As I will be doing a few times in 1962 I am moving off-list to review movies that should have been included. This, the first one, is Akira Kurosawa’s “Sanjuro”.
“Sanjuro” is the sequel to “Yojimbo”, which I reviewed off-list for 1961. It is again a strong movie, but to put it bluntly, not up there with “Yojimbo”. It does all the right things and on its own I love it, but the problem here is that is it a sequel and as such suffers from some of the usual problems with sequels. First and foremost that Yojimbo is a damn good movie and very difficult to match. It simply pales in comparison. Secondly, it is a bit too obvious that with Toshiro Mifune’s character, the ronin Sanjuro, Kurosawa had found a winning formula that had to be explored/milked for what it was worth. That always leaves me with a bitter taste.
Having said that, there is no doubt that “Sanjuro” is a great movie. I did have a great time watching it, even if I expected more.
While the ronin character is the same, the plotline is a bit different from “Yojimbo”. This time Sanjuro walks into a feud between a decent chamberlain and a corrupt superintendent. Not two groups of warring gangsters, but a good side and a bad side. The chamberlain’s supporters have been complaining about corruption and in the process brought the chamberlain’s life in danger. Sanjuro now joins the supporters in their effort to free the chamberlain and get back at the corrupt superintendent Kikui (Masao Shimizu).
Trouble is, these supporters are complete clowns. They may be samurai with top-knots and swords and everything, but they act like confused geese. Without Sanjuro they would have been completely lost. When they act on their own advice they get in trouble, but when they follow Sanjuro’s advice they accomplish remarkable things.
Sanjuro is the same lonely ronin from “Yojimbo”. Crude, impolite, but with his heart in the right place. Oh, and a totally awesome swordsman. The main difference from “Yojimbo” is that Sanjuro is now more concerned with preventing death rather than causing death, even among the bad guys. Not that it really stops him when it is necessary, he still kills with lightning speed, but with a regret that he did not have in “Yojimbo”.
It is also clear that “Sanjuro” is a lighter movie than the dark “Yojimbo”. A movie between good and bad guys have one side pegged as the winners from the beginning. It is never really brought in doubt. When Sanjuro gets in trouble it is never serious trouble and there are a number of places where we are encouraged to laugh, especially of the nine clowns Sanjuro is helping.
The movie works, it is funny when it wants to be and dramatic when it aims in that direction, but I guess I miss that darkness and gritty ambience that “Yojimbo” had. You could still laugh at “Yojimbo”, but it was a more cynical laugh, a bitter laugh. In “Sanjuro” there is no bitterness left, instead you laugh at them clowning around. However I have to give it that the ending is the most awesome one I have seen in year. If you have not seen it I will not ruin it, only say that it is spectacular.
I hope I have not given the impression that “Sanjuro” was a poor movie, because it is not. It just had some pretty big shoes to fill and I would happily watch it again. After revisiting “Yojimbo, that is.