Written by: Ron Cotton on July 24th, 2004
Theatrical Release Date: Japan, January 1st, 1962
Director: Akira Kurosawa
Writers: Akira Kurosawa, Ryuzo Kikushima, Hideo Oguni, Shugoro Yamamoto
Cast: Toshirô Mifune, Tatsuya Nakadai, Keiju Kobayashi,Yuzo Kayama
DVD Released: September 21st, 1999
Approximate Running Time: 96 minutes
Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1 Non-Anamorphic Widescreen
Sound: Dolby Digital Mono
DVD Release: Criterion
Region Coding: Region 1 NTSC
Retail Price: $29.95
“I’m 30 years old, going on 40.” — Sanjuro
After Akira Kurosawa’s production of Seven Samurai, Chambara (historical action) films flooded Asian cinema. Seven Samurai became translated as The Magnificent Seven and Yojimbo, a story of a freelance samurai using both sides against each other, which would Become the basis for Leone’s A Fistful of Dollars. Yojimbo upped the violence by having a single sword stroke come down upon an opponent and endless blood spraying from his quivering body. Akira revisited Yojimbo with a sequel, Sanjuro, another movie staring Toshiro Mifune.
Izaka, the leader of a youthful group of Samurai, discusses the corruption during the lord’s absence to his compatriots. Izaka relates to the other samurai of his pleading to both his uncle the unhelpful Chamberlain and the supporting Superintendent. Sanjuro, sleeping within the building overhears the discussion and exclaims how Izaka has the wrong impression. Sanjuro deducts that the superintendent is the cause of all the corruption, and Izaka has brought it to his attention. Both the Chamberlain and Izaka’s group of samurai are now in grave danger.
Sanjuro comes to their aid, assisting the group to retrieve the wife and daughter of the Chamberlain, who was also being held hostage. This was done in an effort to force the Chamberlain to write false confession of being the cause of corruption and commit Harikiri. The wife’s confident that it will never come to this. Unable to pinpoint where the chamberlain is being held hostage, the youthful samurai again make the mistake of almost falling into a trap. Sanjuro voices his opinion as to what buffoons the naive samurai are. Sanjuro joins Muroto, the superintendent’s right hand man, who noted Sanjuro’s prowess. The youthful samurai balk about Sanjuro’s intentions. Is Sanjuro as noble as he seems or is he playing both sides of the field again?
The sequel has a different dynamic than the first. This movie isn’t quite what you’d expect from Kurosawa or as a sequel to Yojimbo. Some elements are repeated from the first such as Sanjuro’s reluctance to state his real name and Sanjuro’s weak human qualities that he himself wouldn’t want to expose through his tough exterior. Yet some are refreshing, such as Sanjuro participating in a tale as a group rather than a loner. The story wasn’t as well thought out as the first. But, it has its own merits. Sanjuro when compared to the first lacks the luster, discovery, and the numerous plot twists.
Sanjuro is presented in its original theatrical aspect ratio of 2.35:1. This new digital transfer was created from a new 35mm print. This transfer was softer than Yojimbo’s transfer. The sound was created from an optical print track. Extras include the theatrical trailer and color bars to set your television optimum for this film. It’s very unfortunate that Criterion doesn’t include much in the way of extras. Other releases get its full glory, but Kurosawa DVD’s by Criterion in comparison are minimalist.
Unfortunately, Sanjuro doesn’t have the flair that Yojimbo had. Don’t let this pass your radar; however, you’ll discover more about Sanjuro’s character. Sanjuro is ideal for those who didn’t get enough of Yojimbo and yearning for a change in pace.