A fair improvement over the last.
The realization just hit that this was very much a Lord Of The Rings situation with this trilogy, each entry was released the next year from 1954 to 1956, all were directed by the same person, and so far the cast has all returned with new additions. I think that's what boosted my enjoyment of this movie was the fact that all the characters from the last movie get to be expanded a bit, I honestly was not expecting to really see them again after Musashi set out on his own. The film doesn't fit the action genre quite as much as the rest of the movies I reviewed this week, it focuses much more on Musashi trying to better his swordsmanship than duels. In fact the movie kinda goes out of it's way not to show a lot of action till near the end, every fight scene either cuts away or is stopped which might disappoint people a lot but I genuinely didn't mind. I found the story to be much better than the first as we see our main character come to terms with his own emotions and seeks to learn how to improve not only his sword skills but his character, with a bit of a love triangle interwoven with it. Now I personally don't care too much for the romance, because I know for a fact Musashi Miyamoto was never married and never had kids, he had adopted sons but not children of his own so I sort of already know where it ends. But the rest of the movie is mighty good! The majority of the film is shot on sets, but it never distracted me from the movie because they are wonderful sets that convey a lot of beauty and atmosphere in them so I just really appreciated the craftsmanship of it all. The choreography of the fight scenes are also good, once again knowing how to charge the scene with tension. I was picking up on a lot of the fighting stances and strategy that were brought up in The Five Rings, from the various holding positions of the sword, to remembering strategic points about how to fight against certain weapons for instance a longsword, and seeing the dual wielding trademark of Miyamoto's fighting style was great. I just hope that this series doesn't pull a Godfather and drop drastically in quality come the third movie, cause I do consider this to be a better film than the first which I already thought was pretty dang good. No doubt we'll see our original cast back once again, it had a lot of good dynamics in this movie that I truthfully felt was better than the first and rightfully so because it's a sequel that builds upon the foundations, so the thought of Musashi and Matahachi meeting again after so long got me excited, the thought of Otsu and Akemi fighting possibly to the death for Musashi's love kinda got me worried because I didn't want to see anyone die. That's good character development, and I honestly can't wait to dive right into the final installment just to see where it all goes and where it decides to end. This was a damn good movie, full 4 stars, 8.5/10, let's finish this.