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.