Take a Drink: whenever Sanjuro lays down some truth
Take a Drink: whenever somebody’s way too trusting
Take a Drink: for bitchslaps
Take a Drink: every time Sanjuro asks for, or drinks sake
Do a Shot: when he meets his match in the cool composure department
By: Henry J. Fromage (Two Beers) –
Last week we looked at Yojimbo, a film so badass that it propelled its character into the script of Akira Kurosawa’s next film, Sanjuro, even though the book he was adapting was tragically bereft of wry, hardass lone samurai characters. Thankfully, they found room for one.
I’d be fine with a little Toshiro Mifune in every movie.
In Sanjuro, Mifune’s self-titled samurai stumbles upon a group of retainers about to stumble into a trap and reluctantly saves their bacon. From there, his help embroils him, and is sword, deeper and deeper into a power struggle between a corrupt superintendent and the upstanding lord chamberlain he’s taken captive.
While Yojimbo felt very much like a translation of the lone gunslinger myths to a Japanese setting, and as such as a much more timeless, iconic feel. Sanjuro is in many ways a step forward for Kurosawa, though, with a more involved plot full of authentic Japanese detail and a lot more character development of its protagonist. Here we get more insight into what makes Sanjuro tick, as Mifune is able to show the emotion coursing under his tough exterior- his regrets and shame at living by the sword, and how this toughness and his wry wit is anything but cynical.
Meet the real don’t give a shit badass in Sanjuro
Suffice it to say, Mifune is better than ever in the film, dramatically, comically, and physically, as his swordfighting technique was apparently good enough to be used as an example in a kendo textbook. Filmmaking-wise, Kurosawa focuses his famed wide-angle compositions on the interiors and exteriors of traditional Japanese buildings more here, producing a more constrained, ordered atmosphere than in Yojimbo and accentuating how much not of this world Sanjuro really is. He also executes some surgical, spectacular pans that film schools will be singing the praises of a hundred years from now.
Film schools are weird like that.
While the plot has more meat on its bones than Yojimbo, it’s also largely predicated on everyone (male, which is cool to see) being not just dumber than Sanjuro, but dumb in general. Pretty much everyone takes this unshaven stranger with lethal skills at his word, which doesn’t seem like a good strategy for holding onto power, or your life, for long.
Before this rewatch, if you asked me whether I liked Yojimbo or Sanjuro better I would choose the former hands down. Now, I’m not so sure.