“Samurai III: Duel at Ganryu Island” – Chris Luedtke

Here it is folks, the final installment of the “Samurai Trilogy”: Duel at Ganryu Island. With this, director Hiroshi Inagaki brings the epic quest of Musashi Miyamoto to a raging and epic finale that will satisfy everyone who’s followed the series so far. We see the final canvas come to a complete close, and when it’s all said and done, Inagaki deserves praise, despite the flaws of the two previous installments.

We rejoin our hero Musashi Miyamoto (Toshirô Mifune) for one last hurrah as he finally faces his lifelong nemisis: Kojiro Sasaki (Koji Tsuruta), the only samurai who can even match Miyamoto in skill (and best him in feminine appearance). However, Miyamoto has settled down, while Sasaki rolls into town and causes trouble to draw him out. Knowing that this will be the duel of his life, Miyamoto cannot turn down the challenge but asks for one year of preparation before the battle ensues, setting the stage for the finale that we’ve all been waiting for.

Duel at Ganryu Island is without question the best of the three installments. By this point, we see Miyamoto as a calm man in touch with the inner and outer nature of his surroundings; he’s much different than the wild beast that once ravaged the screen two films ago. With this final step in his evolution, we also get the most humanistic picture. Even though there is still disconnection between Miyamoto and Otsu (Kaoru Yachigusa), we still feel moved by their presence when they’re together, especially now that much of their relationship is based off their awkward past and now desperate feelings. Miyamoto has also become quite docile in this installment. While he never hesitated to take the life of his opponent in the last two, he is almost reluctant to now. He backs off from fights and doesn’t prove he’s the bigger man by brute force alone; rather, his strength lies in his eloquence now. Sasaki is just as cunning as he was in the second installment. He knows that there is no greater opponent than Miyamoto, displaying this by embarrassing his opponents and day dreaming of his battle with Miyamoto.

The plot this time around is much more complicated. While the last two dealt with the path of the samurai, Duel at Ganryu Island deals more with the temptation to stray and give up the sword. Although Miyamoto knows he can’t abandon his life, he expresses his growing distaste for it on a regular basis. However, no matter how bad he wants to stray, something always comes up that requires his skills. It is also the path of the samurai that is his ultimate demise when it comes to humanistic connections. While Miyamoto may be one of the best fencers in Japan, he has almost completely lost his personal capacity to act on his feelings.

Duel at Ganryu Island is worth the bearing the flaws of the previous two installments. As I said earlier, it is the strongest installment in the series on all levels. Camerawork is cleaned up; there wasn’t a battle I couldn’t see. The final battle between Sasaki and Miyamoto is not to be missed. The only complaint I can even muster is that the middle gets a little dull, but it quickly picks up again. If you’ve seen the last two films, then there’s no reason not to see this one. Even if you haven’t, see them just so you can experience this.

Rating: ★★★½

-Chris Luedtke

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