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Criterion Collection: Samurai 1 [DVD] [1955] [Region 1] [US Import] [NTSC]

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 4.2 out of 5 stars 75 reviews
39 of 42 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent viewing. 16 Oct. 2001
By Atheen - Published on
Format: DVD Verified Purchase
I enjoy Japanese films, and Toshiro Mifune is one of my favorite actors. Samurai I Musashi Miyamoto, the first of a trilogy by Inagaki, is an excellent example of the genre, justly winning an Academy Award for best foreign film in 1955. In color, which many of the other Japanese films in my collection are not, the cinematography is lovely. Although lacking some of the artistic panache of Kurosawa's or Kobayashi's work, Inogaki's film is not the less visually satisfying for it. Whereas both Kurosawa and Kobayashi's films seem at times too constrained with respect to set, color and special effects which at times distracts from the main theme of their story, Inagaki's Samurai I relies on the natural charms of the Japanese countryside and its national architectural style. Some of the settings are exquisite, and the buildings have an almost Frank Lloyd Wright fitness, complimenting their environment without being intrusive.
The story has a dramatist's sense of character development. The growth of the central character Takezo, for instance, from a selfish unruly youth, shunned even by members of his own family, to samurai "intern" is thoroughly credible. Like the anti-hero in The Red Badge of Courage, he learns that war is anything but high drama, the mere stage upon which a young man may play out his role, earning glory and wealth in the process, and is, instead, everything about hard choices, survival, and, at times, lost causes.
The real hero of the work, in my opinion, is the priest Takuan, whose own story might make a good film. It certainly made me curious. He cunningly captures the renegade wild man Takezo, depending upon a rational rather than a brute force approach. Thereafter he puts the young man first through a rough period meant to break him--much like the wild horse that Takuan himself tried to break earlier in the film--and then imprisons him with a library of books and plenty of undisturbed time in which to read them. (My one criticism would be that I find it difficult to believe that so many common people were literate at this time in Japanese history, although I admit to little knowledge of it.)
The hero's friend, Matahachi, makes a perfect foil for Takezo. He has responsibilities, a place in society, and much to live for, yet throws it away to join in the dangerous pursuit of fame and glory. When confronted with temptations, he gives in, and although he chastises himself for his weakness, he doesn't learn from his mistakes. Near the end of the film he bitterly blames his wife for his disappointments, unable even as an adult to take responsibility for his own poor decisions.
The film has several strong female characters. The young orphan Otsu, the heroine, is loyalty itself. When she realizes she has put the young Takezo in a very bad position by assisting in his capture and that she is herself a prisoner of her circumstances, she frees him and flees with him to the wilderness. Her own loss should he abandon her would have been immeasurable, helpless as she is without family to rely upon, yet she evinces a belief in his goodness that helps shape the new man will become. The two woman living on the battle field are powerful survivors. They do what they must to create a life for themselves, and although they later fall into a life of self indulgence, their gender and their lack of connections within traditional society leaves them few choices. They are the people that circumstances have made them, while Matahachi, who is again a perfect foil with his youth, his gender, his family ties, and his prospects, becomes the person he is by poor choices and an inability to accept responsibility for them.
This is a thoroughly satisfying film, and I expect to purchase the others in the collection as I can afford to do so.
20 of 21 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Great Action But Something More, Too 14 Jun. 1999
By A Customer - Published on
This trilogy is the story of a lone, masterless samurai (ronin) on a burning quest to perfect his craft. Although full of action, the real story is Musashi's maturation not just as a martial artist, but as a human being. Some scenes are nearly spiritual.
The direction and acting are excellent. Mifune is the perfect choice to portray Musashi - he is a fine actor and carries off the fight scenes quite adroitly.
The screenplay is based on Eiji Yoshikawa's novel about Musashi. If you haven't already read the book then I encourage you to do so. It's been called the "Gone With the Wind" of Japan and has sold something like 100 million copies. And deservedly so, it is a very good book.
22 of 25 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars CRAZY HORSE 24 April 2000
By Daniel S. - Published on
Format: DVD
The first part of director Hiroshi Inagaki's Samurai trilogy, that is SAMURAI I : MIYAMOTO MUSASHI, won in 1954 the academy award for best foreign movie released in the U.S.. It's a movie filmed in glorious Eastmancolor and shot, for the most part of it, in the japanese landscapes. Set in 1600 A.D., in a civil war period, SAMURAI I relates the first years of samurai apprenticeship of Takezo who, with his friend, Matahachi, decides to go to war in order to obtain fame.
Wild, without attach, Takezo will soon turn into a ronin, a samurai without a Master nor a philosophical goal. He becomes an animal and is finally caught by his fellowmen. Saved by a buddhist monk, he will learn Wisdom by reading books.
You will find in SAMURAI I several characters and situations one will encounter in numerous other japanese or even american movies. For instance, the Mother and her Daughter, alone in their lost wooden house, who will become extremely dangerous after a few weeks can be recognized a few years later in Kobayashi's KWAIDAN and, why not, in John Milius's CONAN THE BARBARIAN.
I've loved SAMURAI I's cinematography that makes us discover the japanese nature and gives undoubtedly an epic atmosphere to the movie. I've loved Toshiro Mifune's madness which leads him to battle against dozens of armed soldiers with only a wooden stick. In fact, I'm very enthusiastic about this movie and cannot wait to see the two other parts of this trilogy.
If you are curious about foreign sagas, SAMURAI I is definitely
A DVD for your library.
14 of 15 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Great film, bad transfer 21 April 2003
By Scott Richardson - Published on
Format: DVD
As the other reviewers have said, Inagaki's Samurai Trilogy is a fantastic example of the genre. These films trace the development (both physical and moral) of a headstrong young Samurai-to-be. However, the transfers on these discs are rather bad. All three of the discs feature pitting and scratching, as well as bothersome color shifts and faded prints. A strange glitch early in this first film is a digital "wave" of some sort which runs through a scene of two men sitting in a tree.
These films are excellent and I highly recommend them to samurai film fans and film fans in general. They probably won't be reissued at any time soon, either. Be warned, however, that the prints are quite bad (although they are certainly watchable).
13 of 14 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars There it is 14 Jan. 2002
By Scipio Americanus - Published on
Format: DVD Verified Purchase
I'll admit I was sceptical when I first saw this movie; I was a great fan of Yoshikawa's novel, and although I loved Inagaki's Chushingura, I feared he might not be as successful with the story of Musashi.
I can say honestly I was wrong. While not as informed by Western film technique as Kurosawa's Seven Samurai (nearly contemporaneous), it is a fine movie, breaking out of the mold of Japanese cinema (which can be very staid). Of course, the great strength (as with many of Kurosawa's films) is the awesome performance by Mifune, who really came across well as Musashi.
There are no poor performances in this wonderful film, which manages at a mere 93 minutes to avoid feeling too short, while packing in a great deal of action and character development. A beautiful compression of the beginning of Yoshikawa's novel, and a prize addition to any library.
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