Tuesday, 24 February 2015

Alternate Best Actor 1956: Toshiro Mifune in Samurai III: Duel At Ganryu Island

Toshiro Mifune did not receive an Oscar nomination for portraying Miyamoto Musashi in Samurai III: Duel At Ganryu Island.

Samurai III: Duel At Ganryu Island is thankfully the satisfying final entry, after the disappointing and messy Samurai II, in the trilogy of films depicting the adventures of legendary swordsman Miyamoto Musashi this one ending with a rousing climatic duel against his most worthy adversary.

Toshiro Mifune is obviously no stranger to playing samurais and what I find so impressive about his performance is he never seems to simply copy his performance even if the roles are technically fairly similar. Here he plays the same exact role three times in a row within three years. Mifune though actually creates a character arc through the three films. The first beginning with the brash young Musashi who desires to take on any opponent with his considerable but unrefined skills. The second brought Musashi as a proper samurai have a more understood skill though still confused about what exactly he should do with his skills. Mifune naturally brings Musashi to the final version of Musashi we meet in this film. He could not be more different than the almost crazed brawler we originally met as now he's basically gone full Mister Miyagi, he catches flies with chopsticks and everything, and hey I think you may be able to see Mifune rendition of that character here since he missed that part in the Karate Kid out to Pat Morita.

Now what I mean by that is that the way Mifune portrays Musashi in Samurai III is that of a man who has basically become self-actualized. Mifune is terrific in that he rids his performance of that fiery uncontrolled emotion that was such a part of his performance in the first film and an element of his work in the sequel. Here that is gone, and that is not to say this is unemotional performance by any means. Mifune rather coneys the way that Musashi has lost the impetuousness of youth, and very effectively portrays the maturity of Musashi as a man. He is no longer driven by anger, or some sort of pride of being the greatest fighter, he instead shows himself to be a man mostly content with his life as it is. Although for review purposes I must look at this performance all on its own just within this film what Mifune does so well though is suggest the other films in his portrayal of Musashi. Mifune does not play Musashi as merely having been this way his whole life but rather he suggests the effort and wear involved in the process.

Mifune's face wears the past so well as he expresses the considerable wear that Musashi's life has left on him. It is not that Mifune shows Musashi to be a man of exhaustion or bitter or anything of that nature. Mifune though does wear the  suffering he has gone through as well as the effort he had to bring to become the man Musashi is in this final film. As the final phase of Musashi Mifune is wonderful in realizing the man that Musashi has become. Musashi by this film is a true master as a fighter, but unlike before Musashi no longer wishes to fight for any sort of glory or revenge. Musashi now only will fight when there is no other choice. Mifune carries himself perfectly in having this certain grace about Musashi here. Mifune does not show that Musashi is simply above the problems he faced when he was younger, but rather what Mifune creates is an effortless sense of understanding in Musashi. The way Mifune portrays the reactions of Musashi's he presents a man who is almost always watching any way in order to strive for the best most peaceful outcome for all involved.

Mifune is excellent here in creating the great wisdom of Musashi in this film. He manages to make feel very much earned in the unassuming yet palatable manner in which he does show Musashi to now be usually the wisest man in the room. Mifune brings an authentic tenderness in the way Musashi interacts with various people in the film. Whether it is his young apprentice who he always quietly prods along to do the right thing, or even just some ruffians who are taken aback by the brilliance of Musashi. Mifune carefully never creates a sense of superiority in Musashi, even though he technically is better than most everyone else, but rather he is incredible in creating Musashi as a man who would rather gently enlighten his opponents rather than kill them. Mifune is absolutely convincing in making Musashi this philosopher which is especially remarkable since in the first film he began as just an aimless somewhat bloodthirsty young man. There are two nagging elements of Musashi's past though one in his unrequited love Otsu (Kaoru Yachigusa).

The romance of sorts carries through the films where at the first film Musashi rejects Otsu due to circumstances, and then at the end of the second film Otsu rejects him. Here they continue to have their problematic dance. Interestingly when they finally come together the film as well as Mifune and Yachigusa take a fairly low key approach to the moment. It actually though makes sense, as they basically both were well aware of the feelings, and it is quite affecting as both Mifune and Yachigusa show how they quietly finally accept each other. The other element is his reputation as a master swordsman which leaves him as a target of his chief rival in that regard who insists on a duel which Musashi does accept. This leads the climatic duel and Mifune is outstanding in his performance of the duel. Mifune is great in that he does not show a personal hate against the man but still a needed determination as his life is on the line. His physical performance is absolutely compelling in the scene and helps the film achieve it's memorable climax. Mifune's best moment though comes after the duel as he shows that Musashi feels no glory from his victory, but just a poignant sadness that the rivalry had to end in death. If I took Mifune's combined work over the three films this could probably rank up with his best work. Taking into account his work alone though this is still a very strong performance leaving the role of Miyamoto Musashi on truly a high note.


luke higham said...

1. Mason
2. Wayne
3. Mifune
4. Hayden
5. Newman

RatedRStar said...

I must see this film, I easily imagine the duel itself being excellently shot, since the video game version of the duel (Samurai Warriors 2) was pretty well done.

What did you make of Kōji Tsurutas performance, Louis?

For everyone that has seen Moby Dick, what did you make of the whale itself?

Michael McCarthy said...

This performance reminded me a lot of Susumu Fujita's in Sanshiro Sugata Part II, which I do recommend even though it's largely propaganda.

Louis Morgan said...


Tsuruta was very good as well as he manages to match Mifune's presence allowing Kojiro to be a worthy foe. In addition though he's effective in realizing the sense of honor in the character that made seem a madness, but Tsuruta realizes the character's pride in a genuine way.