The Samurai Trilogy chronicles the early life of Musashi Miyamoto in three films: Musashi Miyamoto (1954), Duel at Ichijoji Temple (1955), and Duel at Ganryu Island (1956). Like many movies based on real events, they're highly fictionalized and a large number of love interests are added to the story. Clearly, just telling the story of one of the greatest warriors who ever lived-who also happened to be a gifted artist and writer-would be boring.
That's not to say the films are bad. Hiroshi Inagaki is a wonderful director. The Samurai Trilogy is very old fashioned, even by chanbara standards, but there is enough art there to inject some timelessness. The final duel of the series, in particular, is just gorgeous. All silhouettes and sunset.
Toshiro Mifune, as Mushashi Miyamoto himself, was the only actor I recognized in the films, and he does a wonderful job. It's very different from his performance in the contemporary Seven Samurai. Here he is more contemplative, fighting only when he must. Okay, he fights a little more at first, but the films follow him maturing into his philosophy.
The other actors do an excellent job as well, particularly Kaoru Yachigusa as Otsu, the faithful woman in love with Mushashi who seems slightly stalkery by modern standards. She manages to convey her characters depth of feeling without seeming too melodramatic. Honestly, I'm not very fond of any of the romances in the films, but it's not the fault of the actors. It's just not my kind of romance and I'd prefer more sword fighting.
The Samurai Trilogy isn't my favorite, but I'd recommend it to anyone who likes Japanese history or samurai films. There's are many excellent scenes, but at more than four hours there are some slow parts. (Although nowadays a trilogy that clocks in at four and a half hours seems rather brisk.)