Sanjuro

Thursday, 17 November 2011

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.