Our reviews of Sanjuro: Criterion Collection (Blu-Ray) (published March 23rd, 2010), Sanjuro: Criterion Collection (Remastered) (published January 23rd, 2007), and Yojimbo/Sanjuro: Two Films By Akira Kurosawa: Criterion Collection (published January 23rd, 2007) are also available.
A good man can be hard to disguise. A good Samurai even harder.
Sanjuro qualifies as another top-notch film by Akira Kurosawa brought to DVD life by the folks at Criterion. While it is a wholly different film than even its predecessor Yojimbo, it does not fail to satisfy in its own way.
Akira Kurosawa is, quite simply, one of the finest directors of all time. If you doubt this fact, all you need to do is call up NetFlix or some other rental spot and rent Sanjuro. Then, while, you're watching this terrific gem of a movie, remember that it is probably not even in his top five films. Sanjuro is the follow up to the wildly popular Yojimbo. It was made rather quickly on the heels of that film (which was later re-made into A Fistful of Dollars and Last Man Standing) but is hardly a simple sequel. Rather, it has its own sensibilities, well apart from the tone set by Yojimbo.
Sanjuro tells the story of a lonely, disillusioned samurai Sanjuro Tsubaki. Sanjuro stumbles onto a village torn between good and bad politicians. The village is also populated by a group of young samurai hopefuls who are drive to action by the kidnapping of the good politician, Mutsuta. The young warriors fall in with Sanjuro who helps them untangle the web of deception that has been weaved right before their innocent eyes.
The plot takes many twists and turns, but it is always satiric and funny. The incomparable Toshiro Mifune plays Sanjuro as the straight guy, the one who cannot believe the incompetence of the younger warriors he is trying so hard to help. All the while, we know Sanjuro has no emotional stake in helping the lads; rather, he does so out of honor, in a matter-of-fact sort of way. This contradiction between Sanjuro's sensibilities and the warrior's incompetence creates many, many funny moments. These moments interplaying with the story twists and turns leads to 96 minutes of pure, unadulterated fun.
The black and white image here is fairly well done by the people at Criterion. The image is relatively free of nicks and scars and the shades of gray are pretty accurate. I would have preferred an anamorphic transfer, naturally, but that would have required some extra work. All in all, this 2.35:1 letterbox image is pretty solid and is free of all but the slightest bit of grain in certain scenes.
The original mono Japanese soundtrack is coupled with optional English subtitles. Since it is very hard to judge that which you do not understand, I will only say that the sound lacks the crack and sizzle present in so many other original mono soundtracks from the early '60s. Criterion must have done some work to preserve this track some time ago. My gut tells me this video and audio presentation comes directly from the original Criterion laserdisc released some time ago, but I cannot be sure as I was never a laserdisc devotee. I highly doubt they went back to reinvent the wheel when an acceptable print was available, at least not without slapping their own backs in the process. However, they do refer to it as a "new digital transfer" so maybe some work was done. If it was, then why not make it anamorphic?
The Rebuttal Witnesses
My only real complaint here is the lack of extras on the disc. The only extra to speak of is the original theatrical trailer, which has some really cool behind the scenes footage right in it. I would have liked to have a commentary track by a noted Kurosawa expert or two and maybe some background on the lives of Samurai and the Samurai code of honor. In any event, since it does lack any real extras, this disc is priced right at $29.95, so I guess it is hard to complain too loudly.
Sanjuro is one of those rare gems, an unexpected pleasure. I was expecting nothing less than a re-hash of its progenitor, but instead got a wonderful and funny film filled with terrific acting and wonderful direction. It certainly is hard to argue with that.
Acquitted most honorably.
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• Theatrical Trailer
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