest thing I’ve read to the novel is Takehiko Inoue’s Vagabond manga series. While the manga is based on Yoshikawa’s novel, there are a lot of differences between the manga and the original novel. Enter the AnimEigo release of the five film series Miyamoto Musashi. The series came out in Japan from 1961 to 1965, and was directed by Tomu Uchida with Kin’nosuke Nakamura as the lead role of Musashi.
This ten hour tale covers twelve years of Musashi‘s life, from the end of the Battle of Sekigahara in 1600 to his famous duel with Sasaki Kojiro in 1612. The Musashi films are a work of art and gets better after each viewing. It’s great character piece by going deep inside Musashi’s train of thought and actions throughout his journey. The progression of his personality from a wild man from the first film to a warrior seeking knowledge by the end of the series is truly remarkable. Director Tomu Uchida is considered to be one of the most important filmmakers in Japanese cinema, but his name is pretty much unknown to a Western audience. After watching these films, I’m hoping more of his film get a DVD release. He did a wonderful job to translate the story of Musashi into the big screen. The film series feels like one happy, but yet, forlorn dream. The best example of this would be in Miyamoto Musashi IV - Duel at Ichijyo-Ji Temple. The battle between Musashi against 73 members of the Yoshioka Dojo. The entire tone of the battle scene is almost like a dream sequence. It’s a breathtaking and brutal scene, that’s worth multiple viewings. Kin’nosuke Nakamura hands down is Miyamoto Musashi. His performance of the legendary swordsman is career defying and I couldn‘t imagine another actor pulling off this role.
As far as extras on the DVD collection, each film has an image gallery, theatrical trailer (Note: I highly suggest that you should check out the trailers after watching the films because the trailers are spoiler-heavy.), and program notes. The program notes offer up general historical events, cast and crew bios, and translations of certain words and spoken dialogue. Film historian and critic Stuart Galbraith IV provides a great and a well informed commentary track for the first film. That covers the films series, the original novel by Eiji Yoshikawa, key cast and crew bios, the state of the Japanese film industry during the making of these five Miyamoto films, an interview, and so much more. I highly recommend to listen to the commentary track after viewing the films.
This is a great film series that you must own in your DVD collection or can be a gift for someone in the upcoming holiday season. A perfect balance of drama and action, with great direction from Tomu Uchida and brilliant acting from Kin’nosuke Nakamura. A true hidden gem of cinema. You can order a copy of the DVD box set from AnimEigo’s website http://www.animeigo.com/products/samurai/miyamoto-musashi or on Amazon. -Panagiotis Drakopoulos