(1955)3Bob MastrangeloThe second episode of Hiroshi Inagaki's Samurai trilogy finds Takezo, newly dubbed Musashi Miyamoto, on a journey to establish his reputation as a samurai and doing battle with the Yoshioka clan. Considerably more introspective than the first film, there are plenty of action scenes, but Inagaki is more interested in Musashi's continuing evolution. Anger and brute force were his means of doing battle in part one, but here Musashi becomes a warrior and learns to measure his strength with compassion. Despite that description, the philosophical mumbo-jumbo is largely kept in check. Seijuro and Toji, minor characters from the first film, emerge as Musashi's principal opponents this time around, and another competitor, Kojiro, arrives on the scene. Inagaki possesses an enviable ability to take a plot that could easily descend into silliness and make it seem like deep stuff. Part of his success is due to his tendency to focus on his characters, making them believable within the context of this story. Another reason is his manner of keeping things unpredictable. Less impressive is how Inagaki draws his women characters. Otsu and Akemi are forever begging Musashi to love them and follow him all over Japan, living in destitution, just to be near him. This behavior is hard to swallow after a while and neither woman ever develops much teeth. (The good-hearted Otsu is presented as Musashi's true love, and Akemi, a much less sympathetic figure, is somewhat of a villainess). The color photography is even more impressive than the first film, and Inagaki wraps things up with an extended climactic duel that is both visually stunning and dramatically riveting. Samurai 2: Duel at Ichijoji Temple defies the rules and turns out to be even more exciting than its predecessor, and puts the pieces in place for part three.