Sanjuro (1962): Kurosawa’s Sequel to Yojimbo, Starring Toshiro Mifune

Akira Kurosawa directed Sanjuro, a jidaigeki sequel to his 1961 better known film Yojimbo, starring Toshiro Mifune.

A loose adaptation of the Shūgorō Yamamoto novel Hibi Heian, the script was altered to include Mifune’s lead character in Yojimbo.  The dominant charismatic performance of Mifune made the film enjoyable on its own merits, with a later generation of critics pointing out its differences from the netter known Yojimbo.

The Premise:

Nine young samurai believe that the lord chamberlain, Mutsuta, is corrupt after he tore up their petition against fraud at court.  As they meet secretly to discuss this at a shrine, a rōnin cautions them against trusting the superintendent.

When the samurai get to Mutsuta’s house, the chamberlain has been abducted and his wife and daughter are held prisoners. Following the rōnin’s suggestion, a servant from the house gets the guards drunk, which enable the samurai to free the women.

When Mutsuta’s wife asks the rōnin for his name, he looks out of the window and says it is Tsubaki Sanjūrō, literally “thirty-years-old camellia.” The lady criticizes ‘Sanjuro’ for killing and insists that “the best sword is kept in its sheath.”

Unlike Yojimbo, which was set in a border town where the hero deals with local thugs, in Sanjuro the action revolves around a Japanese feudal struggle in a clan fortress town. Hanbei, Sanjuro’s main opponent, is much like himself, an outsider, albeit motivated by different reasons.

Sanjuro is also laced humor, which derives from the differences between the skilled hero and his rather inept young allies.

Spoiler Alert:

The story ends with a ferocious duel between Sanjuro and Hanbei, after which he walks away in a fury, as his young admirers are still unable to understand the situation.

Sanjuro was the highest grossing Japanese production in 1962, and though it was acclaimed by critics in the U.S., in its initial release, the movie didn’t have much commercial appeal due to its limited released.

Running time: 95 Minutes

Note:

TCM showed the movie on April 1, 2020.