“Samurai II: Duel at Ichijoji Temple” – Chris Luedtke

In my humble opinion, the idea for a sequel is to improve on the predecessor, to surpass the expectations set by that first film. Video games have grasped this very well in their short existence. In many cases, the original formula is met, applied, and tightened to create an enhanced experience. Even if the formula doesn’t need much revision, there’s no harm in finding the few minor things that could be improved. Unfortunately, film hasn’t quite taken to this concept, despite how much longer it’s been around.

Samurai II: Duel at Ichijoji Temple is a great example of a sequel that hasn’t necessarily improved on the previous title. Musashi Miyamoto (Toshirô Mifune) is now a mighty samurai warrior but still has some serious issues with the way he carries and exercises his practices. Quickly, Miyamoto finds himself caught in a deadly conflict with a martial arts school. But Miyamoto won’t let anything stand in the way of proving himself to be a mighty warrior and the strongest samurai in Japan — not even an impossible battle against 80 men.

In some ways, Duel has made improvements on its predecessor. Characters are more colorful this time around, and Miyamoto has really calmed himself down. But once the battles begin, look out. He’s a wild dog out there still. It’s nice to see that his character isn’t some picture-perfect hero. He’s still far from a hero and the strongest warrior in Japan. The struggle rages on throughout, and trouble still follows Miyamoto like a small puppy constantly biting at his ankles.

The story is much more interesting this time around, and I felt much more stimulated by it. It’s not just Miyamoto running around like a loose cannon and screaming, “Death or glory!” The turmoil within the martial arts school is interesting, as no one agrees with anyone. Miyamoto also finds himself in a love nest that just spells trouble between two girls. Granted, all this sounds like a good formula for a sequel, but there is one big problem that cannot be overlooked: lighting and camerawork.

These two factors raped this experience for me. I understand the need to film an actual 5 A.M. duel, but there is nothing there half the time except screaming voices in the woods. When Miyamoto finally gets to the epic end battle, we can’t see anything because it’s filmed at night in the woods. How is anyone supposed to enjoy that? Unless you’re blind, it’s not something that you’re going to really sit back and bask in. Even with my room blackened, the only thing I could really see was a sword gleam once in a while. And it’s not just at the end; this happens a few times. Darkness ruins all of the good action here.

If you can try to look past the nighttime camera shots, then you have yourself a worthy sequel. Unfortunately for this critic, my screen might as well be black for all I really got to see. Check this out if you’ve seen the first, but be prepared for some frustrations.

Rating: ★★½☆

-Chris Luedtke

Leave a Reply