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With a near clean lineup of masterpieces under his belt, nobody could
fault Kurosawa for wanting to make a simple piece of entertainment.
This simple aspiration did not stop him from making another hugely
Sanjuro is a loose sequel to the classic Yojimbo. The character is back, as is, confusingly, Tatsuya Nakadai as a completely different character. The landscape and tone are entirely new, lighter, jollier. It is almost a spoof of its predecessor,as Mifune's nonchalant and perpetually unwashed antihero helps a group of goody- two-shoes samurai save their framed master. This is also the first on-screen collaboration between Toshiro Mifune and the young Yuzo Kayama, before they costared to such memorable effect on Redbeard.
Nobody spoofs Kurosawa better than the man himself: this is without a doubt his funniest film, yet he never treats it as a second-class product. No slouch, the director peppers this light romp with unforgettable visual flourishes, enraptured homages to the American Westerns that so inspired him, and an end-note of surprising violence, the likes of which Tarantino could only dream of.
At a fast-paced 96 minutes, this is probably a great entry point into the cinema of Akira Kurosawa, and a film that would be much more highly regarded had it not come from such an established filmmaker.
Akira Kurosawa is probably the best Director in the entire History of film-making. He has not been that prolific given the amount of time he has spent making films, but many of these have subsequently been remade - Seven Samurai became the magnificent seven. Yoijimbo (the prequel to this one) became A fistful of dollars - and more recently last man standing. The hidden Fortress became Star Wars. Sanjuro marked the return of Toshiro Mifune as the Sardonic Ronin from Yoijimbo. Yet again, the photography is excellent - the period costumes and buildings beautiful to look at even in black and white. From one of the first scenes, in the grounds outside the Shrine, Mifune shows a 500% improvement in the art of Kenjutso - he must have been practicing night and day! But it is the character of Sanjuro itself that makes the film so absorbing. He is on the surface, a dirty, disrespectful abrasive man - but his deeds portray him as a hero - someone who once was a shining example of a Samurai and despite being put through the ringer still holds to a deeply rooted code of honor. When this shows however, he is most anxious to cover it up again..... The film involves a power struggle within a small city in Japan between the old faction and the new power-hungry one. It deals with false perceptions and truth. Two of the tenets that are at the heart of Kurosawa's films. This is a Gem - rent it - if you can, Buy it!
Tsubaki Sanjuro is, unfortunately, not so widely seen abroad (= outside
Japan) as Yojinbo, probably because it was not copied as a western. In
Japan, however, Tsubaki Sanjuro is not less popular than Yojinbo. Not a
few Japanese actually prefer the former to the latter, and it's easy to
see why: It is stylistically more polished and smarter than Yojimbo and
Mifune is 'cooler' as well - he shows a brilliant leadership and every
Mifune fan would be really delighted to see how his young, naive
disciples run after him like chicks following the mother duck.
And while Yojinbo's female main character, Orin, is an evil and crafty woman, Lady Mutsuta in Tsubaki Sanjuro is 'irritatingly light-hearted'. But she has a deep insight into Sanjuro's personality and understands him far better than his male disciples. An excellent character, and, in fact, she is the only person in Tsubaki Sanjuro AND Yojinbo to whom Sanjuro/Mifune speaks in a polite form (in Japanese).
Tsubaki Sanjuro is, so to speak, a 'concentrate' of Kurosawa's cinematography and one sees in it every aspect of his greatness in a very compact form. Therefore no one could remake this movie.
Sanjuro is another in a long line of purely classic films by Akira Kurosawa. This movie was made on a whim on the heels of the wildly successful Yojimbo, but Kurosawa doesn't simply whip out a movie to satisfy the audience; he creates another film masterpiece. This is a farcical comedy shot with the same brilliance as Ran--take a minute and notice how perfectly the image on the screen portrays what Kurosawa wants us to see. Nothing about this film is a mistake, something that he would want to do over. Watch this film!
Sanjuro is not one of Kurosawa's great films, but it shows him relaxed and
having fun, deconstructing the jidai-geki (samurai film) genre with tongue
firmly in cheek.
The film lacks the meticulous visual style of Yojimbo, but it is very well photographed, with some extremely fluid cinematography and those effortlessly artful group compositions that only Kurosawa seems to be able to do. The plot is a little exposition-heavy, but it's always swift-moving and never comes close to taking itself seriously.
Watching Toshiro slice apart all those enemies in the various battle scenes with nary a bloodstain in sight, I did find myself wishing the folks at Toho had sprung for a few squibs. But all is set right in the brilliant final swordfight, which is worth the price of admission.
Akira Kurosawa and Toshiro Mifune combined their abilities in numerous
fine movies, and while "Sanjuro", for its part, is lighter than most of
the others, it is certainly one of the most entertaining of the movies
that either of the two has made. Mifune gets a role that allows him to
get many good moments, and it's also a role that he must have enjoyed
The story is quite interesting, with many good turns and a way of keeping you guessing as to what will happen next. Mifune plays a samurai who takes it upon himself to try to save a rather hapless but nevertheless worthy clan from government conspiracy and from its own foolishness. It's a role that gives him both plenty of good lines and plenty of good action sequences. Kurosawa, of course, knows just how to get the most out of all of the material, and the story also provides some interesting psychological insights on the characters.
The settings are very good, and they are often used in creative ways in telling the story. Except for Mifune's character, most of the other characters are fairly one-dimensional, but they are believable, and they also allow plenty of room for Mifune to get the most out of each of his scenes. The result is a very enjoyable and well-crafted movie.
Leadership. Sanjuro is able to lead men because he appears confident, and
confident. His presence subjugates men, as a man's presence subjugates
We see here how a group comes to have a leader. First one man stands out
against him, the competitor for leadership, but Sanjuro's intuition and
actions put him ahead. There is a beautiful marked difference between
Sanjuro and the men. He is the lazy quiet tiger, seemingly passive yet
containing an immense power - a tightly drawn bow. The men are barking
puppies, energy spilling over, but to no good end.
Kurosawa presents a couple challenges to the viewer. THere is a terrible absurdity in the killing of all these men, for it becomes quiet clear with the symbol of the prisoner, that the average soldier is a frightened herd animal, not good or evil, but cowardly. Sanjuro recognizes this but has no choice, for he wants to live, and so must kill. Thus he must even kill the young men who he helps, when they foolishly come after him. The prisoner is won over by the old lady - so we see an almost christian ethic. In the tensions of the film one feels that the people, riled up by lies to fight for the enemy, quickly become targets of the just young men's swords - luckily it does not come to this, but one recognizes the horrible possibility and inevitability of such a struggle. Thus we are faced with a critic of war - men, scared like cattle battle under the flag of corrupt leaders, and those that may love them must kill them, if they are not to die by sword, or become slaves to tyrants.
"stupid friends are worse than enemies" For you know who your enemies are, and that they wish to destroy you.
In Sanjuro we also see the soldier, so long in battle that he is unable to live a normal life. He can not wear the house kimoto, he is to bound up in fighting - he is samuri, warrior, and he cannot escape this, much as Achilles cannot return home to Pthia. And we sense Sanjuro must whilt in the easy domestic life, for his is the road of struggle. The pleasant scent of the straw in the barn, the pretty camillias are still able to touch him, but he cannot enjoy them; he is a soldier, and therefore his sensitivities must yeild to the demands of war.
We see only one man worthy standing with Sanjuro, and that is the uncle, the chamberlain, the horseface. These to stand out as burning stars against a massive black sky - the rest is horrifying; the chaos of tyranical men and the fear crazed soldiers, their supplicants.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
...but the movie is great fun even when you know what's going to
I'd like to call it the B-side of Yojimbo, mainly because it revisits the same character that that movie is based on, Sanjuro, but in other respects as well, being it much less renown than that movie, not that it is any less good, making it sort of the movie that a real Kurosawa fan would know about. But these two pieces are mirrors of themselves. They are strategy movies in that they are artistic 'games' that keep the viewer guessing, also showing aspects of life in the form of a staged situation, and since Kurosawa and his writing collaborators were such great masterminds at this, one is immediately caught up as if he were playing himself, or at least trying to keep up with the players' moves. The movie piles up images, intrigue, mystery and suspense and resolves it all in a very cohesive, almost perfectionist way. I mean, it is hard to find mistakes here, though we know that most of it is uncanny. I think, in this sense, Kurosawa had the talent of structuring his plot negatively, precisely by way of mistake. Every single positive plot line is rebutted by the man who has the bigger picture in mind, which is the samurai Sanjuro, who has the capacity of seeing negatively, of experiencing mistake before it occurs. This renders wonderful plot construction throughout, and source of limitless inspiration, in my opinion. Sadly, this wasn't anything that someone like George Lucas, or many other people Kurosawa influenced over the years, used in their movies. If they had, the Star Wars legacy would be a complete experience, and not just a pile of special effects with a couple of decent dramatic story lines (I give Lucas that much). Sanjuro builds wonderfully and its cohesiveness is only surpassed by its cinematic artistry.
The first scenes are both beautifully staged, intelligently written, and remarkably revelatory, as we witness not only a few minutes of in-depth character construction, but also the plot structure unfolding and the general philosophy of the film taking heed. It then goes to show, through a combination of Kurosawa's staging and Mifune's acting, the omnipresence of the samurai, much in the way Luke Skywalker failed to show his when he was finally a Jedi in Episode vi of the Star Wars saga. For example, in that movie, the Jedi pushes 'bad guys' away through an omnipresent power which no one sees or feels. That in itself negates the possibility of us believing the power is actually his -the Force he called it (giving it a name, and such a redundant use of it, already weakens the whole concept) apart from the fact that most of the revelations of this 'Force' are creatively deficient. Here, the samurai confronts over 200 men in a most astonishing opening fight that lasts very little time. One of the great lines is his samurai contender's 'ceasefire', who says: 'Leave him. It'll take us too long to get rid of him'. The scene is a great battle scene, because of the character content it portrays, one which summarizes in just a few seconds how necessary and ingenious a fight can be within the framework of a story, far from being just merely a formulaic tool for suspense (Check out how he turns the back to the camera... cinematically more effective than attracting a sword through thin air). Finally, in this opening sequence, Kurosawa presents the exemplary subject of his film: a batch of rebellious dimwits, unexperienced and weak (again, in very little time this is explained to the utmost detail), who must overcome an inevitable destiny of imperial corruption. Their only strength of course is the goodness of their cause. We are about to witness the intent of the impossible: how a rebellion of just a handful of men shall try to overcome an entire 'empire'. This also reminds us of Star Wars, but sadly, again, Star Wars never makes us understand how powerful the empire is, what type of corruption it holds (what is the dark side anyways... why is it dark, just because they wear black, just because the are holding Leia prisoner? must be because the emperor is so ugly), and what qualities, strength, weaknesses, do the rebels hold? Oponents are devoid of contrast within themselves, thus that whole storyline is more or less a waste. In Sanjuro, it is central, because one is forced to acknowledge the ludicrous scenario (so present in humanity), and a very exemplary one in itself: the strength of corruption versus the weakness of decency. One severely outnumbers the other. And one is much more mischievous and astute, while goodness, as we see here, is few and far between, seems vulnerable, innocent and in many cases just plain dumb. The addition of the samurai personifies both sides and creates gorgeous shading throughout. Finally, the triumphal finale is wonderfully executed. And the final cinematic metaphors of that plight are unforgettable.
There are many things that can be analyzed here. But the reception of the thematic elements is what varies and inevitably, as in all or most film except for those we call classics, it is this that will divide opinions and make some people accept one film and not another; like one film or dislike it. So, yes, there is a possibility you'll find it uninteresting as a whole. However, what really makes this movie worthwhile for anyone (I say that as objectively as I can), even if you don't like B&W or older films is the final scene: one of the most spectacular segments I've witnessed in my life. So, maybe just for that, it is worth sitting through it.
Sanjuro is the sequel to Yojimbo. The anti-hero is once again played by
Mifune. He is a roaming "masterless samurai" after the Japanese emperor
officially disbanded the samurai. Sanjuro's only mission in life is to
survive and live by the unspoken samurai code of honor. In both films, it is
only by accident that he combat the oppressive.
The opening scene in Sanjuro was a long shot of a temple. It was followed by
a jump cut, close-up of the same temple. This is a jarring effect that is a
pattern of Kurosawa. He used this very same technique in the opening
sequence of Rashomon.
Kurosawa's superbly sharpen directorial skills are evident in this film. He
uses a narrative economy technique that lets the audience dive right into
the story without using a long draw-out exposition. The plot and characters
are explained within the first five minutes of this film.
The story begins during a samurai meeting in a house. Sanjuro interrupts this meeting. He's been listening to their conversation. The cocky Sanjuro relaxes their guard because he analyzes their situation. He predicts, and is subsequently correct, that they will be ambushed. The group prepares for their certain death. Quickly, Sanjuro devises a plan and boldly states, "trust me" to his cohorts. This excellent delivery from Mifune lets the audience know that this sequel is going to be just as fun (if not better) as Yojimbo. A hilarious character for this film is the captured guard that was spared because of the rescued woman. His role was tiny but very memorable. He was the comic relief for a few of the tense moments. Towards the end of the film, the flower signal scene is super funny. Sanjuro tricks the three goof balls into putting the flowers in the creek. The neighboring samurai rejoice with excitement. Meanwhile, the captured guard shortly joins the celebration but gets a look from the samurai and returns to the closet. This is reminiscent of the three stooges. I really love this scene.
Reoccurring Kurosawa patterns include the use of multiple film planes. An example of this is the scene in the barn. Sanjuro is lying on the wheel barrel. The camera POV is on the floor shooting upwards. The wheel barrel is the first plane, Sanjuro is the middle plane, and the other samurai with their backs against the wall are the third plane. This abstract framing adds to the film's production value. It also breaks up the predictable framing of the characters. Likewise, framing is consistent in this film as in all Kurosawa film's because all of the players are perfectly in view, no actor is excluded from the camera view. Mifune's character finally arches in this sequel because he is told "killing is a bad habit" by the rescued older lady. He is quick to change internally to her wishes. Although Sanjuro is told once again, "please don't use too much violence", Sanjuro's hand is forced. He is "forced to kill" the numerous bad guys that are guarding the three hostage samurai because of their mistrust. He is hard on himself but harder on the three samurai that he slaps. In addition, this scene is reminiscent of Yojimbo. Sanjuro is entrusted with the lives of the "enemy" but instead slaughter his real enemy. Another example of his arched character in this film occurs in the final scene. Sanjuro does not want to fight the banished samurai. Once again, Sanjuro is force into violence. His last words were, "I am just like him, he was like a sword that should have a sheath". This is a clear sign that Sanjuro does not enjoy the lifestyle of the samurai. Whereas before it seemed like he didn't mind the senseless killing. In all, Sanjuro succeeds as another excellent story by Kurosawa. It is most definitely Hollywood influenced film.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
An overwhelming proportion of the comments on Sanjuro in IMDB has been given to its comedy elements. This makes perfect sense because no other Kurosawa/Mifune corroboration has taken this all-out crack at comedy. It does not mean that sense of humour is lacking among Kurosawa's strength. Indeed, no master is truly great without a sense of humour. For example, both Hitchcock and Kurosawa like to inject a dose of their sense of humour, respectively, at the frightening and poignant junctures in their films. In Sanjuro, the amusing characteristics of the character portrayed by Mifune were not new. They were all there in Yojimbo before, but fully unleashed in Sanjuro, and some on the brink of being overused, such as the flexing of the neck and shoulder muscles, which looks like a shrug.
Indeed Kurosawa did not lose a single opportunity of making Sanjuro so much fun to watch. The nine young samurai, courageous but impulsive and inexperienced, provide excellent material and the mood here is set from the very beginning, in the scene when they are trapped in their meeting place. After Mifune (I'm using the artist's name instead of the character's for simplicity) had driven away the enemies and calls them from the hiding place below, their heads pop up in threes, twos and singly, giving it almost an animation flavour. The rescued mother and daughter is of course a pair of darlings, particularly the mother, whose interaction with Mifune is a classic yin and yang confrontation, but depicted in a most amusing way. And then we have the captured samurai who keeps popping out from the closet in which he is confined, offering his unsolicited opinion, then suddenly remembering his station in the scheme of things, crawls back inside, demurely closing the sliding door behind him. These are but a few examples that give the film a festive mood.
The DVD I watched has only Chinese subtitle. Although I can't really claim to judge the quality of the translation as I don't know Japanese, gut feel tells me that they are good compared to the garbage you often see on screens in Hong Kong these days. Still, I can't help but think that for Sanjuro, some of the fun may have been lost in the translation. Fortunately, body language and facial expression does a lot to make up for it.
There is much more in Sanjuro than just first class comedy. Kurosawa is a great master of capturing motion on the screen (as Ozu is the great master in capturing stillness on the screen). The most outstanding scene in Sanjuro demonstrating this occurs quite early in the story. After Mifune voluntarily joins the nine, they formulate the first plan: he would take three men with him to try to rescue the lord's wife and daughter while the rest would scout around for information. This is followed immediately by a series of rapidly cut shots each with a young samurai running swiftly in the street, at various directions. The whole series takes a few seconds but the momentum generated is immense.
While the tone throughout the film is light, we should not lose sight of the undercurrent continually building up between the Kurosawa and Nakadai, culminating in one of the best duel scenes in the entire film industry, if not the best. When the lord's rescued wife first meets Mifune, she comments that he is too `bright', like an unsheathed sword. At the end, Mifune says that both he and Nakadai are unsheathed swords. From the very beginning, these two recognise each other as truly worth opponents and this is reaffirmed during their encounters throughout the film. In the end, Mifune is forced into the duel reluctantly. Even Nakadai himself does not seem to particularly want it. However, within his own universe of logic, because he has been made a fool by Mifune, the only way out for him is a duel. What we have then is a duel very similar to the fast-draw type of duels in westerns, but at close range. And that is what makes a world of difference. The two men stand facing each other, within striking distance, in absolute stillness, for what seems to be an eternity (I was tempted to re-watch the DVD to measure and report the actual time but such a piece of information would take something away the beauty of the film). The absolute intensity is followed by simply brutality as the swords are unsheathed in a flash (but not so fast as to impair our visual enjoyment of the beauty of the geometry of the draws) and the abrupt eruption of blood from Nakadai's chest signifying a punctured heart (the Chinese translation of the title is `Heart piercing sword'). While good direction in a western may match the intensity, I would personally prefer the visual beauty of the silent, deadly draw of the sword to the loud cracking of the gun.
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