Miyamoto Musashi has come far indeed. Last we saw him, he was the tough guy of a hick village. Now he's a swordsman of amazing skill, disciplined, formal, and on the verge of his famous set of duels against the Yoshioka school. But does all that make him a true samurai? Or just a thuggish killer of unusual ability? After Musashi makes short work of chain-and-sickle master Shishido Baiken, a monk flatly tells him it's the latter, to his incomprehension. Has he not defeated all comers? What else is there?
Though troubled by the monk's words, Musashi nevertheless sets his sights on the famed Yoshioka school, led by eldest son Seijuro. It's not going to be a simple thing when he gets to Kyoto. Unbeknownst to him, Seijuro has his sights on someone, a woman they both know: Akemi. She's in town, too, with Oko and Matahachi. Another, more painful problem for Musashi is Otsu, also in town, and living only for the hope of seeing him again and giving him her love. And there's the mysterious Sasaki Kojiro, a very good swordfighter who enters town and starts mixing up in things. Finally, there's the little matter of the Yoshioka rank-and-file, to whom ambush and murder is less distasteful than risking their school's reputation to an upstart nobody.
With all this turbulence swirling about him, will Musashi be able to grasp the truth of the monk's words, or is he doomed to a life of petty violence?
This film contains examples of:
- Adaptational Distillation: Musashi's fights with the Yoshioka school, headed by Seijuro, Denshichiro, and Genjiro is condensed into having Musashi's duel with Seijuro be the A-plot, with Denshichiro and followers as obstacles, and Genjiro Adapted Out.
- Adaptational Heroism: Musashi doesn't cut down a child here, so there's that. Kojiro is definitely a step up from his book counterpart, with only a wee bit of the book character's cockiness and none of his sadism.
- Also, that waste of skin Oko shows some guilt over what she puts her daughter through in the film adaptation.
- Adaptational Wimp: Seijuro. In the book he was a complacent swordsman, but still good enough to head a martial arts school. His supporters expected victory, though he didn't, and Musashi didn't realize his vast superiority until Seijuro showed up to fight. Here, everyone who interacts with him thinks he's a loser, and his underlings either play courtier, or ignore him.
- Shishido Baiken, a running villain in the book, goes down before the ten minute mark.
- Calling Your Attacks: "The Swallow-Turn!" is a Live Action example.
- Chick Magnet: Musashi starts the film with Otsu swooning for him, gets Akemi swooning for him once mentioned in front of her, and gets Yoshino swooning for him in short order. Book!Musashi already had this power, but in the film it's amplified by the power of Toshiro Mifune. The women of Japan never stood a chance.
- Cool Sword: Kojiro's Drying Pole. Musashi thinks so, at least.
- Dead Person Impersonation: Oh, Matahachi...you should've made sure that Kojiro was actually dead before you started impersonating him.
- Defiled Forever: "I'm a soiled woman. I don't mind anything." Akemi.
- The Lady's Favour: Seijuro begs Akemi (after raping her) that, if she would just give him her support, he would have the strength to fight Musashi. She responds that, not only does she not support him, she will now only pray for his death.
- Martial Pacifist: The whole film revolves around Musashi's attempts to become this, rather than remain a vicious killer. In the end, he becomes this when he spares Seijuro.
- Master Swordsman: Musashi and Kojiro, of course.
- Near-Rape Experience: Musashi's infamous scene with Otsu occurs at the end.
- Not Worth Killing: Kojiro settles for Toji's topknot after the latter mouths off to him of the bridge.
- One-Man Army: Guess who.
- Plot Hole: After her scene in the swamp with Otsu, Akemi turns up in Kojiro's lodging. How?
- Rape as Drama: Seijuro takes his frustrations, and general powerlessness, out on Akemi in this way. Kojiro, rebuffed by her, trolls her for a second by threatening rape, before admitting defeat and musing that Musashi must be quite the guy.
- Real Event, Fictional Cause: The real Musashi wrote down, a week before dying, a set of moral precepts called The Way Of Walking Alone. Both book and film have him inspired with "Respect Buddha and the Gods, without relying on their help" when tempted to pray at a shrine before facing all the Yoshioka followers. The film also has him renouncing the love of women after his Near-Rape Experience with Otsu, with corresponds to "Do not let yourself be guided by the feeling of love."
- Tender Tears: Even in a movie as condensed and character-packed as this one, B-plot character Otsu still manages to cry four times on-screen.
- "The Reason You Suck" Speech: "You're terribly strong, but your mind is not at peace. That means you might win a duel, but you are not yet a true samurai."
- Unknown Rival: Musashi, Seijuro, and Kojiro are this on multiple layers.
- Musashi knows he's Seijuro's rival in the sense of the duel he's trying to set up, but is completely in the dark about the fact that Seijuro is vying for Akemi's affections against his memory. Musashi never learns that she knows Seijuro, or is even in Kyoto.
- Kojiro briefly pursues Akemi, aware of her pining for Musashi. At this time, Seijuro doesn't know about him, and again, Musashi never learns about Akemi.
- Musashi never interacts with Kojiro beyond seeing his Cool Sword in for service. Kojiro learns about him early, watches him from afar, and mentally wishes for him to continue improving himself, as he himself will be doing the same.