Musashi Miyamoto 5: The Final Duel (1965)
Directed by Tomu Uchida

Musashi Miyamoto 5: The Final Duel
Miyamoto Musashi: Ganryu-jima no ketto
Starring Kinnosuke Nakamura (Musashi), Wakaba Irie (Otsu), Ken Takakura (Kojiro), Isao Kimura (Matahachi), Rentaro Mikuni (Takuan), Satomi Oka (Akemi), Michiyo Kogure (Oko), Chieko Naniwa (Osugi), Yoshinobu Kaneko (Iori), Chiezo Kataoka (Sado Nagaoka)
Screenplay by Naoyuki Suzuki and Tomu Uchida

Toei Company, 121 minutes
Color, 2.35:1 scope
English-subtitled DVD: AnimEigo
(Part of the Miyamoto Musashi Set of 5 Discs)

Fans tend to point to the celebrated showdown between Musashi and Kojiro as the high point of the Musashi legend. There's no doubt it's one hell of a fight under any circumstances, but honestly, in the case of the Tomu Uchida adaptation, Musashi Miyamoto 5: The Final Duel comes off a bit anticlimactic compared to his Duel at Ichijoji Temple. That preceding episode was so perfect and so powerful that it's a tough act to follow. To me, the aftermath of Musashi's dark deed at Ichijoji makes for much more compelling story material than his momentous dealings with Kojiro.

Early on we find Musashi in a private moment with Otsu by riverside. In contrast with his tender emotions before the big fight, he now tells Otsu she cannot find happiness with a man who's done all the killing he's done. They embrace, then he pulls away and leaves her, apologizing for what he's done. This scenario makes so much more sense than Otsu's inexplicable rejection of Musashi at the end of Inagaki's Samurai II. Here we know the reason why the would-be lovers can't find peace together. With the great sin at Ichijoji expunged from Inagaki's verson, his Otsu came across as a fickle bitch. Uchida gives us the tragedy of their love in its properly developed form.

Wandering alone, Musashi comes across a boy named Iori whose father has just died, leaving him an orphan. Iori takes the place of Robin to Musashi's Batman since Jotaro exited the story without a trace in the last movie. Musashi decides to stay and help Iori with his farming for a while, which is another plot element that is entirely more logical than in the Inagaki trilogy. Instead of randomly leaving town for a year after agreeing to duel Kojiro, Musashi has a motivation put upon him to return to his roots as a farmer. And he doesn't look like he's stalling on Kojiro like some kind of coward, since they haven't set a match yet.

After harvesting their rice crop and dealing with bandits, Musashi takes Iori into Edo with him. There he has the dispute with the sword polisher about what it means to hone the soul of a samurai, which Inagaki placed much earlier in his chronology. Musashi and Kojiro end up spotting each other's swords at the shop, and the two of them are both under consideration for a position with the Hosokawa clan as the shogun's fencing instructor. Though they respect Musashi's skills and want to hire him, the Hosokawa reject him for fear that his dark deeds at Ichijoji will reflect badly on the shogun. The fencing instructor post goes to Kojiro instead.

Before we proceed to the inevitable showdown between those two, some of the supporting cast see their long-running plot threads resolved. Inagaki omitted Granny Osugi and Matahachi from entirely from his concluding chapter, whereas Uchida carries them through all the way. Osugi comes demanding her own "final duel" with Musashi, literally carried on the shoulders of a vociferous cult of followers she's somehow rounded up. When someone asks what family member of hers Musashi has killed, Osugi says no one. Everyone laughs at the idea of a blood vendetta without bloodshed and they desert her cause. Osugi finally reunites with Matahachi, Akemi and Otsu, finding that Akemi has borne Matahachi's child. After initially feeling conflicted over the news, Osugi reconciles with her family and drops her vendetta against Musashi. This is particularly a happier outcome for Akemi than her brutal fate in Samurai III.

With those loose ends tied up and one last troubled farewell from Otsu, it's time for the mega-duel at Ganryu Island. The staging of Musashi and Kojiro's fateful bout differs significantly from the famous Inagaki version. Here Musashi arrives two hours late, and it looks closer to noon than sunrise. The sun is behind Kojiro rather than being out on the sea's horizon, negating the advantage of glare in Kojiro's eyes that Inagaki incorporated. The duel is attended by a large audience of Hosokawa clan members supporting Kojiro, whereas Inagaki preserved more of a sense of solitude for the two adversaries on the beach. The fight itself as directed by Uchida is more abrupt and far less suspenseful.

Overall I have to admit this big historic duel is one of the handful of elements that's done better in the Inagaki adaptation. But Uchida adds a coda to give the saga finale a deeper resonance. Inagaki treated the duel as a crowning victory, but here Musashi has to flee from the Hosokawa and is left plagued with doubts and regrets over the blood on his hands. We see that this is not the tidy final step for Musashi to attain his legendary greatness, but that he is still an imperfect human being with a long road ahead of him before reaching his eventual measure of immortality. Indeed, Uchida and Kinnosuke Nakamura later reunited for a sixth Musashi film (Uchida's final film, released posthumously in 1971) to continue the swordsman's progress. This epilogue is said to be of a lower caliber than the proper five-part saga, though I haven't yet had the opportunity to see it.

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