Sanjuro

A part of this view­ing listCriterion Collection Spine #53: Akira Kurosawa’s Sanjuro.

At first watch, this film is more comedic and less com­pelling than Yojimbo. At its essence, this is a buddy flick, but Sanjuro has a dou­ble hand­ful of im­petu­ous id­iots to wran­gle in­stead of just one. Because of this, Sanjuro’s ut­most ca­pa­bil­ity stands out at all times. He comes across as an uber­men­sch ronin who’s so bored with be­ing a badass that he helps out these bum­blers just to en­liven his day. This might ac­tu­ally turn the film from a com­edy into a satire.

I would make the ar­gu­ment that there is an im­plicit cri­tique of Japanese so­cial struc­ture here, all the mun­dane samu­rai are the me­dieval equiv­a­lent of mod­ern salary­men and they all want to be like the boss­man, Sanjuro. He, on the other hand, is self-prim­ing and au­tonomous. Because of this, he is filled with a kind of whim­si­cal con­tempt to­ward the other samu­rai who place worth on things ex­ter­nal to them­selves. This is a lonely place for Sanjuro, and would ir­rev­o­ca­bly darken the tone of the film if not for the pres­ence of Mutsuta’s wife. She’s the only other non-vil­lain­ous char­ac­ter who has the same sort of self-pos­ses­sion, and her peace with her­self is a marked con­trast to Sanjuro’s dis­con­tent. He rec­og­nizes this, and the re­fine­ment of her per­son­al­ity gives Sanjuro a foun­da­tion from which he can launch his fury.

The re­cip­i­ent of this ire, and the only other char­ac­ter Sanjuro in­stinc­tively re­spects, is the other au­tonomous ac­tor: Hanbei Muroto. Though forced to kill him, Sanjuro has no de­sire to do so, and the film ends as he con­tin­ues his search for a group of his equals.

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