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SANJURO (Tsubaki Sanjûrô)(director/writer: Akira Kurosawa; screenwriters: from the novel Peaceful Days by Shugoro Yamamoto/Hideo Oguni/Ryuzo Kikushima; cinematographers: Fukuzo Koizumi/Takao Saitô; editor: Akira Kurosawa; music: Masaru Satô; cast: Toshiro Mifune (Sanjuro), Tatsuya Nakadai (Muroto), Takashi Shimura (Kurofuji), Yuzo Kayama (Iori Izaka), Masao Shimizu (Kikui), Reiko Dan (Chamberlain’s daughter), Yunosuke Ito (Mutsuta, the chamberlain), Kamatari Fujiwara (Takebayashi), Takako Irie (Chamberlain’s wife); Runtime: 96; MPAA Rating: NR; producers: Ryuzo Kikushima/Tomoyuki Tanaka; Embassy Home Entertainment; 1962-Japan-in Japanese with English subtitles)
“Mifune’s smashing performance is the force that makes it all work so well.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

This is one of Akira Kurosawa’s (“Red Beard”/”Throne of Blood”) slightest but most enjoyable samurai films; it’s made in black-and-white ‘Scope. His producers forced him to make a follow up to Yojimbo and he came up with this comedy, a near spoof of the genre, but in the climax has an action-packed battle filled with great sword-play and ends with a duel giving rise to a fountain of gushing blood pouring out of the loser. It has Toshiro Mifune as the heroic samurai, Sanjuro, kill off at least 30 samurais in just one fight scene.

It’s set in mid-19th-century Japan. The story line has gruff, loner, disheveled, wanderer samurai, Sanjuro, sleeping in a deserted shrine and overhearing the plight of nine inept samurais he never met before but, out of pity, stopping them from being led into a trap. It’s soon learned that their leader Iori Izaka’ (Yuzo Kayama) uncle, the chamberlain (Takako Irie) of the powerful clan, was snatched by a corrupt war lord named Kikui (Masao Shimizu) to cover up his graft. Sanjuro’s expert swordsmanship stops an attack on the shrine by Kikui’s warriors. Through some of Sanjuro’s tricks the nine samurais are able to free the chamberlain’s wife (Takako Irie) and daughter (Reiko Dan) from the villa of Kurofuji (Takashi Shimura), one of the war lord’s allies, to their residence next door. The two genteel ladies of good character insist on no bloodshed being spilled in the battle, if possible. The chamberlain’s wife tells Sannjuro with a straight face that “Killing people at the slightest excuse is a bad habit, you know.”

Sanjuro is able to outwit Kikui’s chief warrior, Muroto (Tatsuya Nakadai), and leads the army of warriors on a wild goose chase so the nine men can free the chamberlain. By the conclusion you can’t tell the difference between Yojimbo and Sanjuro, as the Mifune character waves goodbye to those he helped and walks off into the sunset heroic and alone.

Kurosawa plays it mostly for laughs, but when the action kicks in the sword fighting is brutal and memorable. Mifune’s smashing performance is the force that makes it all work so well.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”