Under the Covers: #14-16 THE SAMURAI TRILOGY (dir. Hiroshi Inagaki) 1955-1956
"Know your enemy, know his sword."
it takes balls to name your samurai trilogy THE Samurai Trilogy, but Hiroshi Inagaki’s quintessential opus has earned and owned that distinction since the time of its initial release. of course, most samurai series never dared to stop at three films (there are, what, 394,293,011 Zatoichi films?), but Mushashi Miyamoto was THE samurai, a legend so vital to Japanese history that he was already immortal before he was played by Toshiro Mifune.
Inagaki’s films are formative works, taking a much more roundly mythological approach to the world of jidai-geki, which Kurosawa and his ilk had already mastered. Samurai I is a fluffy, boilerplate introduction to Musashi Miyamoto’s legend, but the next two chapters are righteously iconic stuff (fans of KIll Bill will recognize the glorious duels), and Criterion valued the trilogy highly enough to introduce it right at the start of their DVD days. the covers for those editions, now over a decade old, would obviously have to be replaced when Criterion got around to re-issuing these films on Blu-ray, but i’m not sure anyone expected their replacements to be this fiercely stylized. it’s a gorgeous set, top-tier stuff, the entire package cut across by swaths of white, black, and blood red. the illustrations are gorgeous but respectful, the design spare but loaded… and the whole thing is so compact. take a peek.