Following up with a sequel to a film that, to many, is a masterpiece, is quite a bold move. If anyone could pull off such a feat, though, it would most certainly be Akira Kurosawa. Once more into the fray we go, with a film that details a weary, lonesome traveller set on helping out young, budding heroes in their quest for good. Sanjuro offers us a nice companion piece to that of Yojimbo, a pair that don’t necessarily connect with one another in a narrative sense, but in a sense of thematic prose, pragmatics, and style. I had high hopes for this, a group that is trying to weed out the villainy taking hold of their honest, honour-bound tradition has all the sentiment necessary to provide a fulfilling exploration of the samurai.
We dive right into this story without so much as an introduction to Toshirō Mifune’s character. Thrown right into the fray and the violence, with no time at all spent on building up this mysterious figure. Knowing of the character and of Yojimbo isn’t crucial, but it does provide a handful of insights you’d otherwise be missing out on. A wizened warrior, already established by encounters of a previous film, looks to aid a group of go-getting fighters, with their hearts in the right place. It’s a certainly interesting tale, the sage advice of Mifune makes for some creative moments, some of which far exceed the technical merits of the original. I don’t think, on the whole though, that this product is overall superior to that of Yojimbo.
There are frequently tense scenes, moments that provide heart-stopping thrills. Combining this with some incredible swordplay, marvellous choreography, and a strong story supported by dedicated performances, and you have yet another example of how great Kurosawa was at directing passionate stories entailing freedom or the protection of the average person. His sincere care is reflected nicely with our titular leading character. Far more growth to offer us, Sanjuro has some relatively strong moments of character-based charm that deal more with the subjects the film muses on.
Really, Kurosawa has a palette for both audiences. There’s Yojimbo for those looking for a story led by active swordfights and heroism, and there’s Sanjuro for those more inclined to depth. Slower pacing, yet a shorter running time, Sanjuro is snappier, faster, and, above all, far more focused. There are parts within Yojimbo that didn’t work, but they emboldened the stronger aspects of that piece, and I do believe I prefer it. The faults of the first can be forgiven, especially if the sequel doesn’t offer up a great enough difference between the two products. There’s less in the way of tension, the democracy of ousting a group of corrupted leaders takes a more cunning approach, replacing the volatile brilliance of the first with a story that isn’t quite up to scratch, but will be an open and unique Kurosawa offering for those wanting such a film.