Sanjuro (1962)

“You’re too sharp. That’s your trouble. You’re like a drawn sword. Sharp, naked without a sheath. You cut well. But good swords are kept in their sheaths.”

‘Sanjuro’, directed by Akira Kurosawa in 1962, is a spiritual sequel to the director’s 1961 movie ‘Yojimbo’. Toshiro Mifune plays a charismatic ronin who comes to the aid of nine samurai who are facing political corruption in their village. As with ‘Yojimbo’, this film feels like a condensed version of ‘The Seven Samurai’ with Mifune acting as the professional killer, but this film also includes a strong vein of humour. The samurai are played incompetently for laughs, whilst the camera regularly returns to Mifune’s baffled and frustrated face. This is a Kurosawa movie, so visually it is stunning and the action sequences are kinetic and tightly filmed. The characters are also perfectly defined, often through the plot but mostly through the way they are framed. Highlights are the scenes with Mifune ‘leading’ the samurai, but also small moments stand out: the shot of camellia blossom turning a stream white as a signal for the samurai to attack for example is far more beautiful than is needed in what is essentially an action comedy. Similarly, the final showdown between Mifune’s character and the corrupt superintendant, Hanbei, is a powerful moment, played out like a western duel but with swords instead of guns. The two characters stand close to each other and at an undisclosed signal, Mifune strikes releasing a startling fountain of blood. As Hanbei lies dying on the floor, his blood is reminiscent of the camellias filling the stream.

Would I recommend it? Yes – and the obvious double bill is with ‘Yojimbo’, but you might want to watch ‘The Seven Samurai’ as well – if you have time.

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