Musashi Miyamoto 3: Birth of the Two-Sword Style (1963)
Directed by Tomu Uchida

Musashi Miyamoto 3: Birth of the Two-Sword Style
Miyamoto Musashi: Nitoryu kaigen
Starring Kinnosuke Nakamura (Musashi), Wakaba Irie (Otsu), Ken Takakura (Kojiro), Isao Kimura (Matahachi), Satomi Oka (Akemi), Michiyo Kogure (Oko), Chieko Naniwa (Osugi), Mitsuru Takeuchi (Jotaro), Shinjiro Ebara (Seijuro Yoshioka), Mikijiro Hira (Denshichiro Yoshioka)
Screenplay by Naoyuki Suzuki and Tomu Uchida

Toei Company, 104 minutes
Color, 2.35:1 scope
English-subtitled DVD: AnimEigo
(Part of the Miyamoto Musashi Set of 5 Discs)

As the third chapter of a five-part series, Birth of the Two-Sword Style does a capable job of avoiding the "middle of the saga" doldrums where the pace drags and nothing seems to be resolved. That's mainly because so much happens in this episode, spread across a clearly delineated three-act structure: first, Musashi goes on a mission of learning; then we get the introduction of his arch-rival Sasaki Kojiro; and lastly the large cast of characters rendezvouses for a fateful finale.

The movie opens with Mushasi visiting the Yagyu clan to seek instruction from the Great Lord Sekishushai, a renowned master strategist and swordsman. It turns out that Sekishushai is mighty difficult to get an audience with, denying all requests for matches. By one of the many astounding coincidences to be found in the Eiji Yoshikawa tale, Otsu has ended up working as Sekishushai's personal assistant. It turns out that the friendly samurai Shoda whom Otsu and Jotaro met on the road in Duel at Devil's Mask Pass belongs to the house of Yagyu, so presumably he fixed her up with the job serving his master. When Musashi gets hold of a flower the the Great Lord cut, his highly attuned warrior's perceptions discern the majesty of the bladework, and he uses his observation to gain a meeting with Shoda and Sekishushai's other top disciples.

But things go awry after Jotaro commits a rash offense against the Yagyu clan. Mushasi takes responsibility for his student's deed and the Yagyu prepare to take their revenge of him. As the confrontation begins, Musashi is bamboozled when he recognizes the sound of Otsu's flute coming from the castle. In his dazed state, he draws both his swords in the accidental discovery of 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 facing her for a dramatic reunion, Musashi flees as if in terror. 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, if not for the fickle circumstances of fate.

Then it's on to the second act, in which we take a lengthy break from Musashi to catch up with the supporting players. It's as if the brush with Otsu is so devastating for Musashi that he has to run and hide for a while from everyone, including the audience. As in Inagaki's Samurai II, the slacker Matahachi comes into possession of a swordsmanship certificate that he claims as his own. The name inscribed on the certificate is Sasaki Kojiro. And from Matahachi's discovery we cut to Uchida's introduction of Musashi's great adversary, which he's held to this mid-point of the saga. Unlike Inagaki's Kojiro, who was basically an honorable guy striving to hone his skills to the highest level, Uchida's version is a lot more of a dick. 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 seeks 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 feels 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 expects 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 Samurai trilogy, where Kojiro feverishly anticipated the encounter. Here he just strolls past eyeing Musashi suspiciously, not starstruck 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 blades instead of steel. In disgust, Musashi uses single blow with a stick to shatter the bones in Seijuro's arm and leave him incapacitated. The act is much more brutal and short than Musashi's decision to spare Seijuro in the Inagaki version. To help Seijuro save face, Kojiro offers to cut off his broken arm so they can claim Musashi won by delivering a more severe injury. Musashi claims his victory over the discredited Yoshioka school, but it will carry a high price to pay in Musashi Miyamoto 4: Duel at Ichijoji Temple, the greatest installment in the series.

The Jidai-Geki Knights