The film opens with nine young samurai tossing around a theory that their lord chamberlain maybe corrupt and that the superintendent has agreed to take care of this matter. They are surprised to find themselves interrupted by a mysterious samurai Sanjuro who has a theory of his own, which is that the superintendent is the actual culprit. Although initially reluctant, they are finally convinced when they find out that the superintendent and his men has their place surrounded with a possible intention to wipe them all out. Sanjuro finds a place for them to hide and proceeds to take down some of the superintendent’s men. The fight comes to a halt when the superintendent’s right-hand man Moruto Hanbei instructs the men to look elsewhere as this is not someone whom they should be fighting. He is impressed with Sanjuro’s skills and makes him a job offer. After they leave, Sanjuro tells the nine young samurai that he is going to help them. Akira Kurosawa’s Sanjuro is the sequel to his immensely successful 1961 film Yojimbo (remade by Sergio Leone as A Fistful of Dollars in 1964). Toshiro Mifune once again reprises his famous role as Sanjuro – the lone, wandering samurai who is always on the lookout for employment. Another legendary actor Tatsuya Nakadai (who also happens to be my favorite) appears as the primary antagonist Muroto Hanbei. Nakadai was the primary antagonist in Yojimbo as well, but it was a different character with a different name. (Nakadai would go on to replace Mifune as the lead in some of Kurosawa’s later films.) Mifune’s character is markedly different from the one he played in Yojimbo, in that he displays an aversion to violence. He has grown to dislike the idea of shedding blood. In Sanjuro, he is very clear about which group he genuinely wants to help whereas in Yojimbo, he despised the groups on both sides and eventually pitted them against each other. Sanjuro sees Kurosawa at his most playful, adopting a much lighter tone compared to Yojimbo. It’s his most enjoyable film. There is a lot of subtle humor. Sanjuro’s interactions with some of the hot-blooded members of the nine young samurai provides some laughs. In one scene, he tells one of them: “Stupid friends are worse than enemies.” I’m going to have to agree with that quote as I’ve had some experiences with friends like that myself. It’s absorbing narrative reminded me of the folk tales I used to read as a kid. A sense of calmness washes over me whenever I sit down to watch this film. The neatly composed frames and the meticulously crafted action sequences served as inspiration for the successive generations of filmmakers. The Crazy-88 sequence in Quentin Tarantino’s Kill Bill is basically the climactic duel in this notched up to 10. So, go ahead and do yourself a favor and watch this delicious classic.
Sanjuro (1962) – Kurosawa’s most playful film