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Monthly Archives: May 2011

Apparently this guy is a neurosurgeon on Grey’s Anatomy. “Run” (1991) Starring Patrick Dempsey.

I have never seen this “Grey’s Anatomy” show but I understand it is (or at least was) quite popular.  I also can’t remember Patrick Dempsey as anything other than an awkward and annoying (in my opinion) teen in such 80’s films as Can’t Buy Me Love (1987) and Loverboy (1989) (also staring Kirstie Allie).  The movie Run (1991) seems to be a mere continuation of those rigidly formulaic 1980’s teen coming of age type of movies except this film is nothing more than a “chase” movie pure and simple.  This one is so bad it shines in the “you have to watch it because it sucks” category.

 

I’ve seen porno movies with more complex plots that Run, but here we go anyway:  Dempsey plays Charlie Farrow, a Boston law student, part-time mechanic and of course never can lose poker player who is asked by his boss to drive a new Porsche 911 from Boston to Atlantic City.  The car, however, breaks down—those damn Germans–and while Farrow waits for the car to be repaired, a cab driver (who mistakes him for an Atlantic City card shark) takes him to an underground casino run by the mob to get something to eat.

 

While waiting for his return ride to the garage, Farrow decides to play a couple of hands of poker.  He ends up soundly beating Denny Halloran (Alan C. Peterson), who is really pissed off and embarrassed this kid took him to poker school.  Of course there is a resulting fight where Denny corners Farrow but trips over a potted palm, and accidentally hits his head on the sharp corner of a counter, and dies.  To add an exciting element (sarcasm) (I really need to invent a ‘sarcastic’ font) Denny happens to be the son of mob boss Matt Halloran (Ken Pogue), who not only owns the casino but most of the law enforcement in the area. 

 

Farrow finds himself on the “Run” (very clever) from cops and the mob henchmen, all of whom want to collect a $50,000 dollar bounty the boss has placed on his head.  He finds Kelly Preston, yes, that is right, Kelly Preston wife of Travolta and even better, the 1990 former fiancé of Charlie Sheen’s but she had to end the relationship shortly after he accidentally shot her in the arm.  She plays Karen Landers, Farrow’s only friend who, and you are never going to believe this, gets shot in the arm (I’ll bet she wasn’t even acting having some “real world” experience with it only the year before).  Like every “B” film, the bodies start to pile up as the couple dodge flying bullets, bowling pins, explosions from a nice selection of military grade assault weapons and other shrapnel and twisted auto parts and oh yeah, the Porsche didn’t make it more than 15 minutes into the film.  The chase takes him through racetracks, amusement parks, bowling alleys and a shopping mall.  Dempsey certainly covered a lot of ground in this one. 

 

Farrow and the mob boss go head to head at a dog track and here is the best part, the mob boss gets impaled by the mechanical pace-rabbit that was speeding around the track and was now circling back toward him.  I could not believe it!  He got impaled by the rabbit the dogs chase at the track!  Wow!  I sure didn’t see that coming.  I was on the edge of the couch for that thriller.

 

Well, they sure don’t make them like Run anymore and I believe they should to give guys like me something to bitch about.  Be that as it may, I am glad to see at least one Hollywood type who pulled himself together and changed the direction of his career.

 

All hail Dr. H for recommending this one.

 
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Posted by on May 30, 2011 in Movie Reviews

 

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Iron Eagle—It should have dropped like a stone.

My friends and colleagues have always told me I have an incredibly high threshold for bad movie pain.  Material they can’t bear to watch is nothing but a light triscuit to me; that is until the likes of Iron Eagle drops in.  I had to put myself into mental lockdown mode for this one and while I came through unscathed, it was tough to put Iron Eagle in the “even though it sucks you still have to watch it column.”  Very few movies reach that point—but I suppose it is a continuum because the farther you push you eventually come around.  But Iron Eagle almost falls in that dead zone before the continuum begins to curve back to the “still sucks but watch it anyway” category.  What I really really don’t understand is the fact that Louis Gosset Jr. (winner of an Academy Award for his role as Sargent Foley in An Officer and a Gentleman) continued to play “Chappy Sinclair” in three additional Iron Eagle films.  The third one based on the premise that four WWII planes could be retrofitted with laser-guided missiles.  Yes, I know, movies are supposed to be a time for suspended belief but for goodness’ sake that shit can kill you.

Putting that to one side let’s get back to this abortion.

Doug Masters (Jason Gedrick), son of veteran U.S. Air Force pilot Col. Ted Masters (Tim Thomson), is a music lover and a civilian pilot, hoping to follow in his father’s footsteps. But because he is a loser he receives a notice of rejection from the Air Force Academy. But the drama continues with his father being shot down and captured by an unnamed Arab nation (Libya) while patrolling over the Mediterranean Sea.  A kangaroo court finds Col. Masters guilty of trespassing over their territory and sentences him to hang in three days.

Doug decides to take matters into his own hands and come up with his own rescue mission (at 16).  He requests the help of “Chappy,” a Vietnam veteran pilot currently on reserve command, who has known Col. Masters for only a couple of years.  At first Chappy has his doubts, but Doug convinces him that with his friends, he has full access to the airbase’s intelligence and resources and he can give him an F-16 fighter for the mission.  What could be better than that you ask?  He learns that Chappy had already begun planning the rescue operation himself after he learned the outcome of Col. Masters’ trial!  I had no idea that court cases from unnamed countries were published in the U.S.  Doug and his crew of young fellow service brats plan a mission and manage to procure two heavily-armed F-16 planes, with Doug flying the second unit.

At this point we start to get some flashbacks (or sideways I am not sure).  Doug starts reminiscing about cutting school to fly training missions with his father in his F-16, but needing to have his Sony cassette Walkman playing before he can do any real piloting.  Performing Air Force Thunderbird pilot-like acrobatics while jamming, he is clearly the next Greg “Pappy” Boynton. 

Doug and Chappy fly these planes to the Mediterranean Sea (including inflight refueling) and cross into the enemy nation’s airspace.  In the ensuing battle, three MiG-23 fighters are downed by our dynamic duo and destroy an airfield, but Chappy’s plane is damaged by an anti-aircraft gun.  Doug climbs to a high altitude and plays a tape Chappy made him the night before, but then his engine fails and Doug listens as Chappy’s fighter goes down crashing into the sea at Mach 1.

Chappy’s recorded voice tells Doug how to finish the mission anticipating every obstacle that he could possibly face.  Making the enemy believe he is leading a squadron (they must have shitty radar), Doug threatens the enemy nation into releasing his father from prison and moving him to the base’s northernmost runway for pickup.  But before Doug lands his plane, Col. Masters is shot by an Arab sniper, causing Doug to destroy the airbase and engulf the runway with precisely placed napalm to keep the army at bay while he lands and picks up his wounded father.

Just as they take off, Doug and his father encounter another group of MiGs led by Col. Akir Nakesh (David Suchet) — himself an ace pilot. The lone F-16 and Nakesh’s MiG engage in a long dogfight until a missile from Doug finishes off Nakesh. Low on fuel and ammunition, the F-16 is being pursued by the other enemy MiGs when another squadron of U.S. Air Force F-16s appear, scaring off the MiGs before escorting Doug and his father to Ramstein Air Base in Germany.

While Col. Masters is being treated for his wounds, Doug and Chappy are reunited. Chappy, of course, had ejected from his plane and was picked up by a fishing trawler. The two are summoned by an Air Force judiciary panel for their “reckless actions,” not for something like treason.  Seeing that any form of punishment for the duo would expose an embarrassing lapse in Air Force security, the panel forgoes prosecution as long as Doug and Chappy never speak of their operation to anyone. In addition, Chappy convinces the panel to grant Doug admission to the Air Force Academy.  All is well after they return on a plane assigned by the President to the States.

How bad can it be you ask?  For god’s sake, Twisted Sister and Dio actually appear on the soundtrack and never mind that the mission is initially planned in a juke joint restaurant. Or that its posturing and puffed up escapades make Top Gun look like Catch-22. Or that the only women we see are either crying, making mistakes, or not talking at all. This is a world where young boys put small, faded pictures of their girlfriends in a lonely corner while their rooms are overwhelmed by full color glossies of jets, rockets, and studs-in-arms. If the aim of Iron Eagle was to make military combat seem like a video game set to rock music, I can only say: mission accomplished. All of this outrage, however, ignores the central fact that a teenage boy manages to fly into hostile territory and save his father from some member of the Axis of Evil, all without getting so much as a scratch. Right.

Again, only because of many years of dedicated training I was able to escape unscathed.  But, as they tell you on T.V., don’t try this at home.

 
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Posted by on May 27, 2011 in Movie Reviews

 

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Another Break from Musashi–Dirk Benedict as M. Harry Smilac in “Body Slam” (1986). Lurking if you are out there this one is for you.

Lurking if you are out there this one is for you–I had to dig deep into my bag of tricks to pull out this one.

M. Harry Smilac (Dirk Benedict), once a successful music promoter, is losing talent and having a hard time booking gigs for his sole client, the rock band “Kicks.” Behind on his Ferrari payments  and owing $67,000.00 to a Korean savings and loan that, despite losing in court, is insistent on recovering, he reluctantly accepts a job finding musical acts for a fundraiser of an unlikeable politician.  While waiting to meet the manager of the venue Smilac stumbles across negotiations involving Roddy Piper as “Quick Rick Roberts” and thinking that they are discussing a musical act instead of a pro-wrestling jumps in on behalf Piper and cuts him a great deal.  Word quickly spreads throughout the wrestling business that Smilac is the manager to have.  Smilac’s success takes business away from existing managers Captain Lou Albano (playing Captain Lou Murano) and midget Billy Bartley who naturally become upset and try to muscle Smilac out of the business.

A day after the disastrous fundraiser featuring Smilac’s rock band, Murano and his tag team champions “The Cannibals” (Sione Vailahi and Tom Cassett) injure Smilac and his wrestlers in a nationally televised bout, before blacklisting them from every major venue in the country.  Smilac adapts though and takes his wrestlers and his band on a cross country road tour of small arenas.  Initially he promotes separate wrestling and rock shows, but a scheduling mix-up at a venue causes him to promote a single event featuring both his musicians and wresters.  The show is a hit and Smilac schedules an entire tour using the same “Rock n’ Wrestling” format.  Their tour is a huge success and inspires Harry, Roberts and Tonga to win a hard fought rematch against Murano’s Cannibals.

Naturally Smilac finds a love interest in Candace Vandervagen (Tanya Roberts), the daughter of the politician’s wealthy campaign booster.  Who (of course) is initially resistant to any relationship until the Korean’s try to collect their “small consumer loan” as Smilac characterizes it and destroy her mother’s Rolls Royce in the process.  Everyone in the film does fine job except for the lifeless Roberts.  Though she is the love interest, there’s no spark or energy coming from her at all—just boredom.  Actors shouldn’t take it out on the audience when they don’t really want to be in a movie they’re already in ironically they need to take it out on their managers.

In an interview with Canadian Online Explorer, Dirk Benedict recounts positive experiences working on the film. However, both he and director Hal Needham (Director of Smokey and the Bandit & Cannonball Run) clashed with the two lawyers credited with writing and producing the film over changes to the script and Needham’s creative choices.  At one point, Benedict had a physical altercation with one of the writer/producers.  These conflicts lead to lawsuits being filed, which caused the film to miss the entire summer movie season.  Later, the film was slated to be released by Hemdale Film Corporation in November 1986.  However, the film never saw wide theatrical release and was instead released directly to VHS.  Too bad I wonder how it would have done at the box office.

 
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Posted by on May 24, 2011 in Movie Reviews

 

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Samurai III: Duel at Ganryu Island.

In 1956, Hiroshi Inagaki’s ambitious “Samurai” trilogy, based on Eiji Yoshikawa’s novel “Musashi,” came to a close with “Samurai III: Duel at Ganryu Island.” Toshiro Mifune first stepped into the role of the impulsive villager Takezo who would steadily transform himself into the master swordsman Musashi Miyamoto two years before. The series’ final film focuses on the remaining gaps Musashi needed to fill in his life which relate to his ascension as a warrior and a lover.

We continue to see the mellowing changes to Takezo, in a very restraint introduction in a fight sequence no less with the Hozion priests where Musashi has a Zen like approach to various situations remaining a formidable force should the situation calls for unsheathing of a sword.  His skills have grown considerably and earns a disciple in the process.  In this installment Musashi turns toward a higher calling by helping poor villages in need of protection against bandits, just like in Kurosawa classic The Seven Samurai.

There are still a number of shortcomings of course, and it stemmed from the introduction of characters in the final arc of the story, such as Kojiro’s lover Omitsu (Michiko Saga), who serves little purpose than for her and her family to serve some pride in having Kojiro as a relative-to-be after his appointment by the Shogun. Little is seen beyond the demonstration of class, and for conversational pieces with Kojiro to highlight his inner desire and turmoil. Takezo’s childhood friend Matahachi (Sachio Sakai) also gets conveniently forgotten here, despite my feeling that he should have played a larger role in the lead up to the finale. Instead he’s relegated to a support character without any sort of sendoff.

So what’s my verdict of the Samurai Trilogy? It’s a lot better than I expected.  While it moves at snail’s pace, it does have a couple of short, highly intense, fight sequences that are still able to interest the modern film audience.

 
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Posted by on May 22, 2011 in Movie Reviews

 

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Now To NHK’s Musashi Part 2.

“‘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.

 
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Posted by on May 8, 2011 in Movie Reviews

 

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Movies 3&4 of the 5 Part Series–Musashi Birth of the 2 Sword Style and Musashi Miyamoto 4: Duel at Ichijoji Temple.

Birth of the Two-Sword Style

As the third chapter of the five-part series, Birth of the Two-Sword Style does a fine job of avoiding the “hammock”; that is, where the pace of the movie sinks down and you hope it picks up again, drags and nothing is resolved. Birth of the Two-Sword Style  avoids such a fiasco as plenty happens in this episode which is spread over a clear delineated three-act structure: First, Musashi continues on a mission of learning; next, his arch-rival Sasaki Kojiro is introduced; last but not least, the large cast of characters rendezvouses at a bridge for a fateful finale.

The film begins with Musashi having just slaughtered the vile ronin and vilified the Hozoin Priests for their duplicity and after washing his hands, he and Jotaro try to seek an audience with the Yagyu clan’s Great Lord Sekishushai, the renowned strategist and swordsman. Due to his age, Sekishushai denies all requests for matches making any contact with him difficult if not impossible (that is unless you are a young pretty woman named Otsu).  Like in the Eiji Yoshikawa tale, Otsu has in fact ended up working as Sekishushai’s personal helper.  It turns out that the friendly samurai Shoda whom Otsu and Jotaro met on the road in Duel at Devil’s Mask Pass belonged to the house of Yagyu, so he got her the job helping the aging Sekishushai.

In an effort to smooth things over with some arrogant heirs of a noble family that were turned away from a lesson pursuant to Yagyu policy, Sekishushai sends pretty and charming Otsu to their room with a letter of apology and a peony cut by the Lord himself.  The three samurai read the letter and laugh off the flower Otsu brought as part of the package.  When Musashi gets hold of a flower the Great Lord cut, his spider sense recognizes the majesty of the blade work used to cut the stem.  Musashi moves on his hunch to get a meeting with four of Sekishushai’s top disciples.

The disciples ask Musashi how he knew that Sekishushai had cut one end of the stem (and Musashi cut the other but the disciples could not tell the difference).  Musashi was unable to articulate his feelings which begins to lead the disciples to frustration.  But things take a real turn for the worse after Jotaro kills a Yagyu dog that previously attacked him.  Mushasi takes responsibility for his student’s deed and the Yagyu prepare to take their revenge.  As the confrontation escalates, Musashi is baffled when he recognizes Otsu’s flute coming from the castle.  In his shocked state, he draws both his swords in the accidental discovery of what will be his trademark fencing style celebrated in the movie’s title.  Musashi escapes the Yagyu and the next day he and Otsu catch a glimpse of each other from a distance.  Rather than face her for an intense reunion, Musashi flees as if he were chased by a dragon.  Sadly there’s no follow-up on our hero getting to see Sekishushai – you can tell it would have been an illuminating meeting of the minds for those two to get together, but for fate.

Act two—we take a lengthy break from Musashi and catch up with some of the supporting players.  As in Inagaki’s Samurai II, our resident slacker Matahachi comes into possession of a swordsmanship certificate that he takes as his own.  The name inscribed on the certificate is Sasaki Kojiro.  From Matahachi’s discovery we cut to Uchida’s introduction of Musashi’s greatest  adversary, which the film has managed to hold until this mid-point of the saga. Unlike Mifune/Inagaki’s Kojiro, who was basically an honorable guy striving to hone his skills to the highest level, this Kojiro is a lot more of a jerk. He’s nasty, arrogant and condescending to all, clearly more devoted to his personal glory than to philosophical ideals. We meet him on board a ship where he taunts and belittles members of the Yoshioka school. Kojiro then goes to seek a duel with Seijuro, whom he has rightly pegged as a weakling and a fraud. But Seijuro is busy sweating over his impending match with Musashi, which Musashi has sent him a message to confirm.

We follow Kojiro for some other business including his comical encounter with Matahachi as the “other” Sasaki Kojiro. It’s a pity Matahachi didn’t get to carry on his charade a little longer. Even though his mother Osugi plays a much bigger role in Uchida’s version, she never gets to see Matahachi playing Kojiro as she did in the Inagaki trilogy. Kojiro retrieves his certificate and casts it into the river, pronouncing it worthless now that he has surpassed the skill of his former teacher and now wants to establish his own school.

After nearly an hour of screen time without showing himself, Musashi finally returns for the momentous third act, reflecting on his regrets. He failed to meet Sekishushai and thinks he’s not living up to the standards Takuan set for him. Now the New Year’s rendezvous at Gojo Bridge that Musashi arranged in Duel at Devil’s Mask Pass is at hand, where he hopes to meet Matahachi and get a response to his Yoshioka challenge. It turns out that Matahachi never got the message, but the familiar faces of Akame, Jotaro and Osugi are all drawn together, with Otsu and Kojiro looking on from opposite sides of the bridge. This is an entirely different first meeting for Musashi and Kojiro than in the Mifune/Samurai trilogy, where Kojiro feverishly anticipated the encounter. Here he just strolls past eyeing Musashi shadily, not impressed in the least.

With their duel confirmed, Musashi and Seijuro come together for their showdown at Rendaji (not at Ichijoji, as in Samurai II). The terrified Seijuro chooses to use wooden swords instead of live steel.  In disgust, Musashi takes out Seijuro’s arm in a single blow and leave him disabled. The act is brutal and short.  To help Seijuro “save face,” Kojiro offers to cut off his broken arm so they can claim Musashi won by delivering severe injury.  After initially congratulating himself on the victory and discrediting the Yoshioka school, Musashi realizes what his feat will really cost  and that it is a high price to pay in Musashi Miyamoto 4: Duel at Ichijoji Temple, the greatest installment of the films so far.

IV Duel at Temple

Whereas Hiroshi Inagaki’s Samurai II: Duel at Ichijoji Temple was in my opinion the weakest of his Musashi Miyamoto trilogy, Tomu Uchida’s corresponding Musashi Miyamoto 4: Duel at Ichijoji Temple represents the high point of the series so far.  The film is clearly the notable example of how totally different the two adaptations are, and why this one is superior.

For the first time in the series, the film opens with a nice recap of the previous movies.  As it turns out this episode features a markedly simpler plot structure than any of its predecessors.  Musashi has defeated and shamed the leaders of the Yoshioka fencing school, and now their only chance and redeeming their laughable reputation is to kill Musashi. So they will go to any lengths necessary to take revenge.

As the vendetta mounts, Musashi takes up residence with a kind merchant/artist named Honami. Seijuro’s brother Denshichiro challenges Musashi to a duel on an evening when Musashi has already agreed (reluctantly) to accompany Honami on a visit to the local licensed pleasure quarters. Rather than choosing one engagement over the other, Musashi attends both.  At the request of Honami’s mother Musashi politely attends a performance by the courtesan Yoshino. At the appointed hour, Musashi discreetly exits and makes quick work of his unworthy opponent, then returns to the licensed courtesan parlor to resume his evening out.  The violent interlude makes the Yoshino scene far more compelling and creates a tension that is not in the Inagaki/Mifune version.

The duel with Denshichiro is a remarkable one, a night match in the gently falling snow that I am sure Tarantino lifted for the O-Ren Ishii duel in Kill Bill Vol. I.  Beforehand, Musashi tells Denshichiro that he’s about to cut him down for the second time, having already psychologically defeated him the first time they met. Musashi walks the walk even after Denshichiro cheats by springing two hidden flunkies on him.

Back at the licensed pleasure quarters, the anxious Yoshioka students surround the establishment to await Musashi’s exit. To keep the peace, he spends the night with Yoshino. Mifune/Inagaki had Yoshino attempt unsuccessfully to seduce Musashi and then accuse him of lacking affection. Uchida makes her encounter less sexual and more overtly judgmental. Without making any passes at him, Yoshino observes that Musashi looks like a man who is constantly looking over his shoulder for the grim reaper.  She goes on to compare him to her biwa (stringed instrument), which is carefully constructed to produce a subtle variety of unique tones. But Yoshino only perceives one tone coming from Musashi: his uncontrollable aggression. It’s a spellbinding scene that’s much more memorable than the earlier versions in which we were led to wonder whether they’ll simply have sex or not.

The Yoshioka students attempt to confront Musashi in public, but Kojiro intervenes and scolds them for behaving like ruffians.  He mediates a proper duel at Ichijoji Temple, where Musashi will face the entire Yoshioka school.

On his way there, Musashi runs into Otsu, and they have their first conversation since parting at Hanada Bridge back at the beginning of Duel at Devil’s Mask Pass. In the Mifune/Inagaki trilogy, the star-crossed couple spend all of 30 minutes of screen time apart before speaking again. Despite a couple of close brushes, Uchida (the director) has kept them from having a conversation for nearly five full hours of screen time. And they’re not back again at the static location of Hanada Bridge where Otsu has passively waited, but at a rendezvous resulting from Otsu’s tireless travels. Plus, in this version, they each think Musashi is heading to his death.    Rather than telling Otsu he values his sword more than her, Musashi confesses his love. The meeting seems to redouble his determination to survive the 73-against-one battle ahead of him.

For the duration of that grand showdown at Ichijoji, the film switches to black and white.  It gives the battle the look and flavor of classic chambara fights.  It simulates the true lighting found just before daybreak, when there’s barely enough light to make out shapes and objects but not enough to perceive color. Which is utterly more effective than the technically shoddy day-for-night effects Mifune/Inagaki attempted. But most obviously, the monochromatic shift signals that something dark and malevolent is in the air, a fitting ambience for Musashi to commit an unspeakably cruel act to assure victory.  The consequences of this great sin will follow Musashi like a heavy shroud throughout the fifth and final episode. According to the rules of war, in order to truly win a battle, the opposing commander must be killed.  The School put up a ten year old as their battle commander putting the child at risk as the target of the opponent (Musashi).  Musashi does kill the child.  In my opinion, the blame is shared equally by both sides: the school should never have put the kid in danger and Musashi shouldn’t have killed him.  For its exclusion of this crucial story element, the Mifune/Inagaki’s trilogy has been described as the whitewashed and sanitized version of the life of Musashi—a description I agree with.

These two films run roughshod over the Mifune version of the story, it is that simple.

 
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Posted by on May 3, 2011 in Movie Reviews

 
 
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