Few films have the international impact on cinema that Akira Kurosawa’s Yojimbo has had. Kurosawa’s films would use cultural narratives that were easily transferred into other countries and different genres, which was also what Kurosawa himself was actually doing within his films. In Ran, Kurosawa uses William Shakespeare’s “King Lear” and samurai legends, and Yojimbo utilizes Dashiell Hammett’s 1920s gangster novel into a samurai film with a Western style. Somehow this entire complex genre bending and twisting results in a simple and profoundly unique film, and one that would inspire a Spaghetti western remake and
Hollywood action-western adaptation. In truth, the impact of this film reaches far further than the films claiming to be remakes.
The story may be universal, but it also has a special significance in the time and place of
. The opening titles inform us that it is just after 1860, and the collapse of the Tokugawa Dynasty resulted in samurai’s wandering unemployed across the countryside. When Sergio Leone adapted this film, Clint Eastwood’s popular ‘Man with No Name” character was created; in Yojimbo the samurai refers to himself by age and the nearby mulberry field. In Sanjuro, a film which may as well be called a sequel to Yojimbo, Toshiro Mifune reprises the role of the untraditional samurai. In Yojimbo, he at first appears to be an anti-hero. Japan
The samurai enters a dusty town, greeted by a dog carrying a severed hand. This is the first sign to the samurai that he is headed in the right direction. Entering the town, he doesn’t find the typical western scenario; a group of good guys being harassed by bad guys. Instead he finds a town comprised nearly entirely of unlikable characters. Though there are a few merchants still struggling to survive in a town where only the casket-maker is still getting customers, the citizens are mostly comprised of gang members. There are two large gangs fighting against each other over the silk business in town. They are so busy fighting that neither side is working.
The samurai sees the potential to make a profit of the villains, who are far too quick to believe he has stuck with the ideals of the past which would require him to remain loyal above all else. Instead, he pits the two gangs against each other, showing his true nature when an innocent life finally does become endangered. One of the gang brings a new challenge with the return of traveling Unosuke (Tatsuya Nakadai), who carries a revolver under his kimono. The arrival of the town’s first fire-arm changes the dynamic of the battle between the two gangs, and also presents a challenge of changing times to the samurai.
The Blu-ray release of the landmark classic has been given a fitting treatment. The high definition transfer has uncompressed monaural soundtrack, as well as an optional DTS-HD 3.0 presentation. The film comes with an audio commentary by film historian Stephen Prince, as well as a 45-minute section from the Toho Masterworks series on Kurosawa. There is also a still gallery and a booklet with comments from the cast and crew, including Kurosawa, and an essay by film scholar Alexander Sesonske.
Though there are no real connections in the storyline, Sanjuro is often considered a sequel to the landmark classic, Yojimbo. Director Akira Kurosawa has many samurai films which are considered groundbreaking and legendary, and Sanjuro is a comical little masterpiece often forgotten. Toshiro Mifune returns to the role of the wandering samurai, who previously only exposed his noble nature when it was absolutely necessary. Previous he gave a name which essentially meant 30-year-old mulberry field, and this time he is a 30-year-old camellia. This is essentially giving him a nameless quality, which inspired the “man with no name” character from Sergio Leone’s Clint Eastwood spaghetti westerns.
The screenplay for Sanjuro was originally a different type of samurai film, one in which the protagonist wasn’t particularly good with a sword but was able to use his intellect to outmatch the villains. With the success of Yojimbo more sword-fighting was included and the character was switched to match the haphazard manner of Mifune’s samurai.
In this misadventure with the uncommon traveling samurai, he begins by offering his help out of kindness, though he has a rude way of doing this. Sanjuro has often been considered a prequel, if only because of the thematic shift in the reliance on custom and ritual. The traveling samurai has no need for these things any longer, though he is still a good person that has much to teach the rigid young samurai clan he stumbles into one night. When he overhears them analyzing the situation of their clan, they nearly make a fatal mistake in who they trust. Showing them no respect, the samurai Sanjuro tells them they are wrong. Simply by hearing the details of the story, he is able to find the truth.
After saving the young samurai clan once, Sanjuro manages to get pulled into making certain that they stay safe. He is able to see several steps ahead, anticipating future dangers. When the young samurai’s prove to be continuously unreliable because of their assumptions based on image, Sanjuro remains with them to help save the clan from an evil plot.
The Blu-ray release of the landmark classic has been given a fitting treatment. The high definition transfer has uncompressed monaural soundtrack, as well as an optional DTS-HD 3.0 presentation. The film comes with an audio commentary by film historian Stephen Prince, as well as a 45-minute section from the Toho Masterworks series on Kurosawa. There is also a still gallery and a booklet with comments from the cast and crew, including Kurosawa, and an essay by film critic Michael Sragow.