Thursday, 15 September 2016
This was originally conceived as a standalone film but after the smash success of Yojimbo, the script was re-worked to make the antihero from that movie also be the protagonist of this one. No doubt it helped that Toshiro Mifune was on-board to play lead again anyway.
What we have here once more is a wandering samurai finding himself in a fight between two factions. This time, however, there is a moral difference between the opposing side. The smaller, weaker group are attempting to expose corruption among their clan elders while their stronger opponents are ... well, those self-same clan elders.
So with the previous film's "playing both sides against the other" motif not an option this time, we get a more generally straightforward story. Which is not to say that Mifune's character isn't above some duplicitous strategies, because he certainly isn't.
Overall, I don't think this is quite the classic that Yojimbo was. The supporting characters are a little thin and there are a couple too many fortunate coincidences in the plot.
Still, there's a lot to like about Sanjuro. It's well shot, the script is mostly solid (and surprisingly humorous at times), and I very much enjoyed that the villains are given chances to demonstrate some smarts before their inevitable defeat. I also like the thread of anti-violent commentary running through things. While there are certainly several fight scenes involving Mifune, the film offers the theorem "the best swords are the ones that are kept in their scabbards", and he enters each with more reluctance than the last. I've seen other action films that included "violence is bad, okay?" dialogue in them, but they've rarely felt sincere. Sanjuro does.