In Medieval Japan, an elderly warlord retires, handing over his empire to his three sons. However, he vastly underestimates how the new-found power will corrupt them and cause them to turn on each other...and him.
A group of idealistic young men, determined to clean up the corruption in their town, are aided by a scruffy, cynical samurai who does not at all fit their concept of a noble warrior. Written by
Jim Beaver <email@example.com>
The essence of this classic, sadly always in the shadow of Yojimbo, is where Sanjuro explains to the incredulous, callow samurais how the person they admire is the villain and the one they suspect is a good man. The movie, like the much lesser The Cowboys, is a study of socialization into what it is to be a true samurai. Sanjuro even is forced to kill men because the fools still are as headstrong and deluded as when we first find them. The classic opens with a meeting between the painfully naive youngsters about to commit unintentional suicide by trusting the wrong man with information damaging to the clan. Sanjuro comes out of his sleep and finds them hilariously fatuous. Mifune is so brilliant here, his fearlessness comes without wild gesticulations as we would have to endure in a typical American action movie with sound and fury signifying nothing compensating for no script and no acting. Sanjuro is not only a reluctant mentor to these tragic idiots but he openly expresses his disgust and contempt for them all through their training. As the movie progresses and Sanjuro rescues the chamberlain and family from Kikui's men, the young men are concomitantly trained in Bushido and learning the complexities of human nature. The surface is not where to seek the truth; a lesson in the head as well as the sword.
Little touches of levity as when Mifune is confronted with the effusive older woman watch how incredibly uncomfortable he is around women. The warrior's shyness and contempt for the feminine is so well done here. The Sword Of Doom's Nakadai serves as the number one killer for Kikui who befriends Sanjuro, though he, rightly, never seems to completely trust him. Sanjuro works his way into the clan but, thanks to the silly youngsters, is forced to kill many men. The movie was severely criticized, when it was released, for the gory final duel. Muroto does not forgive his humiliation and at the end demands a duel to the death in front of the terrified youngsters. Sanjuro does his best to talk him out of it but no way. For those who watch the silly bloodless violence in American action movies, I say, watch this scene; it is not quite so pretty and cool, is it? Sanjuro feels the same, when the young samurais congratulate him, he almost attacks and kills them. Mifune calls them fools which they are all throughout the movie.
I have always preferred this to the much slower Yojimbo; that is also a classic but this moves much faster. Mifune's Sanjuro is such a realistic depiction of a samurai without all the block-headed Western idealization like we had to endure in The Last Samurai. Mifune is considerably more interested in just living and finding his way; the youngsters and their endless problems irritate him constantly. The rescue of the Chamberlain is done using Sanjuro's head more than his sword. I will not spoil it for you but it is such a contrast from our action films. Tied up, he instills terror in Kikui's leaders until they end up bringing about their own destruction in comedic fashion. Kurosawa's grasp of human nature, the mendacity of human communication is so evocative of Kubrick. As we saw in Ran, the ones who appear the most benign and kind are the deadliest of your enemies. We share Sanjuro's contempt for these bumpkins and walk away with him bearing the same disgust for them. The focus of this is: their worship of war and hyper-manliness makes Sanjuro laugh at them right to their faces. Mifune gives a performance similar to his role in The Seven Samurai. His skill with the sword is much greater but he is as much a comic philosopher as he is a swordsman.
For those of you young people wishing to wade into Kurosawa, this is an excellent first movie to watch. You will get used to his visual style which is one of a kind. It is so fast moving and well written I cannot recommend it to you more. Many of his other works are philosophically deeper like RAN. It is such an excellent film. Yes, the surface of human conversation, as Freud held, is almost all mendacity. The wise person, like Sanjuro, listens to the voice tone and body language. A Masterpiece.
"Even When The Mouth Lies It Tells The Truth." Nietzsche
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