Movie Name: Sanjuro
Genre(s): Martial Arts/Action/Adventure
Release Date(s): January 1, 1962
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
A group believes they’ve uncovered corruption in their local government and in turn make themselves the target of the superintendent and his hired samurai Muroto Hanbei (Tatsuya Nakadai). When the men find help from a wandering ronin who calls himself Tsubaki Sanjūrō (Toshirô Mifune) which simply means “camellia thirty-year-old-man”, they begin to craft a plan to save the kidnapped Mutsuta (Yûnosuke Itô) and his family. With the danger growing, can Sanjuro out think the superintendent and stop the slaughter of innocent lives?
Directed by Akira Kurosawa, Sanjuro is a follow-up to the 1961 film Yojimbo. Originally simply an adaptation of Shūgorō Yamamoto’s story “Peaceful Days”, the story was retrofitted to be a sequel to the popular Yojimbo with the return of Toshirô Mifune as the wandering samurai. The movie (like its predecessor) was critically acclaimed and has become a cult favorite. Sanjuro was released in a special edition Criterion (Criterion #53) and often can be found packaged with Yojimbo.
I love Akira Kurosawa samurai films. Yojimbo is great and Sanjuro is very good. The two films together show Kurosawa’s skill in general and are a great turn for the always good Toshirô Mifune.
I don’t find Sanjuro’s story as compelling as Yojimbo and that is the main reason it doesn’t quite reach Yojimbo’s level. As a stand-alone, it is strong, but being that it was made a sequel, it is naturally compared to the first film. The themes of the tale seem to be much more about honor and bravery than the action of Yojimbo. I just prefer the action to the code of the samurai.
Toshirô Mifune is great as the lead once again. He brings a weight to the role and his level headed thinking goes a long way when he’s trying to deal with eager and quick to fight rebels. Tatsuya Nakadai is strong as the other side of the coin as a hired assassin Hanbei Muroto and the showdown at the end shows Sanjuro’s skill and honor. I also enjoy the wife of the kidnapped Mutsuta played by Takako Irie who doesn’t allow the gravity of the situation affect her view of life.
The movie could have been a simple story and so-so, but the skill of Kurosawa’s directing improves it. Kurosawa mastered the screen’s frame and plans what he’s doing with it in each scene. It is amazing how he captures the film and makes it look great.
I took a long time to see Sanjuro. I realize it isn’t a very direct sequel to Yojimbo, but I always felt I need to see both movies together to appreciate them. The truth be told, you could see Sanjuro or Yojimbo first and it wouldn’t matter. If you have to choose, watch Yojimbo but don’t miss out on the fun of Sanjuro forever.
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