Humble beginnings indeed.
Full disclosure, I knew quite a bit about the real world figure of Musashi Miyamoto before jumping into this. I have read The Five Rings twice and find him to be a truly interesting figure. Now the movie trilogy was based off an author's work rather than very muddled historical accounts that have made it impossible to discern fact from legend, and with individuals going into this movie blind you'll have nothing to worry about. But for me I had to keep reminding myself this is an adaptation, but the film was still very good. The only thing that sort of surprised me and yet made me enjoy this movie more is it believe it or not has a Hollywood epic feel to it, think Ben Hur or The Ten Commandments. The scope of the shots, the musical cues, the path of the story that plays out, you honest to God could have swapped the original actors with americans and I would bet every cent in my bank that the lead would be played by Charlton Heston. So in a way the plot was very familair in execution, but the concept follows a young Miyamoto as he runs away from home to join the samurai ranks only for their side to lose, and eventually a manhunt is issued against him. Nothing major happens in this movie, it is a very straightforward beginning that will no doubt pick up in pace with the other two movies, but it nevertheless is still interesting to watch. And who better to play one of the most famous swordsman in history but Toshiro Mifune, top form as always with a very strong performance, wild energy, and just enough enigmatic intrigue to make you want to see how the story truly ends. Supporting cast is mighty good with my particular favorite of the whole show being Kuroemon Onoe as a wily and fun priest, he was an absolute joy to watch. The action bits are well spread out, and fit more with the traditional quick slash style of fighting with small groups facing off with our protagonist. Very well shot and choreographed, but the real wow factor comes in the environment. This was literally the second film produced in color by Toho, and it looks great! Yet another element that reminds me a lot of Ten Commandments, but that movie focused more on the sheer size of the egyptian city and the massive number of extras in a scene, where this focuses on the grand scope of nature with still admirable amounts of extras here and there. But the color is so rich and a wee bit saturated that really makes it pop, it's nothing fancy but still wonderful in it's own way. It probably doesn't seem like I have a lot to say about this movie, but I really did enjoy it and we'll have the other two out before the day is done. 4 stars, 8/10!
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