Review: Tsubaki Sanjûrô (Sanjuro, 1962)

It’s been a while, but it’s time for more Akira Kurosawa, and this one is a sequel!

Screenplay By: Ryûzô Kikushima, Akira Kurosawa, & Hideo Oguni
Directed By: Akira Kurosawa

It’s always a joy to watch Toshirô Mifune grunting, smirking at people like they’re idiots and generally kicking ass. In that respect Tsubaki Sanjûrô is one heck of a movie. I had a blast watching Mifune-san do his thing. Mifune-san has a presence that is similar to Clint Eastwood, where no matter the setting, the tone, the atmosphere, or any other aspect that goes into a film he is larger than life. The great thing about Mifune-san is he’s not overly trying in Tsubaki Sanjûrô. He’s acting, that’s a given fact, but he’s not trying to overdo it with the attitude he infuses the Samurai with. Mifune-san allows his presence to fill the screen and the viewer has no choice but to sit back and have one hell of a time soaking in his presence.

While Mifune-san carries the majority of the workload in Tsubaki Sanjûrô, there are other elements that stand out. The direction of Akira Kurosawa is able to attain a large scope while also zeroing in on the actions of the characters in a more focused way. There are also little touches in the script that felt very Kurosawa-san esque. The relationship between the Samurai and the old lady is a nice touch and the Samurai repeating the sage words of the old lady at the end of the picture felt very much like a Kurosawa-san line to me. A good portion of the smile I carried on my face during Tsubaki Sanjûrô could be found in the darkly comedic elements of the film. Yes, a lot of this was based on the gruffness and mugging of Mifune-san, but a lot doesn’t equal all. Tsubaki Sanjûrô is funny, it’s also serious at moments, but overall it’s quite the black comedy.

The major issue I had with Tsubaki Sanjûrô was the infallibility of the Samurai. Mifune-san’s larger than life acting was great, but I missed some of the elements of the Samurai that were removed from the character after Yojimbo. There was never any real sense of danger in Tsubaki Sanjûrô because at every turn the movie established the Samurai as a James Bond like character who was not going to be felled no matter what. This made it hard for me to ever see the movie as anything more than a fun jaunt. It’s a really fun jaunt mind you, but it could have used a healthy dose of tension to even out the unstoppable juggernaut of smarts and brawn that was Mifune-san’s character.

I didn’t find Tsubaki Sanjûrô to be among Kurosawa-san’s best works. It is, as I said, a fun jaunt and definitely a movie I think most people will have a great time watching. It seems silly to say less than kind things about a movie as fun as Tsubaki Sanjûrô, but I do feel that the film could have been better than its end product. If you’re like me you’ll dig the score, laugh at the dark comedy, and have a great time watching Mifune-san do his thing. But you’ll also spend portions of the movie looking for something more, and that’s why Tsubaki Sanjûrô is a good Akira Kurosawa film and not a great one.




13 responses to “Review: Tsubaki Sanjûrô (Sanjuro, 1962)

  1. Sajuro, the character, does pull off the job with, say, relative ease when compared to the previous film. The villains in this movie was also kind of waster, as they are essentially relegated to talking behind closed doors. You think Tatsuya Nakadai is going to be a freaking badass and it turns out he doesn’t do much at all.

    I was also a little peeved at how, by this second film featuring the Sanjuro character, the script was already poking fun at the character’s dominant traits, most notably in the scenes involving the older woman you wrote about. There was a lot of winking at the audience in that sense and I didn’t feel that was necessary. It’s still an okay film, but very, very minor Kurosawa (which is still better than a lot of other stuff, but still).

  2. Wow, that was some terrible typing. Sorry.

  3. Don’t worry, your points were relevant, therefore I forgive your terrible typing. 🙂

  4. I think the reason that this film is considered light fare in the Kurosawa canon, rests at the feet of the sensei himself. From what I’ve read, he wasn’t too enthusiastic about making the film in the first place. It was Toho that approached him with it, and I think that he saw it as a money grab for Toho. All in all, I’d take a lesser Kurosawa over almost every other director’s best work. I’ve always liked this film. Good review Bill!

    BTW, haven’t seen you over at filmspotters in a while, everything OK?

  5. I definitely would take lesser Kurosawa over most other stuff. For as flawed and as light as this film was I still greatly enjoyed it.

    Not being a major player at those forums I took my leave and kept it quiet. I stand by what I said in my last post, I didn’t like the attitudes that had started to pervade the place and the domineering attitudes of a few members at that forum. While there are a number of people, such as yourself, that I miss talking to in one setting I’m glad I left because the problems I had were with specific people who were so ingrained into the forum that they weren’t going anywhere anytime soon. Still, I’ve been enjoying talking film on my blog, others blogs, Twitter, and Facebook way more than I was at the end of my time at FS, so I think it’s for the best that I left.

    Either way, thanks for the comment and the interest, both are much appreciated. 🙂

  6. I know what you mean, I came close to leaving there about 6 weeks ago, because of the same reason. But I’ve decided to ignore the two that drive me crazy. You should at least post in that thread about blogs, so we know when you post something new over here.

  7. Glad to read you’re still interested in knowing when I post. But, I think a clean break was best for me, at least it’s been working out really good so far. If you’re looking for notification of when I post something you can always click on the email subscription option on the sidebar. That way you can get email notifications of when I make a new post. 🙂

  8. Didn’t see that option…done.

  9. Pingback: Sanjuro/Tsubaki Sanjûrô (1962) | timneath

  10. True, Sanjuro is kind of a powerhouse, but his main obstacle is not killing anyone. In the end, he may have physically won the fight, but lost the fight against being anything other than the slaughtering powerhouse that he is. Whether he learned his lesson afterwards, who knows. The loss he suffers at the end is of someone he really felt was a counterpart to him.

  11. That is if he even feels it is a battle to not be the slaughterhouse. For him it may just be a battle against time or the inevitable, not against being the thing itself.

  12. Pingback: MOVIE REVIEW | ***FOREIGN LANGUAGE WEEKEND*** Sanjuro (1962) – Bored and Dangerous

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