director Akira Kurosawa
Sanjuro is Akira Kurosawa’s sequel to his great 1961 movie, Yojimbo, with Toshiro Mifune more or less reprising his role as the masterless but masterful samurai, finding himself in complex political situations and turning things on their heads. And then splitting some heads of some bad guys.
Sanjuro features a more contrived plot, with Sanjuro showing up amid a group of young would-be samurai who are about to get embroiled in a political fiasco. They don’t size up their situation right, initially planning to attack the more noble lord, while really getting set up by the villainous one. By now, Sanjuro can size up a town of characters and easily make out who is good and who deserves to die. He winds up protecting the young men and leading them in their endeavors.
The film’s tone features perhaps a bit more comedy than in Yojimbo, but lacks the darker seriousness that runs through the 1961 masterpiece. Some of it is quite good, like the captured bad guy who turns out to be more tuned in and good than some of the original gang. Some a little less so, in the mother and daughter aristocrats who are naive but naive like a fox, winding up offering wisdom against the violence and killing.
The film does seem to take a different stance on the killings, responding to the advice of the older woman. Sanjuro reconsiders his use of violence, sparing the aforementioned captive, and ultimately trying to bring about a resolution without the bloodshed. It’s all for naught in the end, with actually a rather punctuated and gushing moment of bloody violence. The ending seems to take this pacifist forced again into violence a bit more forcefully. But since Kurosawa never brought him back himself, one can only speculate what became of him.
The character of Sanjuro was one more highly associated with Mifune, as iconic as any in Japanese cinema. But the movie Sanjuro is the lesser follow-up to its brilliant predecessor.