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on 16 October 2017
I love these films.. They are almost perfection on celluloid.
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on 24 November 2016
Hiroshi Inagaki's classics of 1950s Japanese cinema, "Samurai I:Musashi Miyamoto", "Samurai II:Duel At Ichijoji Temple" and "Samurai III:Duel At Ganryu Island" better known collectively as the Samurai Trilogy all make their UK Blu ray debuts as part of The Criterion Collection. Replicating everything that graced the 2 disc US package from the high definition picture and lossless audio through to the extras and glossy insert booklet these are of course region B compatible for the UK, Europe and Australia.

Synopsis:
Based on the life and times of the legendary Musashi Miyamoto, philosopher, artist and quite possibly the greatest swordsman and Samurai in Japanese history not to mention author of the highly influential martial arts text book "The Book Of Five Rings". As important to Japanese culture as the likes of Robin Hood or Billy The Kid would have been to western audiences of the time Miyamoto has been dramatised on every available medium from television, radio and literature through to stage and in the case of this review screen. Over a series of three films spanning well over five hours the narrative follows Musashi Miyamoto portrayed by Akira Kurosawa regular Toshirô Mifune from restless hot headed peasant boy called Takezo through to briefly soldier, wanted fugitive, object of female desire and finally master swordsman whilst in this time amassing victories in many duels and discovering his inner strengths all culminating in a life brimming with recognition and self discovery.
Monumental in their scope The Samurai Trilogy produced at the renowned Toho Studios has often been described as the Japanese "Gone With The Wind" so broad and deep was it's sprawling and ambitious narrative despite being less flamboyant or creative when compared to Kurosawa's more commercially famous work of the same period with the story told in a rather conventional and straightforward manner. The less frantic and more deliberate pace of Inagaki's pictures coupled with Toshirô Mifune's charismatic performance as Miyamoto help the viewer to understand the transformation of the character through the different stages in his development and although it takes three movies to cover all of this they are never once dull with the spiritual character building side often being punctuated by intense (though remarkably bloodless) duels and large scale battles. In all essence these three separate pictures could be seen as one long continuous feature with recurring characters and themes and as thus should be viewed in order (and preferably over a short period of time) so as to fully understand and appreciate the epic storytelling.
Ravishingly shot in vivid Eastman colour (some of the first to be done so in Japan) with imagery that resembles painterly works of art there is no doubting that these movies look very special rivaling the big studio classics of the West and remain thoroughly enchanting and visually exquisite. Shot in a variety of locations from the consistently scenic Japanese countryside through to folklore inspired soundstages there are many moments which give the impression that feudal Japan was shrouded in an almost fairytale ambiance. Photographed in 1.33:1 like the vast majority of pre 1960 Japanese cinema, director Hiroshi Inagaki achieved a fantastic sense of space and depth despite the narrow window boxed framing with perfectly assembled compositions that would make John Ford proud. Incidentally US actor William Holden a self proclaimed fan of Asian cinema famously picked up the American rights for the first movie in the trilogy and pushed for it to be nominated for the best foreign language film at the Academy Awards of 1955 which it did so beating Kurosawa's "Seven Samurai" in the process.
There is no doubting that The Samurai Trilogy is an incredibly important series of films who's influence can be seen throughout Japanese and Western cinema alike. Undoubtedly these are less well known than Kurosawa's Samurai pictures and the vastness of the storylines coupled with the occasionally melodramatic tone could be a little heavy going for novices of Japanese cinema who are possibly best advised to check out some of the more flamboyant and action packed Kurosawa pictures first. For the initiated though Hiroshi Inagaki's Samurai Trilogy comes highly recommended as a set of lavish and beautifully photographed historical costume dramas loaded with colour and cultural symbolism that lovers of World Cinema are sure to enjoy all the more thanks to this new two disc Blu ray set from Criterion.

Picture:
All three of Hiroshi Inagaki's movies slice onto Blu ray courtesy of Criterion in rather splendid AVC encoded MPEG-4 1080p transfers framed at the correct fullscreen aspect ratio of 1.33:1. According to the restoration notes in the included liner booklet these were taken from 35mm low contrast prints pulled from the original camera negatives and look simply ravishingly here in high definition. Now this is where I admit this is the first time I have seen these movies so unfortunately I don't already have a benchmark set but judging by the restoration work here I doubt these have ever looked better. Clarity and detail are exceptional from the intricate patterns in costuming, sets and props whilst texturing in foliage, rustic villages and dusty tracks is visibly open to study. Depth and dimensionality are also strong perfect for some of the almost three dimensional camera set ups and beautifully choreographed battle scenes throughout. Contrast is crisp and natural for the daytime exteriors whilst also being appropriately dark and moody for the many scenes shot on the lavish soundstages which when coupled with inky blacks create wonderful levels of shadow detail. Most importantly colours appear rich and vivid. The first film is alot more subdued in terms of colour palette with a more earthy appearance especially for the muddy war time segments. As the films progress the colours become more striking from the vibrant clothing worn by certain cast members through to the well saturated red and orange of the sunrise for the beach set finalé. Thankfully everything is handled admirably in this department, always retaining distinct true to life hues indicative of the age of the pictures at hand and skin tones too are authentic to the source and period.
As is always the case with Criterion great steps were put into place to restore these 60+ year old features to their former glory and the results are pleasing with no obvious traces of print damage although source related problems do persist at certain points with odd colour fluctuations especially noticeable during the first duel in Samurai II. The natural grain structure has been preserved but again can differ from one scene to the next mostly appearing organic but on occasion looking slightly uneven. Thankfully it doesn't appear as if Criterion have used any overt manipulation during the mastering process meaning these retain their solid filmic quality.

Sound:
All three movies make their transition to high definition audio with uncompressed 24bit 1.0 LPCM monaural soundtracks in their original Japanese at 1152kbps complete with English subtitles. These sound flat but authentic with clear dialogue and foley effects but no real depth although the clanging of swords does sound suitably metallic and sharp. Music reproduction is equally clear if slightly top heavy lacking in range especially low frequencies. I did notice a few age related anomalies with occasional distortion to voices most notably during "Duel At Ichijoji Temple" but in the whole it is hard to really fault the lossless audio tracks here.

Extras:
The supplementary features here mirror the region A release from Criterion and whilst not being as fulfilling or enlightening as what was found on other classic movies in the collection are interesting enough if all to brief nonetheless.
Each instalment of the trilogy receives a separate although regrettably short interview with translator and film historian William Scott Wilson who discusses the events of the film it accompanies. All are exclusives to The Criterion Collection running at just u see 10 minutes apiece and are presented in 1080p.
Also included are the theatrical trailers for each movie presented in 1080i.
As is always the case with Criterion a glossy insert is also included as part of the package. This particular release contains a rather handsome 24 page illustrated booklet with input from Stephen Prince and again William Scott Wilson.

Conclusion:
Epic in scope and simply gorgeous to look at Hiroshi Inagaki's Samurai Trilogy will hopefully garner a whole new audience thanks to its inclusion in the UK branch of The Criterion Collection. Identical in terms of quality to it's US counterpart with the same superb quality transfers this of course comes highly recommended to adventurous newcomers and fans of World Cinema alike.
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on 1 January 2012
The trilogy reflects the life of Miyamoto Mushashi, a famous samurai of the early 16th/17th Century. It is roughly based on the book "Musahshi" by Eiji Yoshikawa - a must read for lovers of Japanese culture. It begins at the battle of Sekigahara which was the start of the Edo period and the shogunate of Tokugawa Ieyasu.

Mushashi developed his own style of swordsmanship and was the exponent of the two sword fighting technique - the first to do so. Through his training, mediation and experience he masters the arts of painting, wood carving and through the "Way of the Sword" he finds the meaning of life and love with the beautiful Otsu who remains steadfast through all the trials. The book has many humourous sides involving Jotato and Iori, young boys who he adopts in real life, but the film focuses only on Jotaro. This does not deter from the film and I hope that those who enjoy the film will go on to read "Mushashi".
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on 4 July 2017
Not taking into account the awesomeness of this classic trilogy, I fount the picture detail and colors of this remastered version to be amazing. Could not believe a 50 year old movie could look so good, even on a modern 55" TV.
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on 3 September 2012
The Samurai Trilogy is without doubt Hiroshi Inagaki's "Magnum opus" it is epic, sprawling yet always remains gripping and riveting. These Three parts follow famous Japanese swordsman Musashi Miyamoto from wild young man to master swordsman and his various adventures and duels. The first part: Musashi Miyamoto follows him from his transformation from young wild man to refined master swordsman. The first film is the most gripping and brilliant starting with battle as Musashi finds himself on the losing side and attempts to travel back home with is friend encountering different dangers along the way. Part II: Duel at Ichijoji Temple follows his adventures as he gets involved in tournament with a master school and in a brilliant finale takes on lots of samurai. In Part III: Duel at Ganryu Island Musashi must help help a village under attack from bandits in a plot similar to Seven Samurai and fight in duel with famous swordsman Sasaki Kojirō. The gripping final showdown is a classic old style duel unlike later samurai films where they slash and cut each other their final showdown is a thought out and clever fight where each use the weather and skills to outsmart each other. Toshiro Mifune (alongside Tatsuya Nakadai as one the best actors in Samurai film) is brilliant as the wild ruffian who develops a maturity to wise swordsman and Kaoru Yachigusa as Otsu, the beautiful, patience and long suffering lover of Musashi. This really is a brilliant samurai series beautifully directed by Inagki boasting action and drama and deserves to be in any Japanese fan's collection. Criterion's new 2012 DVD release (pictured) is a massive improvement on their previous 2005 release (which was terrible VHS quality), the image quality here is vastly superior and brilliantly remastered boasting crystal clear imagery doing the film the justice it deserves.
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on 6 September 2016
great films thank you
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on 23 May 2004
Hiroshi Inagaki’s acclaimed Samurai Trilogy is based on the novel that has been called Japan’s Gone with the Wind. This sweeping saga of the legendary seventeenth-century samurai Musashi Miyamoto (powerfully portrayed by Toshiro Mifune) plays out against the turmoil of a devastating civil war. The Trilogy follows Musashi’s odyssey from unruly youth to enlightened warrior. In the first part, Musashi Miyamoto, the hero’s dreams of military glory end in betrayal, defeat, and a fugitive lifestyle. But he is saved by a woman who loves him and a cunning priest who guides him to the samurai path. This installment won the 1955 Academy Awardfor Best Foreign Film. In the second and most violent installment, Duel at Ichijoji Temple, Musashi beats a samurai armed with a chain-and-sickle and is later set upon by eighty samurai disciples—orchestrated by the sinister Kojiro—while the two women who love him watch helplessly. In the third installment, Duel at Ganryu Island, Musashi reunites tragically with the women who love him, and battles for samurai supremacy in a climactic confrontation with his lifelong nemesis.
If you have been profoundly affected by the recent surge of Samurai-based movies, then this is a must-have for your collection!
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on 26 December 2017
in good condition
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on 25 January 2008
I thought that I had seen most good movies in this genre, then I came upon this. It really is fantastic to find such well made films as these. The fights are realistic to a scary level, the characters are lively but flawed, the plot is simple yet interesting. To describe it as Japans gone with the wind is not so far fetched. In short if you love Kurosawa`s work you will adore this trilogy.
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on 27 October 2009
Here are all three films in director Hiroshi Inagaki's Samurai trilogy, an adaptation of Eiji Yoshikawa magnificent 1000 page novel Musashi which sold over 120 million copies in Japan. It won the academy award for best foreign movie in 1954. It's filmed in glorious Eastmancolor and shot, for the most part in the japanese landscape. Since the three films cover one story, buying a boxed set like this is definitely the way to get them.

Miyamoto Musashi is a historical figure, Japan's most famous swordsman who was never defeated in combat. He defeated every swordsman who faced him, and was only once held to a draw by a staff expert, to whom he simply couldn't get close enough.

The title character is played by Toshirô Mifune in the role that brought him to international attention.

The first film, Musashi is set in 1600 A.D., in a civil war period. Musashi relates the first years of samurai apprenticeship of Takezo who, with his friend, Matahachi, decides to go to war in order to obtain fame. The second film, Duel at Ichijoji temple, is the most violent, with a climactic fight scene in which Musashi defeats 80 attackers. In the final volume, Duel at Ganryu Island, Musashi defeats his bitter rival in an unforgettable dual, pictured on the cover.

The only weakness is these films are the women in Musashi's life, who seem to us today over-feminine and weak. Whilst this is true to the novel, and arguably expressive of a culture in which masculine and feminine were sharply separated in mand and woman, it's irritating and for this the films (especially the third) lose half a star. This aside, these are great films that deserve to be much better known. Unfortunately, there is no Region 2 DVD release. UK viewers will have to make do with this US version, or try the Region 0 Chinese release.
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