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.