Sanjuro (1962) Movie Review

Sanjuro is the sequel to Akira Kurosawa’s Yojimbo, and returns star Toshiro Mifune as the title character. In this installment, sword-for-hire Sanjuro stumbles into more trouble — or rather, trouble comes to the shack he’s currently crashing for the night.

As always, Toshiro Mifune delivers an affable, hilarious and endearing performance as a cynical ronin (masterless samurai) who just happens to be bunking in an abandoned building one night when 9 idealistic young men meets to discuss their problem. Being the nosy kind, and one always looking for an angle, Sanjuro offers the young men advice and ends up saving their lives when thugs show up to ambush them.

Hey, someone’s got to do it.

Sanjuro is a good sequel to Yojimbo, but it lacks somewhat in the action category. The movie itself is almost bloodless, and Sanjuro rarely draws his sword except for a couple of scenes, including a final showdown with the movie’s main villain, a fellow ronin-for-hire name Muroto (Tatsuya Nakadai).

The Muroto character and Sanjuro feels kinship, since both men are surviving on their skills with a sword and really have no home or destination to speak off. In another time and place, they would be buddies, and they recognize themselves in each other. Alas, they are working for different employers, and it’s inevitable that their swords must clash. Such is the life of a sword-for-hire.

Like all Akira Kurosawa movies centered on the feudal period in Japan, Sanjuro is heavy on personal and clan politics. Here, the 9 idealistic young men are seeking to end corruption within their clan, but faces trouble because the people perpetrating the corruption has a lot more men and a lot more smarts. That is, until Sanjuro shows up to upset the balance of power, much as he did in Yojimbo.

Sanjuro clocks in at just under 2 hours. Seven Samurai, Kurosawa’s masterful classic, came in at just under 3 hours, and many of Akira Kurosawa’s other movies are about that same length. Sanjuro’s main draw is its lead. Mifune gives his loner character enough charm, charisma, and shaman-like wisdom that he defies his character’s unkempt appearance. The man is more than meets the eye, like the situation that he finds himself in.

Even as Sanjuro struggles to keep the 9 hapless young men from getting themselves killed, you get the feeling that he’s having the time of his life. Sure, the odds are against him, and he has absolutely no stake in the proceedings, but you get the feeling that he wouldn’t rather be anywhere else, or doing anything else.

Akira Kurosawa (director)
CAST: Toshiro Mifune …. Sanjuro Tsubaki
Tatsuya Nakadai …. Hanbei Muroto

Buy Sanjuro on DVD