Director Hiroshi Inagaki (1905-1980)

Samurai I: Musashi Miyamoto Whirlwind Incident at Blood Pass

Sasaki Kojiro: The Whole Story (1951)
Vagabonds in a Country at War (1952)
Samurai I: Musashi Miyamoto (1954)
Samurai II: Duel at Ichijoji Temple (1955)
Samurai III: Duel on Ganryu Island (1956)
Yagyu Secret Scrolls, Part I (1957)
Yagyu Secret Scrolls, Part II (1958)
The Three Treasures (1959)
Life of a Swordsman (1959)
Daredevil in the Castle (1961)
Chushingura (1962)
Whirlwind (1964)
Rise Against the Sword (1966)
Sasaki Kojiro (1967)
Samurai Banners (1969)
Incident at Blood Pass (1970)

Hiroshi Inagaki Though Akira Kurosawa is commonly pegged as having the most Western style and sensibilities among all the great Japanese filmmakers, I'd have to say Hiroshi Inagaki deserves that title. His films have a classic old-school Hollywood feel and conventional linear flow that make him a good choice for English-speaking jidai-geki novices. By virtue of his Samurai trilogy on the life of Miyamoto Musashi, Inagaki ranks as Japan's #2 best-known samurai movie director outside of the country. Personally, I think his other films like Whirlwind and Incident at Blood Pass are far more accomplished than his Musashi series, and it's a shame that those gems are so little known.

Inagaki had a long and distinguished directorial career spanning over 40 years, dating back to silent films in the late 1920s. He got his start in movies as a child actor and directed his first feature at the age of 22. Inagaki is considered one of the founding fathers of jidai-geki films and focused on period dramas for the bulk of his work as a screenwriter and director.

Though I haven't yet seen his earliest works, Inagaki's films from the 1950s forward have an immediately recognizable visual style marked by theatrical and "stagey" compositions and exterior scenes that are plainly shot on soundstages. His simulated outdoors frequently have beautifully painted backdrops or dramatically lit skies of all colors. Inagaki freely experimented with primitive special effects that demonstrate his creative impulse to tell his stories in a different place and time outside familiar reality.

Kurosawa's admiration for legendary American director John Ford is well known, but I'd argue that Hiroshi Inagaki is the director who could best be described as the John Ford of Japan. To me, Inagaki's films have exactly the same atmosphere you find in Stagecoach, The Searchers and The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, only transported to Japan. Inagaki brings together the same combination of epic cinematic grandeur, soundstages mixed with location shots, and simple, powerful storytelling.

Inagaki's films aren't as cynical and "realistic" as the revisionist jidai-geki of Hideo Gosha and Masaki Kobayashi, but they are certainly no less worthy for that. Inagaki gives us a sterling example of classical moviemaking traditions embedded into the first four decades of Japanese cinema, and that alone is enough to secure his place among the immortal legends.

The Filmmakers

The Jidai-Geki Knights