Anyone who knows anything about this site is familiar with our passion for Asian films. One of the central figures in these films is the famed 17th century Japanese swordsman Miyamoto Musashi. Typically Musashi is portrayed as a dignified and violent, yet philosophical Ronin. Not in Ganryujima this time he is and psychotic, vulgar, violent and cruel bully, carrying with him the aura of an insane homeless man who is the center of his own megalomaniacal universe.
The movie focuses on the duel with Sasaki Kojiro on Ganryu Island. From the opening scene Musashi is clearly the villain and Sasaki Kojiro is the honorable samurai and Musashi apologist. Kojiro goes so far as to defend each of Musashi’s cruel actions as a necessary byproduct of the duels he was in. Ganryujima points out that this duel which made him the undisputed fencing champion of Japan is never mentioned in Musashi’s famous Book of The Five Rings. The film has a theory why Musashi left this out of his book; that is, he does not remember it because the fisherman taking him out to the island duel knocked him out cold with an oar and that he is mistaken for Musashi. Since the fisherman has no fencing skills, he ends up killing a befuddled Kojiro in self-defense who is unprepared for such an outlandish bout. When Musashi comes to, he has temporary amnesia that quickly vanishes—along with his disgraceful characteristics. Musashi is “re-born” as the Ronin we all know and love. It is not a great movie; however anyone with any interest in the swordsman really should take a look at this novel view of Musashi.
The film starts after Musashi has defeated Baiken, destroyed the entire Yoshioka School and he has beheaded the ten year old Yoshioka figurehead. In Ganryujima he is not traveling to the famous island to fight a duel with Kojiro. He is taking a boat ride to die. The movie makes a game of having him “forget” his swords and having the runs, but by the end of the movie, when his real personality emerges it is obvious this was not a matter of forgetting anything.
While Kojiro waits for Muashi, he explains the real reason for the duel to one of the naïve witnesses; that Kojiro is to die even if he wins the duel and that the unknowing naïve witness is to kill Kojiro should Muashi fail too. We are then walked through Kojiro’s situation of the clan using the duel as an assassination play because many of the non-mainstream retainers look to Kojiro and the Sasaki family as their leaders in a revolt. Knowing that if the central government finds out about a revolt their clan will be dissolved, they decide to sacrifice Kojiro. I’d just like to say that these Asian people are really into the clan system and I wish someone would tell me why anything can be done as long as it is in the name of the clan it is ok?
After the fisherman kills Kojiro and returns to his hamlet with a barely conscious Musashi, a mass of samurai who have come for their revenge. Now Musashi does not want to fight but is left with no alternative. First he beats them without cutting them, but after a few moments it is clear that he will have to kill them all by releasing the beast within himself. The transition from the dignified Ronin to the animal killer reminds me of Bruce Banner’s transformation into the Incredible Hulk. Like the Incredible Hulk, Musashi butchers his opponents almost gracefully. This scene alone makes the movie worth watching.
I give this film full credit for its originality; I was totally taken by surprise—which almost never happens. And while the cinematography was excellent, for some reason it had a made-for-tv-movie feel about it. For Dangerous its final fight scene (shown in full here) is spectacularly choreographed rivaling any I have seen. But again, I just can’t shake the made-for-tv-movie feel. It does not matter. As I mentioned above anyone with any interest in the legendary swordsman should take the time to view this film.