“‘There are many enemies’ applies when you are fighting one against many. Draw both sword and companion sword and assume a wide-stretched left and right attitude. The spirit is to chase the enemies around from side to side, even though they come from all four directions. Observe their attacking order, and go to meet first those who attack first. Sweep your eyes around broadly, carefully examining the attacking order, and cut left and right alternately with your swords. Waiting is bad. Always quickly re-assume your attitudes to both sides, cut the enemies down as they advance, crushing them in the direction from which they attack. Whatever you do, you must drive the enemy together, as if tying a line of fishes, and when they are seen to be piled up, cut them down strongly without giving them room to move.” Miyamoto Musashi, The Book of Five Rings, Book of Water
We are now halfway through our look at the greatest samurai of all-time Miyamoto Musashi. Today we are going to take a look at NHK’s 2003 series following the life of Miyamoto Musashi as far as the other two films series have taken us. As you can see from the past two posts, my opinion of all three epics is starting to gel. To date, it should be pretty obvious that I don’t think much of the original Mifune/Inagaki trilogy but I am significantly more impressed with the five part series directed by Uchida as recently posted. Now with 49 episodes, NHK goes even deeper into the trail Musashi chooses both physically and spiritually as he wanders throughout Japan.
In each of our past posts, we stopped at Musashi’s finest moment to date, when he takes on the entire Yoshioka Kyoto fencing school and not only survives this battle, but actually wins it. Although winning comes with a heavy price, killing the 10-year-old “commander” of his opponents, Musashi is willing to pay this price to win and survive. You would not know of this historic battle if you only watch the original Mifune/Inagaki films which have drawn criticism as “sanitizing” Musashi’s story. Since we left off at the battle of Ichijoji in both of our previous posts, we will do the same here when studying the NHK series.
Remember the origins of the battle at Ichijoji are rooted in the Musashi’s killing both of the teaching brothers from the Yoshioka school with relative ease that set events in motion which culminate in the legendary clash.
Here is how the History Channel remembers the Battle at Ichijoii.
Characters are one of the strengths of the NHK series, which takes the time to explore each personality in depth. Let’s take a moment and briefly summarize who our main characters are and where we’re at in the NHK series. “Matahachi” is the childhood friend of Musashi who fought at the battle of Sekigahara with him—he has gone downhill becoming shiftless and lazy. “Ostu” is the flute-wielding romantic lover of Musashi who is wandering Japan looking for him. “Sasaki Kojiro” is the master of the Ganryu style of swordplay and is Musashi’s greatest opponent. “Yagyu Munenori” is the son of the enlightened sword master Yagyu Sekishusai. He is a highly skilled and famous samurai who is on a par with both Musashi and Kojiro. Unlike Musashi, who lives his life for the moment, Munenori is involved heavily with politics and power. “Jotaro” is a young follower of Musashi who treats him like a son and “Hon’iden Osugi” is the mother of Matahachi and bitter enemy of Musashi.
“Takuan” is an enlightened Zen monk. He often gives spiritual insights to help Musashi overcome personal obstacles. Not only is Takuan spiritually wise, he also is a humble and down to earth individual which makes him very well-liked. There is no bigger influence in Musashi’s spiritual life than Takuan. However, there are lesser influences, such as the sword sharpener who refuses to sharpen Musashi’s sword because it will be used for killing and not for beauty. Looking as though he has just entered the Twilight Zone, Musashi responds, “A sword, sir, is meant for fighting.” Later, the sword-sharpener’s wife exhorts Musashi to live so that he can learn to appreciate beauty – foreshadowing Musashi’s becoming an artist later in life.
Meanwhile Otsu has doggedly been pursuing Musashi and passes out due to exhaustion. She is brought to a rooming house where she is being cared for by strangers. Low and behold who is there to “help” Otsu? None other than Osugi a/k/a “Granny” who, for labor and menial tasks, still considers Otsu her daughter-in-law (the equivalent of indentured servitude) while contemporaneously casting her as a mortal enemy because of her relationship with Musashi. Osugi tells Otsu that Musashi was killed in a duel. Otsu is grief stricken but word comes around that a ronin has defeated both teachers of the Yoshioka schools and that a third winner take all battle is pending. Otsu knows that could only be Musashi so she leaves the pleasant company of Osugi and heads out to find Muashi—Osugi now becomes furious both with Musashi for surviving and Otsu for leaving.
While Matahachi’s mother is cursing Otsu and Musashi, he delves into the semi criminal world meeting a strange sorcerer who pays him to spy on some rich lords (or else be killed) and then he finds Kojiro’s diploma and a bag of money and begins to pass himself off as the great swordsman as well as getting conned out of his new found wealth.
Before we get to the great battle, Musashi meets his greatest rival Kojiro–and even gets a bit of advice from him. Otsu finally catches up with Musashi, scaring him senseless, while no one really knows where Matahachi’s less than virtuous lifestyle has led him. And unlike in the five part series, Jotaro sticks around as Musashi’s disciple throughout the entire journey. We are also treated to a little more exposure to Osugi a/k/a “Granny,” Matahachi’s very cranky mother who continues to blame Musashi for all of her son’s problems.
As you ponder these clips, notice the theme that is being developed – Musashi’s spiritual quest. What makes Musashi stand out so dramatically from other swordsmen of his era, NHK seems to be arguing, is his singleminded focus and refusal to be distracted by such mundane issues as earning a living or starting a family. As often happens to people on a spiritual path, teachers appear to advise Musashi when he needs it – and as also often happens to people on such paths, Musashi develops a motley collection of supporters and people who care deeply what happens to him. NHK also takes time to include small segments showing us the modern locations of Musashi’s journeys – almost as if the series was developed partly in order to be shown in school.