Toshiro Mifune reprises his famous role from Akira Kurosawa's YOJIMBO (1961) in the entertaining sequel SANJURO, in which the renegade samurai becomes involved with a group of young idealists determined to end the graft and corruption overrunning their land. Along with its successful
predecessor, SANJURO represents Kurosawa at his commercial best, with both films revolving around the marvelously eccentric mannerisms of Mifune's performance, who swaggers through the entire film with a bemused expression--grimacing, scratching, yawning, and stretching in an ironic counterpoint
to his character's phenomenal skill as a swordsman. The film's humor arises from Sanjuro's weary irritation (warning attacking samurai that they're in trouble because they woke him up), and the contrast between his slovenly, but honest, behavior and the phony ceremonial propriety of others
(picking his toes while the nine men scrape and bow to him). But while Mifune's satiric portrayal is even funnier than it was in YOJIMBO, Kurosawa treats SANJURO's story much more seriously than he had in the jokey Western-like original, and sets it in a more recognizably Japanese milieu, with a
complicated plot involving political and historical intrigue.
Technically, the film is one of Kurosawa's most impressive, featuring some superbly staged sword battles and exceptional use of complex widescreen compositions in which Sanjuro and the nine men are frequently spread out horizontally across the entire frame. One of the most remarkable scenes in any
Kurosawa film occurs at the end of SANJURO as the hero faces his rival, Muroto, in battle. They face each other silently for a moment, then draw their swords, and, in an instant, Sanjuro strikes a single deadly blow and an enormous geyser of blood erupts from Muroto's slashed heart. It's a
shocking finale to what had essentially been a lighthearted action movie, but it injects an appropriately bitter note to proceedings, echoing Sanjuro's sincere sadness and anger at having been forced to kill once again.
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