Recounting the education of the legendary Musashi Miyamoto, the Samurai Trilogy's second film depicts his wanderings through the turmoil of 17th-century Japan in search of both the skill and temperament worthy of a great warrior. Facing an onslaught of foes eager to test his reputation, he discovers that death-dealing blows are the least of what he must learn. Toshiro Mifune puts in another top-notch performance as the swordsman who gradually transforms himself from a skilled neophyte into a master warrior.
Picking up where Samurai I left off, Toshirô Mifune's samurai in training Musashi Miyamoto is a wandering swordsman who hones his skills in a succession of duels. When he defeats a succession of students from a local school of martial arts, he becomes marked for death by the school elders and is attacked in a series of cowardly ambushes. Romantic threads from the first film become further complicated when the virginal Otsu (Kaoru Yachigusa) and the sad courtesan Akemi (Mariko Okada) meet and discover their rivalry and Musashi earns himself an archenemy, an ambitious young swordsman named Sasaki Kojiro (Koji Tsuruta) who vows to defeat Musashi to make his name as the finest fencer in all of Japan. Inagaki ably manages the rather complicated plot with unexpected ease (subtitles are employed to help English viewers make a few narrative jumps) while he charts Musashi's education in compassion and humility and his internal struggle with his conflicted love for Otsu. The direction is still as distant and unostentatious as in the first film, while the color and settings become richer and more pronounced: studio-bound locations take on the quality and delicacy of paintings. The dramatic centerpiece of the trilogy, an epic pre-dawn battle where 40 swordsmen ambush Musashi, uses darkness and landscape to great dramatic effect as figures seep in and out of the picture. --Sean Axmaker