I'm not surprised Hiroshi Inagaki's 1954 film Musashi Miyamoto (宮本武蔵) won the Academy Award for best foreign language film and Seven Samurai (七人の侍), also from 1954, didn't. Because Musashi Miyamoto was both a spectacle and rather shallow. It has the broad dramatic strokes without the unsightliness of unvarnished characterisation. It has some nice visuals, and a great lead performance, but these don't make up for a simplistic plot that leaps over the humanity crucial for a good story.
Toshiro Mifune stars as the historical samurai Musashi Miyamoto, delivering a typically great performance. It's a mythologised version of Miyamoto's life and works rather like a prototype for the Rambo manhunt type of film. Seven Samurai showed a group of trained and seasoned samurai who were unsure if they could hold out against forty common bandits. In Musashi Miyamoto, we see one peasant face an entire army.
Then, when the opposing side takes over the territory, Miyamoto becomes a hunted man who slaughters the groups of ten to twenty men who do manage to corner him. In between, he fends off the attentions of one beautiful woman after another.
Why is an entire army pursuing one peasant? Why does everyone in his home village abruptly turn against him except one beautiful woman? The world does not value real men!
If your ego is soothed by extremely simplistic fantasy, this is the movie for you. For the rest of us, as I said, it has some pretty shots, though it's a colour film that was clearly shot by a cinematographer who decided to light everything like it was a black and white film.
Lots of contrast and, even worse, lots of inexplicably dimly lit characters in the foreground with a bright background. It kind of gave me a headache.
So for 50s jidaigeki, you're better off going for Kurosawa or Mizoguchi.
Twitter Sonnet #353
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