Sanjuro

"Very Good"

Sanjuro Review


One of the biggest hits in Akira Kurosawa's film career was 1961's Yojimbo, the genre smasher with Toshiro Mifune's instantly legendary performance as Sanjuro, that shambling and bedraggled ronin who roams the countryside looking for food, shelter, and cash for anyone who will pay him to kill. So successful was Yojimbo that Kurosawa's studio prevailed upon him to rework a script he had been working on, turning it into a Mifune vehicle with Mifune reprising his role as Sanjuro. And within a few months it was written, shot, and in the theaters. The result of this rush job by Kurosawa was Sanjuro -- a quieter, gentler Yojimbo.

The tale involves nine straight-laced, by-the-book, narrow-mined, and lunkheaded young samurai, who want to barrel in and rescue the chamberlain of their clan, being held prisoner by the clan superintendent Kukui (Masao Shimizu). Meeting at a temple to discuss their plans, the samurai are interrupted by loud yawns from the back room. Emerging from his slumber is Sanjuro (Toshiro Mifune), and he greets the group scratching and yawning. Admonishing the group, he grumpily tells the innocents, "People aren't what they seem. Be careful. You'll never suspect who the worst are. Be careful." As if on cue, Kukui's army sneaks up on the temple, commanded by canny samurai mercenary Hanbei Muroto (Tetsuya Nakadei). Hiding the nine samurai in the temple floorboards, Sanjuro beats back Moroto's men and grumpily offers to help the boys: "I can't stand by and watch you blunder your way to your deaths." The rest of the film consists of Sanjuro maneuvering Muroto away from his armies so that Sanjuro can wipe out the bad guys in dazzling displays of swordplay, but Moroto returns to the scene.

Sanjuro is very much the refashioned film that seeks to become the first sequel among many by softening and sweetening the atmosphere and characters of Yojimbo into formula. The mood is certainly different in Sanjuro. Wherein Yojimbo the tone is dark, bleak, and apocalyptic with howling winds and raging dusk, in Sanjuro, the film takes place in the blinding sunlight with a jokey, lighthearted tone and the sounds of babbling brooks and chirping nightingales replacing Yojimbo's raging end-of-the-world ambience. But Kurosawa is too smart and radical of a director to jump into the formula ocean over his head, and he plays off audience expectations. Kurosawa has Sanjuro continually sneer at the group of proper samurai and their bushid? code of honor and builds up to a big battle scene at the end only to have the swords come out to hack down camellias in a garden.

Stylistically, Sanjuro is a textbook on widescreen composition. Each shot is composed with an eye to character relationships and visual storytelling. Sanjuro is always creatively grouped in the compositions horizontally or vertically opposed to the nine samurai. (The film's biggest laugh comes when Sanjuro sneaks around to the right side of the frame and the nine samurai follow in a line obediently behind him trailing to frame left and Sanjuro cracks, "We can't move like a centipede!") And in one terrific shot, Sanjuro comes calling on Moroto, and the widescreen lens follows Sanjuro back and then tracks down to ground level as Mikune backs up into the camera as a parade of samurai pass by -- but all that is seen in the frame is the tops of their swords and a large, imposing fortress gate.

Kurosawa saves the best for last. A final confrontation that results in a power hose spray of blood that gushes through the easygoing mood of Sanjuro and brings the film down to the grimy, troubling air of reality. A cold bath for us all.

Aka Tsubaki Sanjûrô.

Swords, knees on the floor.



Sanjuro

Facts and Figures

Run time: 96 mins

In Theaters: Tuesday 7th May 1963

Distributed by: Criterion Collection

Production compaines: Toho Company

Reviews

Contactmusic.com: 3.5 / 5

Rotten Tomatoes: 100%
Fresh: 21

IMDB: 8.2 / 10

Cast & Crew

Director:

Starring: as Sanjûrô Tsubaki / The ronin, as Hanbei Muroto, Keiju Kobayashi as The Spy, as Iori Izaka, as Chidori, Mutsuta's daughter, as Kurofuji, as Takebayashi, Takako Irie as Mutsuta's wife, Masao Shimizu as Kikui, Yûnosuke Itô as Mutsuta, the Chamberlain, Akira Kubo as Samurai, as Samurai, as Samurai, as Samurai, as Samurai, Sachio Sakai as Samurai

Contactmusic


Links



Advertisement

New Movies

The Edge of Seventeen Movie Review

The Edge of Seventeen Movie Review

An unusually realistic teen movie, this drama gets deep under the skin of its characters,...

Bleed for This Movie Review

Bleed for This Movie Review

This is such a ripping true story that it can't help but grab hold of...

Moana Movie Review

Moana Movie Review

In a clear echo of Frozen, this Disney animated adventure centres on a fiercely independent...

Bad Santa 2 Movie Review

Bad Santa 2 Movie Review

The 2003 comedy Bad Santa is a holiday classic that skilfully mixes gross-out humour with...

Allied Movie Review

Allied Movie Review

There's a terrific script at the heart of this World War II thriller, with a...

A United Kingdom Movie Review

A United Kingdom Movie Review

Based on a powerful true story from the late 1940s, this drama is packed with...

Indignation Movie Review

Indignation Movie Review

Philip Roth's layered novels are a challenge for filmmakers (see also 2003's The Human Stain...

Advertisement
Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them Movie Review

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them Movie Review

It's been five years since the last Harry Potter movie, and J.K. Rowling has been...

Dog Eat Dog Movie Review

Dog Eat Dog Movie Review

Yet another bonkers thriller starring Nicolas Cage, this trashy crime comedy comes from director Paul...

Iggy Pop - Post Pop Depression: Live At The Royal Albert Hall Movie Review

Iggy Pop - Post Pop Depression: Live At The Royal Albert Hall Movie Review

"Iggy Pop - Post Pop Depression: Live At The Royal Albert Hall" is a DVD...

Arrival Movie Review

Arrival Movie Review

This sci-fi drama has an enjoyably brain-bending plot that leaves the audience almost stunned with...

Elle Movie Review

Elle Movie Review

There's a boldly comical tone to this outrageous thriller that can't help but unnerve audiences...

100 Streets Movie Review

100 Streets Movie Review

A multi-strand drama set in London, this film is very nicely shot and acted, but...

Nocturnal Animals Movie Review

Nocturnal Animals Movie Review

It's been seven years since designer Tom Ford made a splash with his award-winning writing-directing...

Advertisement
Artists
Actors
    Filmmakers
      Artists
      Bands
        Musicians
          Artists
          Celebrities
             
              Artists
              Interviews
                musicians & bands in the news
                  actors & filmmakers in the news
                    celebrities in the news

                      Go Back in Time using our News archive to see what happened on a particular day in the past.