The saga of Japan’s most famous samurai warrior continues in this second part: the Mifune/Inagaki trilogy Samurai II: Duel at Ichijoji Temple (1955) a/k/a Zoku Miyamoto Musashi: Ichijôji no kettô. This installment features fewer location shoots, but more action.
Having left his old life behind, Musashi continues on his journey of self-discovery that primarily involves testing his sword not only against lone warriors, but the most prestigious fencing school in Kyoto, while Otsu, his true love, continues the search for him. Meanwhile, Kojiro, a young and ambitious fencer (who uses an especially long sword) prepares to challenge Musashi—the only person he sees as a worthy opponent.
The film starts with Musashi (Toshiro Mifune) preparing to duel with Baiken, a master of the chain and sickle, while a homeless boy (Jotaro) looks on. Unprepared for this newfangled weapon, Musashi finds himself in a bind when his long sword is tangled by the chain. He uses his second smaller (“Wakizashi”) sword to win the battle, foreshadowing his deadly two sword style of combat—although the film does not really focus on the origins of his technique. After the sickle & chain battle, Musashi leaves to challenge the Yoshioka sword school—probably the most prestigious school in the area. The Yoshioka School’s young Master is not around and after crippling a number of the school’s students with a wooden sword, Musashi leaves a written challenge for the him and goes public with it. While the school is up in arms over the affront, Musashi meets the leader of an artist’s colony who entertains with a famous geisha. While he is at the geisha house, a challenge by the schoolmaster’s older brother, Denshichiro, reaches Musashi who sneaks out, beats Denshichiro in combat, and returns to the house in his blood-stained kimono.
Musashi’s old companion, Matahatchi, has become nothing more than a freeloader, living on the graces and fancies of Oko (Akemi’s mother) and her sophisticated excesses. He makes the mistake of impersonating Kojiro to impress his mother, Osugi, who he runs into, to his dismay, while she is still on the hunt for Musashi in the fanatical hopes of killing him. Otsu retreats to a Buddhist Temple where she meets Takuan again and Jotaro who now considers Musashi his master. Musashi and Otsu meet up again but the meeting leaves the two confused and separated.
All the while, knowing that Seijuro (the master of the Yoshioka school), is easy pickings for Musashi, the Yoshioka prepare a trap near Ichijoji Temple. Musashi is warned of the dishonorable treachery by Akemi and engages the entire school in (his most famous) battle. Although he is successful, the sheer number of enemies appears to undo him. Musashi makes a tactical decision and moves across a rice field where Seijuro challenges him alone. Musashi promptly beats him but spares his life — a fate that may be worse than death.
The first Miyamoto film was shot beautifully on location. This installment uses more sets that, while elaborate in their reconstruction, pale in comparison to the location shoots. What bothers me is that this film begins to condense down and cut the tale of Musashi even more than the initial installment although not as much as the third and final film.
Of the three films, this has the most swordplay, climaxing with the duel at the end. Again, the action is realistically portrayed for the time without an emphasis on gore and is entertaining. This is still a solid second outing and considering the close nature of all three, it deserves to be seen just as much as the first one.