Sanjuro Review

AKA: Sanjuro Tsubaki
Genre: Jidaigeki/Action/Dark Comedy
Year Released: 1962

Origin: Japan
Running Time: 95 Minutes
Rating/Recommended Audience: 13+
Related Films/Series: Yojimbo, Zatoichi Meets Yojimbo, Kaze no Yojimbo, A Fistful of Dollars, The Warrior and the Sorceress, Last Man Standing, Omega Doom, Inferno, Sukiyaki Western Django
For Fans Of: Yojimbo, The Hidden Fortress

Notes: 

-This is the official sequel to Yojimbo which is recommended viewing in order to understand the Sanjuro character.
Fun Facts:

-This film is actually based on the book Hibi Heian by Shugoro Yamamoto, but it was adapted to incorporate Sanjuro to be the main character of this screenplay. Talk about an example of an ascended canon for something that was unrelated to the Yojimbo films.


-The final battle scene which incorporates a ton of blood was done in one take.


 After watching Yojimbo, I looked forward to checking out the direct sequel of that particular movie. I was fine with Sanjuro being the only returning character from it’s predecessor and it’s always good to see Toshiro Mifune acting in a Kurosawa film. I even found out that there was a lot of hype and praise heaped on this sequel. All I have to say is…

Did any of them watch the same movie I watched?


Sanjuro was a disappointment and it fits into those sequels that are worse than the original. Sure, I’ve seen movies that are much worse than this one, but I was let down because I know Akira Kurosawa was more capable than this.

The plot of this film revolves around nine samurai who are meeting in secret after some political corruption is suspected from the chamberlain after he’s accused of nullifying a petition. Sanjuro just happens to be close by and eavesdropped on their whole conversation while claiming that it was really the superintendent who may be the corrupt one in this situation. Then (surprise!), the superintendent’s infantry shows up to surround the building where all ten samurai are in which meant that Sanjuro was right the whole time, so they all have to concoct a plan to stop this while also kicking butt.

The first fight scene that happened involving this huge infantry of soldiers working for the superintendent gave me enough of a foreshadowing with how everything was going to be. Sanjuro is able to beat up dozens of soldiers with his sword and also by throwing random people at their own comrades so easily before they decide to retreat. That was a turn off to me because it showed just how invincible of a protagonist Sanjuro would be throughout the film. Sure, I’ve had some issues with him being too much of an ace in Yojimbo, but at least there were times where he was vulnerable and he had a harder time beating up gang members who were less-trained in combat. Not to mention that there were less of them in that movie compared to a whole army in this one and he doesn’t even break a sweat in fighting them.

That’s right, everyone. Sanjuro has officially become a Marty Stu anti-hero in this film.

There, I said it.

Not only that, but the rest of the characters act like idiots around him. The other nine samurai who team up with Sanjuro constantly bumble around and make mistakes only for Sanjuro to verbally and in one case literally pimpslap everyone for being so stupid. The women in this movie who accompany them later on are just so whiny even when they are being helped by the other characters. Them complaining about how they didn’t want to run or how tired they were just got on my nerves and it came across as a bit sexist even out of context to Bakumatsu-era Japanese standards with how women were treated. The villains aren’t even threatening and I never believed that they could take on Sanjuro and company despite their military and political influence.

 Sanjuro even comes off as flanderized in his mannerisms. Sure, he’s always supposed to be this snarky and jaded ronin like the last movie, but they really exaggerated his personality traits here. It even got annoying when he would just take naps whenever he felt like it. There’s being a slacker genius, but this got insufferable to be and he came off like a mix between a smarter version of Naruto at his laziest or Ash’s Charizard from Pokemon which is not a compliment from me. Even his signature shoulder twitch gets overdone in multiple parts of the film. He also never loses, never gets beaten up, is never wrong about anything, and he’s crazy prepared for everything. It’s as if the screenplay was a fan fic for the Sanjuro character that just happened to get an official theatrical release.

I won’t say this movie was completely horrible though. The fight scenes are still well choreographed (this IS a Kurosawa film, after all) and are exciting to watch. The comedy elements do work here like Sanjuro’s habit of using a fake surname that’s based on whatever plant he sees outside. He goes by Sanjuro Tsubaki this time around and Tsubaki means Camellia in Japanese for those scoring at home. Some of the banter between some of the characters did give me a bit of a chuckle sometimes like how one character talks about having a longer face than a horse which he does have that physical trait. After the final (yet very brief) fight scene, there is a slight moment of clarity going on, but it still felt a bit hollow.

Akira Kurosawa has made great films which I can’t deny that. Unfortunately, I didn’t get the same amount of enjoyment from Sanjuro as I have with his other works that I’ve seen so far. The borderline self-parody aspects of this version of the Sanjuro character and the mediocre secondary characters really hampered this film for me. Hardcore Kurosawa fans may balk at my analysis, but I failed to see what was so great about this sequel to Yojimbo.




Adjustable Point System:
Add 3-5 points if you’re a Kurosawa fan
Subtract 1 point if you hate invincible heroes

Pros:


-Great cinematography
-Well-choreographed fight scenes
-Decent humorous quips

Cons:


-Sanjuro’s god mode Marty Stu character
-Idiotic secondary cast
-Non threatening villains

Final Score: 4/10

 points

Content Warning: There is a lot of sword fighting in this movie and most of the fights are surprisingly clean except the final one where there’s a blood explosion coming from one character. The story itself would be suited for teens and up even though it’s very straightforward.

-Curtis Monroe

Photos property of their respective owners and used under US “Fair Use” laws.

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