Sanjuro (1962)

Directed by Akira Kurosawa
Written by Ryuzo Kikushima, Hideo Oguni & Akira Kurosawa

Akira Kurosawa is without a doubt the most highly acclaimed Japanese director of all time, and arguably the most highly acclaimed non-English language director of all time. He made a number of classic films, mostly in close concert with his team of actors headed by the marvelous Toshiro Mifune. Kurosawa’s films spanned the gambit, but many of his most famous compositions were samurai films, including his most famous Seven Samurai, which was remade in America as a western, The Magnificent Seven. Sanjuro is not as epic as Seven Samurai, and not as heralded, but it remains a Kurosawa classic and a samurai film.

A group of young and ambitious clansman in a small Japanese village have discovered the evil corruption of the superintendent and his closest collaborators. The corruption hits close to home as the group leader’s uncle has been captured and framed for the evils committed by the superintendent. And when news of their good intentions reaches the superintendent, it comes upon a mystery samurai (Toshiro Mifune) to save the naive necks of the young and ambitious clansman, retrieve the innocent uncle, and take down the evil corruption which persists within the village.

I must admit that despite the many famous films and reputation of Kurosawa, I have only witnessed two of his films, Seven Samurai and Rashoman. But one of the main constants in those films was actor Toshiro Mifune, and he appears her again in magnificent form. I have to also admit that I am not a very good judge of foreign language actors because I have to read the dialogue and then look up and watch the acting, so I know I miss some things, especially in the translation. But never before have I been so sure of a great actor than I have with Mifune, and it was really this film that did it. He has such a fun and even cocky air about him that is really entertaining, and definitely fits with the character he is playing, the strange, mysterious, but good-hearted samurai Tsubaki Sanjuro.

Other than Mifune, however, I did not have much to be extremely engaged by. I know this will be taken the wrong way, so just hear me out. The good scenes, which includes the marvelous opening scene are so controlled by Mifune that it is hard to imagine what this film would have been without him. Sure the writing aids the suspense and action and yes, Kurosawa shows smart direction, but I honestly had a hard time getting into this one. Well made film? Yes. Good acting? Absolutely? And even the scenario was interesting, but there seemed to be something missing in the narrative and I am sorry to admit it, but I can’t quite figure out what.

I certainly don’t regret sitting down to watch this film, as there is enough to satiate, but it is also a film that I will probably not revisit. The first two Kurosawa films amazed me with their craft and this film does not detract from that, but it also does not seem to add anything. Rashoman was an amazing film told in a very interesting and enlightening way. The cinematography of his films is spectacular as well, and Sanjuro has those things, but in such lower doses that it comes in as disappointing and somewhat average. However, I am still immensely looking forward to getting to more of Kurosawa’s great films.

Adam Kuhn

Adam Kuhn was born and raised in Columbus, Ohio, where he attended Saint Charles Preparatory School. He studied History at the University of Cincinnati, where he was a contributor of The News Record, the twice-weekly, independent student news organization. He has been writing film reviews and blogging since 2009.

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