A short wartime fable, based on the exploits of the seventeenth-century master swordsman whose career later inspired Inagaki’s Oscar-winning Samurai, The Legend of Musashi (1955). “Kawarazaki, bearded and intense, is a fine figure of a hero seeking through celibacy and contemplation for the perfect stroke in both swordplay and sculpture. While the philosophy is Zen Buddhist, the conventions are clearly reminiscent of the Western showdown in search of the best and the fastest. The samurai mystique is very much a spiritual metaphor, however, and in its ritual resolutions of minimalist, bloodless swordplay, Musashi captures the essence of the steel blade as a pure, cleansing instrument.” —Tom Allen, Village Voice
Kenji Mizoguchi entered the film world as a promoter of Western novelty in Japanese cinema and exited it as an acclaimed international director who exemplified Japan at its most traditional. After The Life of Oharu and Ugetsu won prizes in successive Venice Film Festivals in the early ‘50s, Mizoguchi became an icon for the nascent French New Wave. His mastery of mise-en-scène was lauded by Jacques Rivette, while Jean-Luc Godard praised his metaphysics and his stylistic elegance. Mizoguchi is still recognized as one of the 20th century’s greatest filmmakers. Born in Tokyo, in 1898, Mizoguchi was the middle child of a roofer/carpenter. His family’s financial situation went from modest to desperate when his erratic, dreamer father tried to make a killing by selling raincoats to the military during the Russo-Japanese war. Not having enough money for food, Mizoguchi’s older sister was put up for adoption at age 14. She was later sold to a geisha house. Mizoguchi himself… read more
For obvious reasons the early '40's were difficult years for Japanese cinema. Compromises had to be made and projects taken on had to be uncritical of the military action taking place. Mizoguchi managed this delicate balancing act with a film similiar in tone to Kurosawa's debut from the previous year, a film that can just be enjoyed as a stirring adventure yarn, wrapped up in under an hour. Well worth seeking out..
It may prove an interesting watch for those who wonder how would an action scene look under Mizoguchi's eye (re: austerely awesome), but the heart of the film lies not in the battle sequences, but in the proverbial, monotone sayings and soliloquies of the legendary Musashi Miyamoto, and the problem is that, as wise and disciplined he may be, past the surface there isn't much else to offer.