1962 film. Directed by Akira Kurosawa. Written by Akira Kurosawa, Ryuzo Kikushima, and Hideo Oguni. Based on the novel PEACEFUL DAYS by Shugoro Yamamoto, and material created by Akira Kurosawa and Ryuzo Kikushima.
- The 1961 film YOJIMBO.
Worried about a vein of corruption in the leadership of their clan, a group of nine young samurai meet and discuss their attempts to warn trusted superiors. Unfortunately, they naively put their faith in Kikui, the secret ringleader of the corruption, and he staged this very meeting so the samurai would fall victim to his quietly surrounding forces.
Thankfully for the samurai, the temple in which they meet houses another guest: the dishevelled, wandering ronin Sanjuro (Toshiro Mifune). With a scratch of his stubbled chin, the leer of his tired gaze, and the barking of the word "Idiot!", he's on the case, helping the samurai to escape and leading them in their quest to prevent the overthrow of a genuinely good leader.
Let me start off by saying what I don't like.
A) the villains were pretty bleh, especially when compared to the colorful batch of characters in YOJIMBO. Even with great Kurosawa vets like Masao Shimizu, Tatsuya Nakadai, Kamatari Fujiwara, and Takashi Shimura, they just didn't have any qualities that made them particularly memorable.
And B) after a rip-snorting opening, the first half felt a little slow at times, the good stuff occasionally dragging over too much focus on politics and a tired joke about a sweet little old woman who wishes these boys wouldn't kill so many people. After that, though, things really pick up for a second half filled with clever intrigue, some impressive scale, solid action, and a surprising amount of screwball antics.
That right there is the biggest surprise of this film, its humor. While the bits with the little old lady don't work, there's a great recurring gag about a helpful enemy stored in a closet, the wonderful score is like a leisurely, tooting stroll, and the nine samurai themselves are just hilarious. Not only does their clean-cut naivete beautifully clash with the tattered, world-weary knowledge of Sanjuro, but I love how Kurosawa often paints them as a collective mind, moving with such uniformity that they're berated for acting like a centipede.
Toshiro Mifune is, once again, brilliant as Sanjuro. Just as he did in YOJIMBO, he uses his brains and sly manipulation to forward his goals, only resorting to blunt violence when absolutely necessary. Here, though, is where we get my third and final qualm with the film. My aforementioned problem with the little old woman's complaints against violence was mostly because Sanjuro immediately took them to heart, starting an underdeveloped meditation on killing. Instead of building an amusing contrast between the two characters that would leave a nice air of ambiguity hanging over the issue, Kurosawa seems to declare, especially with his surprise ending, that all violence is bad, which I found a little hollow and one-sided.
That said, I still very much enjoyed this film. Mifune was great, Kurosawa handled his camera and editing like the pro he was, the story was exciting, engaging, and funny as hell. What more do I need?
Now all I can do is regret that the relationship between Kurosawa and Mifune tore apart after just two more movies, because I could definitely picture them bringing out the character of Sanjuro at least one or two more times had the partnership continued.
For more information about the film, visit its IMDB and Wikipedia pages. The film is available as a special edition DVD which can be perchased alone or packaged with YOJIMBO, as a bare-bones DVD in a boxset of 25 Kurosawa films, or as a special edition Blu-Ray which can also be perchased alone or packaged with YOJIMBO.