Tuesday, September 18, 2012

The Samurai Trilogy

Criterion's release of Hiroshi Inagaki's The Samurai Trilogy this past summer is certainly a worthy event. While there have been many Samurai films, Inagaki's films stand out because of Toshiro Mifune's performance and the source material of the films. The films are based on Musashi Miyamoto's highly influential The Book of Five Rings. William Scott Wilson, who has written a biography of Miyamoto Musashi, sums up the interest in the book:

Since Musashi engaged in more than sixty duels during his lifetime and was never defeated, it may not be surprising that The Book of Five Rings is fundamentally a book about conflict and victory. It has long been revered not only by swordsmen but also by practitioners of karate, aikido, and other martial arts. However, The Book of Five Rings has found a much broader readership in recent years. Since its first English translation, its study has been touted as the equivalent of an MBA in Japanese business strategy—a competitive art, to be sure. At least one Japanese major-league pitcher keeps the book by his bedside for constant reference. Anyone whose life involves conflict may benefit from studying the techniques laid out in this slender volume.

Wilson also outlines some of the key principles in the book.

At the end of the first chapter of The Book of Five Rings, Musashi sums up his rules for understanding his style and putting it into practice:

1. Think in honest and direct terms.
2. Forge yourself in the Way.
3. Touch upon all the arts.
4. Know the Ways of all occupations.
5. Know the advantages and disadvantages of everything.
6. Develop a discerning eye in all matters.
7. Understand what cannot be seen by the eye.
8. Pay attention even to small things.
9. Do not involve yourself with the impractical.

Four other key points Musashi emphasizes in the book are as follows.

The Way of Swordsmanship Is to Win
Fluidity of Mind
The Everyday Mind

The films shown the spiritual growth in Musashi Miyamoto from a strong fighter to a pure samurai, a warrior who does not merely use his sword as a “murderous weapon” as referred to early in the second film in the trilogy. Along the way, Musashi also sheds some of his arrogance and his violent nature to adopt a more thoughtful approach in life and also towards his opponents. At the start of the trilogy, he would never back down from a fight but by the third film, he has become wiser and even instructs that sometimes it is better to run away so that one can win in the future “Lose today, win tomorrow.” The films do not show any blood but spend more time looking at characters' lives and their preparations leading to a climatic battle, which is over in a flash. As a result, the films don't glorify violence and are instead engaging character studies.

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