Sanjuro (1962)

Genres - Adventure  |   Sub-Genres - Martial Arts, Samurai Film  |   Run Time - 96 min.  |   Countries - Japan   |   MPAA Rating - NR
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With Yojmbo, Akira Kurosawa retreated into lighthearted black comedy and found the perfect protagonist for the journey in Toshiro Mifune's shambling, ill-tempered ronin. Forced to align himself with two equally repulsive forces, he chose to play them against each other, destroying both in the process. You could call the character a cynic, and the film nihilistic, if Mifune didn't, despite intimations of amorality, ultimately do the right thing. Thanks to substantial commercial success, Kurosawa and Mifune re-teamed for a highly enjoyable sequel only a year later. This time out, Mifune encounters a group of nine experienced samurai who, after Mifune saves their lives, follow him around like ducklings. When Mifune joins them in their quest to rescue an honest chamberlain from the false imprisonment of a corrupt superintendent, he teaches his by-the-book charges the secrets of deception and subterfuge. As before, Mifune plays his character always on the verge of exasperation, this time pushed to the limit by the civilizing presence of two women. When one calls him out, remarking that killing has become a bad habit for him, it may play like a joke but, as usual with even Kurosawa's lightest films, there's more at work than may be immediately apparent. An intense finale reinforces this point, and suggests that the humanistic Kurosawa, like his hero in the Yojimbo/Sanjuro series, can only strike a cynical pose for so long.