Sanjuro


1h 36m 1962
Sanjuro

Brief Synopsis

A wandering samurai recruits younger fighters to help him battle corruption.

Film Details

Also Known As
Tsubaki Sanjuro
Genre
Action
Adventure
Foreign
Adaptation
Release Date
Jan 1962
Premiere Information
Los Angeles opening: 14 Jun 1962
Production Company
Toho Co.
Distribution Company
Toho International, Inc.
Country
Japan
Location
Japan
Screenplay Information
Based on a "Tsubaki Sanjuro" story by Shugoro Yamamoto.

Technical Specs

Duration
1h 36m
Sound
Perspecta Stereo (Westrex Recording System)
Color
Black and White
Theatrical Aspect Ratio
2.35 : 1

Synopsis

In mid-19th-century Japan, the chamberlain, who heads a powerful clan, is suspected by his nephew, Iori Izaka, of fomenting political unrest. Iori and eight samurai wait to meet with the superintendent, Kikui, in a deserted shrine when Sanjuro, a wild, unkempt samurai, bursts in to warn them that it is Kikui, not the chamberlain, who is to be feared. Sanjuro is proven correct when a party of Kikui's warriors attacks the shrine, but Sanjuro's devastating swordsmanship forces the attackers into retreat. Sanjuro consents to help the samurai in their mission, and returning to the chamberlain's house they discover that the chamberlain and his family have been kidnaped. Through Kurofuji, one of Kikui's allies, Sanjuro and the samurai find the chamberlain's wife and daughter and take them to a villa next door to Kurofuji's villa. Pretending to join with Kikui, Sanjuro meets Muroto, Kikui's troubleshooter, and learns that the chamberlain is being held at Kurofuji's villa. Sanjuro persuades Muroto to lead his warriors away from Kurofuji's villa but is captured by Kikui just as he is about to give the signal (by floating white camellias down the stream) for his own samurai to attack. Sanjuro nevertheless tricks Kikui into floating the camellias, and the samurai attack as planned and rescue the chamberlain. A victory celebration is held, but Sanjuro does not attend. Instead, he faces Muroto in a duel, and after winning he waves aside congratulations and walks away in solitude.

Film Details

Also Known As
Tsubaki Sanjuro
Genre
Action
Adventure
Foreign
Adaptation
Release Date
Jan 1962
Premiere Information
Los Angeles opening: 14 Jun 1962
Production Company
Toho Co.
Distribution Company
Toho International, Inc.
Country
Japan
Location
Japan
Screenplay Information
Based on a "Tsubaki Sanjuro" story by Shugoro Yamamoto.

Technical Specs

Duration
1h 36m
Sound
Perspecta Stereo (Westrex Recording System)
Color
Black and White
Theatrical Aspect Ratio
2.35 : 1

Articles

Sanjuro


Yojimbo ("Bodyguard," 1961) was intended by the maverick Japanese writer-director Akira Kurosawa to serve as a rejoinder to the stoic, po-faced swordplay pictures (or chambara) being cranked out by such Japanese studios as Nikkatsu, Toei and Daiei. Stripping conventional notions of honor from his tale of a wandering samurai (Toshiro Mifune), who goes by the poetic alias of Sanjuro ("Thirty years old"), Kurosawa introduced to the international action genre the archetype of a scruffy but wily antihero who plays one side of a local struggle against the other to his own advantage. The success of Yojimbo both at home (it was the nation's third biggest money-earner) and abroad (Sergio Leone studied the film frame by frame on a Moviola prior to shooting A Fistful of Dollars [1964]) demanded a sequel.

Kurosawa had intended Sanjuro (1962) to be an entirely different film, which he had written prior to beginning Yojimbo as a project for Hiromichi Horikawa, his chief assistant director on Seven Samurai (1954) and Throne of Blood (1957). When Toho executives prevailed upon Kurosawa to helm the project himself, he worked with writers Hideo Oguni and Ryuzo Kikushima to fashion a new draft, shaping his protagonist as more Yojimbo-like, swift of sword and sharp of intellect. The original story had been based on a tale by Shugoro Yamamoto, whose writings would later serve as the basis for Kurosawa's hospital drama Red Beard (1965); by the time Kurosawa, cast and crew brought Sanjuro before the cameras in later 1961, only one-third remained of his original script.

The making of Sanjuro was relatively easy for Kurosawa and reunited him with actor Toshiro Mifune, with whom he would make sixteen films between 1948 and 1965. Kurosawa had first clapped eyes upon the impoverished army veteran in 1946 while judging an open audition for Toho's "New Faces" program, a bid to replenish the studio's ranks, which had been thinned by wartime attrition. For the try-outs, candidates were asked to act out a single emotion. Mifune was given "anger" and his approximation of unbridled fury impressed Kurosawa. Yojimbo and Sanjuro afforded the pair a chance to lighten up between the more technically complex The Bad Sleep Well (1960) and High and Low (1963) and their enjoyment is communicated in this wry, playful film. Mifune once again brought to bear his gift for defining character through telling gestures. "Shrugging and scratching myself were my own ideas," the actor admitted in an interview with Film Daily. "I used these mannerisms to express the unemployed samurai, penniless, wearing a dirty kimono. Sometimes this kind of man felt lonely, and these mannerisms characterize the loneliness." Mifune had turned forty between the original film and its sequel and was no longer the boundlessly enthusiastic loose cannon whose unfettered wildness had almost cost him a Toho contract; though his performance appears effortless, the actor was left exhausted by scenes in which Sanjuro single-handedly dispatches multiple opponents in a manner of seconds. "I was young then," Mifune recalled in later years, "but I thought my heart would explode."

As Mifune was playing a subtly shaded variation on his Yojimbo protagonist, so does that film's villain, Tatsuya Nakadai, return to Sanjuro in the role of an entirely different nogoodnik. Nakadai's juicy comeuppance at the hands of Mifune's masterless ronin - an arterial eruption achieved with a highly pressurized blast of chocolate syrup mixed with carbonated water – is no less unexpected or jarring today than it was in 1961. One of the hallmarks of Kurosawa's jidai-geki ("period dramas") was an insistence on realistic consequences for violence, down to the sound of a samurai sword being run through a man's abdomen. The filmmaker had sound editor Ichiro Minawa experiment with cutting through various kinds of meat to achieve the proper sound effect. Minawa's tests revealed that pork and beef were too tender (the sundered cuts were then prepared for the crew's lunch) and chicken won out as sounding best when stabbed. Kurosawa's patented geysers of blood took Japanese audiences by complete surprise, shocking moviegoers into hysterics nearly a decade before the same effect was popularized in the west by such directors as Arthur Penn and Sam Peckinpah.

Shot close to Toho, Sanjuro was inexpensive to make but yielded a huge return on the studio's modest investment, bettering the profit on Yojimbo. Toho Studios turned thirty in 1962 and enjoyed big returns on several of its productions, most notably Hiroshi Inagaki's Tatsu and his epic remake of Chushingura (both featuring Toshiro Mifune) and Ishiro Honda's King Kong vs. Godzilla.

The working relationship of Akira Kurosawa and Toshiro Mifune would suffer an irreparable rift mid-decade and the pair never worked together again post-Red Beard. It would be five years before Kurosawa realized a new film (the interim having been filled with abortive projects and a dispiriting gig with 20th Century Fox, directing battle scenes for Tora! Tora! Tora!, 1970) but he only made just two features during the whole of the next decade. Mifune, on the other hand, settled into an international career. The actor contributed iconic turns to John Frankenheimer's Grand Prix (1966), John Boorman's Hell in the Pacific (1968), Terence Young's Red Sun (1971) and Steven Spielberg's 1941 (1979) while continuing to appear in Japanese films. (Mifune tested for the part of martial arts mentor Mr. Miyagi in John Avildsen's The Karate Kid [1984] but was felt to lack the cuddly quality which Japanese-American actor Pat Morita brought to the movie.) Hobbled by strokes and suffering from the onset of Alzheimer's disease, Mifune was reunited with Kurosawa at the funeral for Ishiro Honda in 1993. The reconciliation came too late to make a difference professionally. Kurosawa had already directed his last film and Mifune had but two more film appearances in him. Predeceased by both his wife and younger brother and confined to a hospital bed, Toshiro Mifune succumbed to organ failure on December 24, 1997. Pressed for a statement by reporters, Akira Kurosawa spoke directly to his departed friend, saying "Thank you...and rest in peace." Kurosawa himself died nine months later, on September 6, 1998.

Director: Akira Kurosawa
Screenplay: Ryuzo Kikushima, Akira Kurosawa, Hideo Oguni; Shugoro Yamamoto (novel, "Peaceful Days")
Cinematography: Fukuzo Koizumi, Takao Saito
Music: Masaru Sato
Film Editing: Akira Kurosawa
Cast: Toshiro Mifune (Sanjuro Tsubaki/The Samurai), Tatsuya Nakadai (Hanbei Muroto), Keiju Kobayashi (The Spy), Yuzo Kayama (Iori Izaka), Reiko Dan (Chidori - Mutsuta's daughter), Akihiko Hirata (Samurai), Takashi Shimura (Kurofuji), Kamatari Fujiwara (Takebayashi), Takako Irie (Mutsuta's wife), Masao Shimizu (Kikui), Yunosuke Ito (Mutsuta the Chamberlain).
BW-96m. Letterboxed.

by Richard Harland Smith

Sources:
The Films of Akira Kurosawa by Donald Richie
The Emperor and the Wolf: The Lives of Toshiro Mifune and Akira Kurosawa by Stuart Galbraith, IV
Something Like an Autobiography by Akira Kurosawa
Sanjuro

Sanjuro

Yojimbo ("Bodyguard," 1961) was intended by the maverick Japanese writer-director Akira Kurosawa to serve as a rejoinder to the stoic, po-faced swordplay pictures (or chambara) being cranked out by such Japanese studios as Nikkatsu, Toei and Daiei. Stripping conventional notions of honor from his tale of a wandering samurai (Toshiro Mifune), who goes by the poetic alias of Sanjuro ("Thirty years old"), Kurosawa introduced to the international action genre the archetype of a scruffy but wily antihero who plays one side of a local struggle against the other to his own advantage. The success of Yojimbo both at home (it was the nation's third biggest money-earner) and abroad (Sergio Leone studied the film frame by frame on a Moviola prior to shooting A Fistful of Dollars [1964]) demanded a sequel. Kurosawa had intended Sanjuro (1962) to be an entirely different film, which he had written prior to beginning Yojimbo as a project for Hiromichi Horikawa, his chief assistant director on Seven Samurai (1954) and Throne of Blood (1957). When Toho executives prevailed upon Kurosawa to helm the project himself, he worked with writers Hideo Oguni and Ryuzo Kikushima to fashion a new draft, shaping his protagonist as more Yojimbo-like, swift of sword and sharp of intellect. The original story had been based on a tale by Shugoro Yamamoto, whose writings would later serve as the basis for Kurosawa's hospital drama Red Beard (1965); by the time Kurosawa, cast and crew brought Sanjuro before the cameras in later 1961, only one-third remained of his original script. The making of Sanjuro was relatively easy for Kurosawa and reunited him with actor Toshiro Mifune, with whom he would make sixteen films between 1948 and 1965. Kurosawa had first clapped eyes upon the impoverished army veteran in 1946 while judging an open audition for Toho's "New Faces" program, a bid to replenish the studio's ranks, which had been thinned by wartime attrition. For the try-outs, candidates were asked to act out a single emotion. Mifune was given "anger" and his approximation of unbridled fury impressed Kurosawa. Yojimbo and Sanjuro afforded the pair a chance to lighten up between the more technically complex The Bad Sleep Well (1960) and High and Low (1963) and their enjoyment is communicated in this wry, playful film. Mifune once again brought to bear his gift for defining character through telling gestures. "Shrugging and scratching myself were my own ideas," the actor admitted in an interview with Film Daily. "I used these mannerisms to express the unemployed samurai, penniless, wearing a dirty kimono. Sometimes this kind of man felt lonely, and these mannerisms characterize the loneliness." Mifune had turned forty between the original film and its sequel and was no longer the boundlessly enthusiastic loose cannon whose unfettered wildness had almost cost him a Toho contract; though his performance appears effortless, the actor was left exhausted by scenes in which Sanjuro single-handedly dispatches multiple opponents in a manner of seconds. "I was young then," Mifune recalled in later years, "but I thought my heart would explode." As Mifune was playing a subtly shaded variation on his Yojimbo protagonist, so does that film's villain, Tatsuya Nakadai, return to Sanjuro in the role of an entirely different nogoodnik. Nakadai's juicy comeuppance at the hands of Mifune's masterless ronin - an arterial eruption achieved with a highly pressurized blast of chocolate syrup mixed with carbonated water – is no less unexpected or jarring today than it was in 1961. One of the hallmarks of Kurosawa's jidai-geki ("period dramas") was an insistence on realistic consequences for violence, down to the sound of a samurai sword being run through a man's abdomen. The filmmaker had sound editor Ichiro Minawa experiment with cutting through various kinds of meat to achieve the proper sound effect. Minawa's tests revealed that pork and beef were too tender (the sundered cuts were then prepared for the crew's lunch) and chicken won out as sounding best when stabbed. Kurosawa's patented geysers of blood took Japanese audiences by complete surprise, shocking moviegoers into hysterics nearly a decade before the same effect was popularized in the west by such directors as Arthur Penn and Sam Peckinpah. Shot close to Toho, Sanjuro was inexpensive to make but yielded a huge return on the studio's modest investment, bettering the profit on Yojimbo. Toho Studios turned thirty in 1962 and enjoyed big returns on several of its productions, most notably Hiroshi Inagaki's Tatsu and his epic remake of Chushingura (both featuring Toshiro Mifune) and Ishiro Honda's King Kong vs. Godzilla. The working relationship of Akira Kurosawa and Toshiro Mifune would suffer an irreparable rift mid-decade and the pair never worked together again post-Red Beard. It would be five years before Kurosawa realized a new film (the interim having been filled with abortive projects and a dispiriting gig with 20th Century Fox, directing battle scenes for Tora! Tora! Tora!, 1970) but he only made just two features during the whole of the next decade. Mifune, on the other hand, settled into an international career. The actor contributed iconic turns to John Frankenheimer's Grand Prix (1966), John Boorman's Hell in the Pacific (1968), Terence Young's Red Sun (1971) and Steven Spielberg's 1941 (1979) while continuing to appear in Japanese films. (Mifune tested for the part of martial arts mentor Mr. Miyagi in John Avildsen's The Karate Kid [1984] but was felt to lack the cuddly quality which Japanese-American actor Pat Morita brought to the movie.) Hobbled by strokes and suffering from the onset of Alzheimer's disease, Mifune was reunited with Kurosawa at the funeral for Ishiro Honda in 1993. The reconciliation came too late to make a difference professionally. Kurosawa had already directed his last film and Mifune had but two more film appearances in him. Predeceased by both his wife and younger brother and confined to a hospital bed, Toshiro Mifune succumbed to organ failure on December 24, 1997. Pressed for a statement by reporters, Akira Kurosawa spoke directly to his departed friend, saying "Thank you...and rest in peace." Kurosawa himself died nine months later, on September 6, 1998. Director: Akira Kurosawa Screenplay: Ryuzo Kikushima, Akira Kurosawa, Hideo Oguni; Shugoro Yamamoto (novel, "Peaceful Days") Cinematography: Fukuzo Koizumi, Takao Saito Music: Masaru Sato Film Editing: Akira Kurosawa Cast: Toshiro Mifune (Sanjuro Tsubaki/The Samurai), Tatsuya Nakadai (Hanbei Muroto), Keiju Kobayashi (The Spy), Yuzo Kayama (Iori Izaka), Reiko Dan (Chidori - Mutsuta's daughter), Akihiko Hirata (Samurai), Takashi Shimura (Kurofuji), Kamatari Fujiwara (Takebayashi), Takako Irie (Mutsuta's wife), Masao Shimizu (Kikui), Yunosuke Ito (Mutsuta the Chamberlain). BW-96m. Letterboxed. by Richard Harland Smith Sources: The Films of Akira Kurosawa by Donald Richie The Emperor and the Wolf: The Lives of Toshiro Mifune and Akira Kurosawa by Stuart Galbraith, IV Something Like an Autobiography by Akira Kurosawa

Yojimbo/Sanjuro - YOJIMBO & SANJURO - Two Akira Kurosawa Masterpieces from The Criterion Collection


Now available from the Criterion Collection are new editions of director Akira Kurosawa's companion films, Yojimbo (1961) and Sanjuro (1962), both starring the incomparable Toshiro Mifune. Both of these films were previously issued by Criterion, but just as they did with Seven Samurai (1954), the boutique DVD line has found better elements and has provided supplemental material that more than justifies a new issue for both films (Yojimbo and Sanjuro are available separately, or they can be purchased as a set that comes in a slipcase box).

Each title boasts audio commentaries by film historian and Kurosawa scholar Stephen Prince, as well as individual documentaries from the Toho Masterworks series, Akira Kurosawa: It Is Wonderful to Create. The trailers for the films are worth noting, particularly for Sanjuro; at the beginning and the end of the theatrical trailer we can see for the first time, Kurosawa rehearsing Mifune and his actors on the set. Overall, the trailers are interesting because they often contain alternate takes or behind-the-scenes footage, a common practice for Toho. As for the rest of the DVD features, each film has a densely detailed booklet featuring essays and interviews by other scholars, collaborators and Kurosawa himself. The films themselves are all-new, restored high-definition digital transfers, a remarkable improvement from Criterion's previous releases of the two films.

In Yojimbo, Toshiro Mifune is a scruffy, unkempt ronin named Sanjuro ('30 years old') Kuwabatake ('mulberry fields'), who decides his direction by throwing a stick into the air and allowing it to fall. It points to a town that's in the midst of a small, but vicious civil war, circa nineteenth century Japan. The town's factions are lead by Tazaemon (Kamatari Fujiwara), a silk merchant, and Tokuemon (Takashi Shimura), a sake merchant, brutal tyrants who will stop at nothing to wrest complete power from the other. Sanjuro, as world-weary a warrior as there ever was, takes advantage of this potentially lucrative situation by hiring himself out to both of the rival gang bosses as a bodyguard, or "yojimbo." After studying how the two men operate, Sanjuro cleverly orchestrates a situation that leads to a violent showdown, and a kind of salvation for the townspeople caught up in the war.

For the story of Yojimbo, Kurosawa was supposedly inspired by Red Harvest, a Dashiell Hammett novel in which the Sanjuro character is a detective playing gangs off each other. Indeed, the mercenary character is more akin to a Sam Spade anti-hero than to an unambiguous Western hero. Variety's later review of Sanjuro said that Mifune's signature character is "a well-rounded figure: physically epic, mentally agile, emotionally normal-a kind of cross between Robin Hood and a typical Humphrey Bogart character." And while Sanjuro is not your typical samurai ronin, the town into which he throws a most sizable monkey wrench is not the typical place you'd find squeaky-clean heroes either. When Sanjuro first walks into town, he's greeted by a grotesque and absurd sight: a mangy mutt happily trots down the street with a severed hand in its mouth. French filmmaker Rene Clair said that not even Salvador Dali could have imagined the surreal scene. Kurosawa did though, after mistaking a workman's latex gloves on the ground for real hands. (This macabre sight gag was recently echoed in an episode of ABC's Lost.)

But more than make surrealists happy, the severed hand scene instantly suggests the violence that will take place in Yojimbo. The depiction of violence was unprecedented in Japan, and it would become a spiritual predecessor to films of the post-studio system and the New Hollywood era. The violence stunned Japanese audiences. Ryu Kuze was hired to create the elaborate swordplay choreography for the film. Kuze's son-in-law, Minoruo Nakano said of the audience's reaction to the violence, "Believe it or not, the first reaction was laughter. They hadn't seen this type of bloodshed in jidai-geki movies. Before Yojimbo, the jidai-geki was a kind of child of Kabuki (Theater), with very formalized movements and samurai mannerisms. So the first reaction was surprise. They didn't know how to react."

There certainly was savage violence in previous Japanese jidai-geki and other Kurosawa films. But it was the attention to detail and the visible blood-letting that was most disturbing, right down to the sound effects. Sound mixer Ichiro Minawa experimented with various cuts of beef and pork to create just the right sound of flesh being cut with a samurai sword. (The rejected meats were later used for the crew's lunch.) Finally, Minawa hit upon the right effect; he took a whole raw chicken, inserted bamboo chopsticks into it, then stabbed it with a butcher knife. He would also smack wet towels. The combination of these two sound effects created the aural sense of steel slicing through muscle. (The documentary on the Sanjuro disc features Minawa demonstrating this sound effect.)

Shooting Yojimbo began on January 14, 1961, wrapped on April 16th, and premiered just four days later on April 20, 1961. The extraordinarily fast premiere date was due to Kurosawa's handy habit of editing during production. The film was a hit at the box office, becoming more profitable than Seven Samurai, and the year's third-biggest domestic money earner. In America, Yojimbo was met with mixed critical reaction. The New York Times critic Bosley Crowther, always good for a laugh, dismissed the film with typical nearsightedness. "Beyond any question, a straight transposition of Western film clichés..." Of Mifune, Crowther said, "Always an interesting actor, commanding and apt at imagining strain. He passes well in this picture for a Japanese Gary Cooper or John Wayne." But Time magazine's unnamed reviewer spoke up for the film as "both a wow of a show and a masterpiece of misanthropy. Kurosawa emerges as a bone-cracking satirist who with red-toothed glee chews out his century as no dramatist has done since Bertolt Brecht...All the players play with successive intensity, but Mifune, a magnificent athlete-actor, dominates the scene. Looped in a soggy kimono, crusted with stubble and sweat, gliding like a tiger, scratching like an ape, he presents a ferocious and ironical portrait of a military monk, a Galahad with lice."

As for the American box-office, Yojimbo fared well, becoming a hit on the art-house circuit. A dubious sign of the film's worldwide success was the unauthorized remake, A Fistful of Dollars (1964), directed by Sergio Leone. Leone's film created a firestorm of controversy between the Italian filmmaker and Kurosawa. The Japanese auteur naturally demanded compensation for Leone's use of his story, a demand that was eventually met with an agreement to pay Kurosawa 15 percent of Fistful's worldwide receipts, with a guarantee of around $100,000. In 1996, New Line cinema released a legitimate remake of Yojimbo called Last Man Standing, starring Bruce Willis, and directed by Walter Hill, set in the milieu of 1930s gangsters. (Ironically, in its original review, Variety said Yojimbo was "ideal remake material for a Yank company.")

But more importantly than illegal and acknowledged remakes, Yojimbo inspired Toho to ask Kurosawa for a sequel of sorts. That follow-up became Sanjuro (1962). In this film, a group of formal, naïve samurai is determined to clean up the corruption in their town. But from the very beginning of their crusade, they make a fateful blunder by putting their trust in the wrong people. Fortunately, a scruffy, cynical samurai named Sanjuro Tsubaki (meaning "camellias"), one who does not at all fit their concept of a noble warrior, crosses swords with the corrupt noblemen out to wipe out the young samurai.

Kurosawa was not interested in making just any sequel, so he reworked an earlier script that was based on Hibi Heian ("A Break in the Tranquility"), by Shugoro Yamamoto. There was actually a draft completed before the production of Yojimbo, but according to Kurosawa, the hero was not particularly skilled. So when Kurosawa took on Sanjuro, he and his co-writers added more swordplay and more comic elements, characteristics befitting a story with the Sanjuro character. Several of the same actors appear in Yojimbo and Sanjuro, most notably Tatsuya Nakadei, playing Mifune's main adversary in both. In the latter film, Nakadei and Mifune square off in one of film history's most shocking and unexpected endings. As is written in the screenplay, "The duel between the two men cannot be described in words. After a long, frightening pause, the outcome is decided by a single flash of a sword." The supplementary extras give invaluable background information on how the ending of Sanjuro was achieved.

Sanjuro commenced filming on September 25, 1961, wrapped on December 20th, and opened on New Year's Day, 1962. In Japan, it proved to be even more popular than its older brother, and an equally critical success. Sanjuro was met with some of the best American reviews Kurosawa ever received, with high marks from Variety and The Hollywood Reporter ("a superb picture and should be seen by everyone in Hollywood interested in films..."). And of course, there were the typically obtuse remarks from Bosley Crowther of the New York Times; Crowther thought the subtitles to be inadequate, and that "dubbed English dialogue is what most foreign films should have." Oh, Bosley...

For more information about Yojimbo & Sanjuro, visit The Criterion Collection.

by Scott McGee

Yojimbo/Sanjuro - YOJIMBO & SANJURO - Two Akira Kurosawa Masterpieces from The Criterion Collection

Now available from the Criterion Collection are new editions of director Akira Kurosawa's companion films, Yojimbo (1961) and Sanjuro (1962), both starring the incomparable Toshiro Mifune. Both of these films were previously issued by Criterion, but just as they did with Seven Samurai (1954), the boutique DVD line has found better elements and has provided supplemental material that more than justifies a new issue for both films (Yojimbo and Sanjuro are available separately, or they can be purchased as a set that comes in a slipcase box). Each title boasts audio commentaries by film historian and Kurosawa scholar Stephen Prince, as well as individual documentaries from the Toho Masterworks series, Akira Kurosawa: It Is Wonderful to Create. The trailers for the films are worth noting, particularly for Sanjuro; at the beginning and the end of the theatrical trailer we can see for the first time, Kurosawa rehearsing Mifune and his actors on the set. Overall, the trailers are interesting because they often contain alternate takes or behind-the-scenes footage, a common practice for Toho. As for the rest of the DVD features, each film has a densely detailed booklet featuring essays and interviews by other scholars, collaborators and Kurosawa himself. The films themselves are all-new, restored high-definition digital transfers, a remarkable improvement from Criterion's previous releases of the two films. In Yojimbo, Toshiro Mifune is a scruffy, unkempt ronin named Sanjuro ('30 years old') Kuwabatake ('mulberry fields'), who decides his direction by throwing a stick into the air and allowing it to fall. It points to a town that's in the midst of a small, but vicious civil war, circa nineteenth century Japan. The town's factions are lead by Tazaemon (Kamatari Fujiwara), a silk merchant, and Tokuemon (Takashi Shimura), a sake merchant, brutal tyrants who will stop at nothing to wrest complete power from the other. Sanjuro, as world-weary a warrior as there ever was, takes advantage of this potentially lucrative situation by hiring himself out to both of the rival gang bosses as a bodyguard, or "yojimbo." After studying how the two men operate, Sanjuro cleverly orchestrates a situation that leads to a violent showdown, and a kind of salvation for the townspeople caught up in the war. For the story of Yojimbo, Kurosawa was supposedly inspired by Red Harvest, a Dashiell Hammett novel in which the Sanjuro character is a detective playing gangs off each other. Indeed, the mercenary character is more akin to a Sam Spade anti-hero than to an unambiguous Western hero. Variety's later review of Sanjuro said that Mifune's signature character is "a well-rounded figure: physically epic, mentally agile, emotionally normal-a kind of cross between Robin Hood and a typical Humphrey Bogart character." And while Sanjuro is not your typical samurai ronin, the town into which he throws a most sizable monkey wrench is not the typical place you'd find squeaky-clean heroes either. When Sanjuro first walks into town, he's greeted by a grotesque and absurd sight: a mangy mutt happily trots down the street with a severed hand in its mouth. French filmmaker Rene Clair said that not even Salvador Dali could have imagined the surreal scene. Kurosawa did though, after mistaking a workman's latex gloves on the ground for real hands. (This macabre sight gag was recently echoed in an episode of ABC's Lost.) But more than make surrealists happy, the severed hand scene instantly suggests the violence that will take place in Yojimbo. The depiction of violence was unprecedented in Japan, and it would become a spiritual predecessor to films of the post-studio system and the New Hollywood era. The violence stunned Japanese audiences. Ryu Kuze was hired to create the elaborate swordplay choreography for the film. Kuze's son-in-law, Minoruo Nakano said of the audience's reaction to the violence, "Believe it or not, the first reaction was laughter. They hadn't seen this type of bloodshed in jidai-geki movies. Before Yojimbo, the jidai-geki was a kind of child of Kabuki (Theater), with very formalized movements and samurai mannerisms. So the first reaction was surprise. They didn't know how to react." There certainly was savage violence in previous Japanese jidai-geki and other Kurosawa films. But it was the attention to detail and the visible blood-letting that was most disturbing, right down to the sound effects. Sound mixer Ichiro Minawa experimented with various cuts of beef and pork to create just the right sound of flesh being cut with a samurai sword. (The rejected meats were later used for the crew's lunch.) Finally, Minawa hit upon the right effect; he took a whole raw chicken, inserted bamboo chopsticks into it, then stabbed it with a butcher knife. He would also smack wet towels. The combination of these two sound effects created the aural sense of steel slicing through muscle. (The documentary on the Sanjuro disc features Minawa demonstrating this sound effect.) Shooting Yojimbo began on January 14, 1961, wrapped on April 16th, and premiered just four days later on April 20, 1961. The extraordinarily fast premiere date was due to Kurosawa's handy habit of editing during production. The film was a hit at the box office, becoming more profitable than Seven Samurai, and the year's third-biggest domestic money earner. In America, Yojimbo was met with mixed critical reaction. The New York Times critic Bosley Crowther, always good for a laugh, dismissed the film with typical nearsightedness. "Beyond any question, a straight transposition of Western film clichés..." Of Mifune, Crowther said, "Always an interesting actor, commanding and apt at imagining strain. He passes well in this picture for a Japanese Gary Cooper or John Wayne." But Time magazine's unnamed reviewer spoke up for the film as "both a wow of a show and a masterpiece of misanthropy. Kurosawa emerges as a bone-cracking satirist who with red-toothed glee chews out his century as no dramatist has done since Bertolt Brecht...All the players play with successive intensity, but Mifune, a magnificent athlete-actor, dominates the scene. Looped in a soggy kimono, crusted with stubble and sweat, gliding like a tiger, scratching like an ape, he presents a ferocious and ironical portrait of a military monk, a Galahad with lice." As for the American box-office, Yojimbo fared well, becoming a hit on the art-house circuit. A dubious sign of the film's worldwide success was the unauthorized remake, A Fistful of Dollars (1964), directed by Sergio Leone. Leone's film created a firestorm of controversy between the Italian filmmaker and Kurosawa. The Japanese auteur naturally demanded compensation for Leone's use of his story, a demand that was eventually met with an agreement to pay Kurosawa 15 percent of Fistful's worldwide receipts, with a guarantee of around $100,000. In 1996, New Line cinema released a legitimate remake of Yojimbo called Last Man Standing, starring Bruce Willis, and directed by Walter Hill, set in the milieu of 1930s gangsters. (Ironically, in its original review, Variety said Yojimbo was "ideal remake material for a Yank company.") But more importantly than illegal and acknowledged remakes, Yojimbo inspired Toho to ask Kurosawa for a sequel of sorts. That follow-up became Sanjuro (1962). In this film, a group of formal, naïve samurai is determined to clean up the corruption in their town. But from the very beginning of their crusade, they make a fateful blunder by putting their trust in the wrong people. Fortunately, a scruffy, cynical samurai named Sanjuro Tsubaki (meaning "camellias"), one who does not at all fit their concept of a noble warrior, crosses swords with the corrupt noblemen out to wipe out the young samurai. Kurosawa was not interested in making just any sequel, so he reworked an earlier script that was based on Hibi Heian ("A Break in the Tranquility"), by Shugoro Yamamoto. There was actually a draft completed before the production of Yojimbo, but according to Kurosawa, the hero was not particularly skilled. So when Kurosawa took on Sanjuro, he and his co-writers added more swordplay and more comic elements, characteristics befitting a story with the Sanjuro character. Several of the same actors appear in Yojimbo and Sanjuro, most notably Tatsuya Nakadei, playing Mifune's main adversary in both. In the latter film, Nakadei and Mifune square off in one of film history's most shocking and unexpected endings. As is written in the screenplay, "The duel between the two men cannot be described in words. After a long, frightening pause, the outcome is decided by a single flash of a sword." The supplementary extras give invaluable background information on how the ending of Sanjuro was achieved. Sanjuro commenced filming on September 25, 1961, wrapped on December 20th, and opened on New Year's Day, 1962. In Japan, it proved to be even more popular than its older brother, and an equally critical success. Sanjuro was met with some of the best American reviews Kurosawa ever received, with high marks from Variety and The Hollywood Reporter ("a superb picture and should be seen by everyone in Hollywood interested in films..."). And of course, there were the typically obtuse remarks from Bosley Crowther of the New York Times; Crowther thought the subtitles to be inadequate, and that "dubbed English dialogue is what most foreign films should have." Oh, Bosley... For more information about Yojimbo & Sanjuro, visit The Criterion Collection. by Scott McGee

Quotes

Stupid friends are dangerous.
- Sanjuro Tsubaki
Your too sharp. That's your trouble. Your like a drawn sword. Sharp, naked without a sheath. Your cut well. But good swords are kept in their sheathes.
- Mutsuta's wife
Killing people is a bad habit.
- Mutsuta's wife
He was exactly like me. A naked sword. He didn't stay in his sheath.
- Sanjuro Tsubaki

Trivia

For the "explosion of blood" in the final duel, chocolate syrup was mixed with carbonated water and put under 30 pounds of pressure.

Notes

Released in Japan in January 1962 as Tsubaki Sanjuro.

Miscellaneous Notes

Released in United States on Video November 1985

Released in United States Winter January 1, 1962

Based on the novel "Peaceful Days" written by Shugoro Yamamoto.

Very close to being a sequel to 1961's "Yojimbo".

Released in United States Winter January 1, 1962

Released in United States on Video November 1985