Originally Written and Posted at Epinions.com on 12/8/07 w/ Additional Edits.
Directed by Akira Kurosawa with a script he co-wrote with Ryuzo Kikushima and Hideo Oguni, Sanjuro is the story of a samurai warrior who helps a group of young, hapless samurai warriors rescue their master from a rival. The film is a continuing exploration of the character's anti-hero status from Yojimbo while teaching young men about honor and such as well as the role of samurai as he's once again played by Toshiro Mifune. Also starring Tatsuya Nakadai, Keiju Kobayashi, and Yuzo Kayama with appearances from Takashi Shimura and Yunosuke Ito. Sanjuro is an entertaining film from Akira Kurosawa and company.
When a Chamberlain (Yunosuke Ito) has been kidnapped in a feud against a superintendent over a false crime, a group of young, hapless samurai warriors led by Iori (Yuzo Kayama) try to figure out what to do where they find a samurai named Sanjuro sleeping in their home. The old, grizzled warrior hears their plans and is convinced that it won't work at all. When the superintendent known as Kikui (Masao Shizmu) arrives with his army, the young warriors are scared only until Sanjuro managed to defeat some in front of the Kikui. With the superintendent's army now retreating as they take care of the Chamberlain at the home of friend Kurofuji (Takashi Shimura), the young warriors try to plan to retrieve the Chamberlain, who is at Kurofuji's home along with his wife (Takako Irie) and daughter (Reiko Dan).
Realizing that Kikui has a smart warrior named Muroto (Tatsuya Nakadai) who is leading the army, Sanjuro is aware that plans has to be made to save the Chamberlain's wife and daughter. When the plan succeeds along with a hostage (Keiju Kobayashi), they learn about the superintendent's plan to make the Chamberlain sign a confession. With Sanjuro's patience at the incompetence of Iori and his men, he decides to join Kikui, where his real intention is to become a spy. With Iori and a few of his men tried to find out what's going on, they got captured as Sanjuro plays a game of wits against Muroto. After killing some more samurai and pretending to have been attacked, he finds where the Chamberlain is but the plan is too risky. With a suggestion from the Chamberlain's wife about camellias, Sanjuro concocts a plan that could make or break everything he and his young warriors work for.
While the character of Sanjuro is essentially an anti-hero with no moral justification, in this film, there is a bit of moral justification when he's dealing with the idea of killing as he is confronted somewhat by the Chamberlain's wife. It's noteworthy in the film's ending that is probably the most memorable scene of the entire film. While it's no doubt Sanjuro is a fine film, it lacks the psychological tone of its predecessor Yojimbo and is replaced more with humor. While the humor works, it does make the film a bit disjointed with its script. Particularly in the lack of development in Iori and his warriors who seem eager to fight but don't have a gift of strategy or the idea of honor that Sanjuro has. Even in the end, they still don't understand Sanjuro's role following the climatic event involving the Chamberlain.
While the script is excellent for the most part, Kurosawa's direction is still intoxicating from his presentation of tension and theatrical-like feel in the acting. While some of the humor works to convey the young samurai's immaturity, it's the drama and action that really gets exciting. The film in some ways is a bit more accessible than Yojimbo in its fight scenes and humor. Yet, it lacks the cohesiveness of Yojimbo. Still, with Kurosawa's stylish editing and intense direction with a look that's darker and eerie, Kurosawa definitely has a tone that is dark and more in the tradition of samurai films. Overall, despite the film's flaws, Kurosawa's solid direction keeps it from being boring.
Cinematographers Fukuzo Koizumi and Takao Saito do amazing work in the film's black-and-white presentation, notably the night-time exterior sequences with very little light in those scenes to convey the sense of tension and action in the Kurofuji's home that is extremely intoxicating in every frame. The interior sequences are also brilliant for its compositions and set-ups where it plays up to the film's theatrical style. Longtime production designer Yoshiro Muraki does great work in the film's look, notably the homes of the Chamberlain that is in traditional, 19th Century Japanese homes as well as the exterior sequences that includes wonderful camellias in those exterior settings. Sound recordists Wataru Konuma and Hisashi Shimonaga do great work in capturing the film's tension and fight sequences to convey the sense of action.
Longtime music composer Masaru Sato does an amazing job with the film's score filled with layers of percussions and traditional Japanese string instruments undercut with a great orchestral score. Sato's score also has a great theme that is comical in some aspects to the film's title character while some of the music is played to convey the sense of action and tension as Sato's score is amazingly brilliant.
The film's cast is excellent in a lot of respects with performances from Akira Kubo, Kenzo Matsui, Hiroshi Tachikawa, Yoshio Tsuchiya, Kunie Tanaka, Tatsuyoshi Ehara, and Tatsushiko Hari as the samurai warriors who try and plan to rescue the Chamberlain though they're not entirely memorable individually. The smaller performances of Kurosawa regulars Takashi Shimura as Kurofuji and Yunosuke Ito as the Chamberlain are great in their respective roles. Takako Irie is excellent as the Chamberlain's sympathetic, moralistic wife who might not be very intelligent but has a good heart while Reiko Dan is good as the daughter who has a love for camellias. Masao Shizmu is superb as the corrupt Kikui while Keiju Kobayashi is funny as the hostage who tries to help the samurai warriors while unwittingly joins in their little celebrations. Yuzo Kayama is excellent as the naive Iori, a young samurai who thinks he knows what to do but his immaturity and inexperience shows his flaws as he is a memorable and interesting character in the film.
Kurosawa mainstay Tatsuya Nakadai is brilliant as the dark but intelligent Muroto who is an equal to Sanjuro in many respects as a samurai who has a gift for strategy while often telling his superiors what they should do and such. Nakadai's performance is very memorable that is almost as good as his previous role in Yojimbo as another equal of Sanjuro. Toshiro Mifune gives another magnificent performance as the grizzled Sanjuro with his cynical viewpoint and his skills as a warrior. Unlike his previous performance in Yojimbo as the same character, there's a bit of morality to his role when he deals with killing as if he seems tired of being a samurai while trying to teach the young men about honor and such. Mifune's performance is just brilliant through and through as he carries the film with such ease and humor while showing that he is one of cinema's quintessential badasses.
While Sanjuro doesn't quite rank with several of Akira Kurosawa's films including Yojimbo, it's still a must-see film from the legendary auteur with another winning performance from Toshiro Mifune in the title role. This film is no doubt a more entertaining feature than its predecessor while it's one of the director's more accessible films. It's definitely one of the director's essential films among his fans yet with Yojimbo, it would make a very interesting double-feature from the revered auteur. In the end, for a film that has lots of violence, humor, and entertaining values, Sanjuro is the film to see.
Akira Kurosawa Films: (Sanshiro Sugata) - (The Most Beautiful) - (Sanshiro Sugata Part II) - (The Men Who Tread on the Tiger's Tail) - No Regrets on Our Youth - (One Wonderful Sunday) - Drunken Angel - (The Quiet Duel) - Stray Dog - Scandal (1950 film) - Rashomon - The Idiot (1951 film) - Ikiru - The Seven Samurai - (I Live in Fear) - Throne of Blood - (The Lower Depths (1957 film)) - The Hidden Fortress - The Bad Sleep Well - Yojimbo - High and Low - Red Beard - Dodesukaden - Dersu Uzala - Kagemusha - Ran - Dreams (1990 film) - (Rhapsody in August) - (Madadayo)
© thevoid99 2012