(Japanese title: Tsubaki Sanjuro)
(1962 - Japan)
With Toshiro Mifune, Tatsuya Nakadai, Yuzo Kayama, Reiko Dan
Directed by Akira Kurosawa
Black and White
Reviewed by JB

Huh? You interrupted my peaceful mediation. Now you die.     Toshiro Mifune returns as Sanjuro the Samurai in this entertaining and funny companion film to the classic YOJIMBO.  Lazier, angrier and shabbier than ever, he helps nine idealistic young warriors expose corruption in their clan. From the moment Mifune enters the film, he owns it.  His entrance is classic; sauntering into the warriors' quarters unannounced, scratching himself, hitching his shoulders, yawning, looking uncannily like some previously unknown Jackie Gleason character.  There is zero explanation of where the Sanjuro character comes from or why is there.  Kurosawa, who had a hand in the screenplay, most likely assumed all of Japan had seen YOJIMBO and understood that this is what Sanjuro does - shows up, offers help, and then demands food and sake.

     SANJURO is more of a comedy than YOJIMBO.  The comedy is light - we're not talking DUCK SOUP with swords here - and much of it is provided by Mifune himself, whose Sanjuro this time seems intent on expending as little energy as possible, no matter how grave any situation gets.  When captured by some of the corrupt clan members and tied up, he informs them he will sell them a secret signal for fifty pieces of gold.  When they raise there swords and threaten to kill him, he doesn't even expend the energy to be frightened.  "Okay, make it thirty," is his only reaction.  It is Mifune, rather than Kurosawa, that make SANJURO as entertaining as it is.  You could study Kurosawa's shots and methods if you wish to, but if you do that, you'd be missing one of Mifune's best, and funniest, performances for "The Emperor." 

     Because SANJURO seems to be set in an earlier era than YOJIMBO, it is not as easy to keep track of what is going on unless you are well-versed in Japanese history (which I am not).  In YOJIMBO, every character had a distinguishing face, character trait or role in the story, whereas in SANJURO, the bad guys and the good guys all come from the same clan, wear essentially the same clothes and even sport the exact same hair style.  Few of the characters are anything but cardboard cutouts, chess pieces for Sanjuro to move around as he tries to bring down the corrupt members of the clan. 

     However, the piercing eyes of Tatsuya Nakadai (the gunman from YOJIMBO) are unmistakable.  Once again, he plays the main villain, though it is a lesser part than the one he had in the previous film.  Also memorable are the two women in the film, Yuzo Kayama and Reiko Dan, who play a mother and daughter  who act as calming influences on the group.  Rescued from the villains, they sit in on planning sessions with Sanjuro and the warriors and offer alternate, more stereotypically feminine suggestions on how to conduct affairs.  While Sanjuro's idea of a subtle secret signal to the others is burning down a house, the mother suggests sending some flower petals down a stream instead. 

     Not the film YOJIMBO is (although some would differ), SANJURO is nevertheless an extremely entertaining followup.  Sometimes we think of great directors as always doing big, important work, endlessly creating milestones in film history: RASHOMON, THE SEVENTH SEAL, LA DOLCE VITA, RAGING BULL, PSYCHO.  It is easy to forget that most of these directors were essentially entertainers who loved to make movies and many of their films are really just fun stories told well (except for a Marx Brothers movie, what's more fun than the endlessly rewarding CITIZEN KANE?). SANJURO is one of Kurosawa's least important films and conversely, it may be his most fun.   - JB

Akira Kurosawa     Toshiro Mifune     The Stuff You Gotta Watch


Tsubaki Sanjuro (2007 - Japan)

Stuff You Gotta Watch
Copyright © 2010 John V. Brennan, John Larrabee