Sanjuro ★★★★

After the pleasure that was Yojimbo, I figured that it would only be in order to check out its subsequent sequel, and companion piece, Sanjuro. Interestingly enough, despite sharing a chronological timeline, as well as a mutual protagonist, the two films are surprisingly unalike.

There is a stark difference between Sanjuro and its predecessor, in both tone, scope, and ambition. Sanjuro is surprisingly streamlined, much more lighthearted, and outright humorous than Yojimbo. Where Yojimbo featured a reserved Sanjuro willing to exploit conflicts for self-gain, Sanjuro opts for a more clear-cut and heroic protagonist. Much of the subtlety and moral ambiguity found in Yojimbo is discarded and instead replaced with a fairly simplistic story. Right and wrong are unequivocal, there is not a moment of doubt about who the villains and heroes are. Where Yojimbo saw Sanjuro alternate between factions, leaving doubt towards his true intentions, Sanjuro simply has Sanjuro help out a group of young clansmen save their uncle. It’s a heist story centered around two warring tribes. It is not a complex narrative and lacks any major twists or turns. And, in all honesty, in many ways, it is kind of generic.

Does this streamlined approach come as a detriment to the film? Of course not. Sanjuro is a great, thrilling, action film that is thoroughly entertaining, exceptionally well made, and an absolute joy to watch. This is a blockbuster at its core, top-notch choreography and relentless fun without much emphasis on thematic depth. The direction is sharp, everything from the set design to the costumes are great, and the comedic elements are remarkably effective. No matter what context, Toshiro Mifune’s presence will forever remain absolutely engrossing. Sure, this film might lack the nuance and ambiguity that made Yojimbo all the more effective, but damn, Sanjuro is just such a joy to watch.

Seeing how Kurosawa’s samurai films had a heavy influence on the western genre, and how Clint Eastwood starred in a trilogy of Westerns where he played, essentially, the same character in each. It made me wonder why there weren’t anymore further installments into this series because it could have worked pretty damn well. Sanjuro feels like an entry into a grander scheme of films about the same character. Toshiro Mifune’s character. The mysterious lone wolf that wanders from town to town, jumping from endeavor to endeavor. I might sound like an idiot but, you know what, I think the character lends well to the whole lone wanderer archetype. And I would have loved to have seen more films about his character and whatever conflicts he found himself in.

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