When legendary Japanese filmmaker Akira Kurosawa was asked to make another movie like Yojimbo , following the enormous box office success of his 1961 “samurai western”, he initially resisted. The story goes that Kurosawa didn’t want to repeat himself, a sentiment today’s multiplex moguls would find hard to relate to. ( Yes, I know, I’m not supposed to end a sentence with a preposition but, hey, it’s a blog, not a master’s thesis.)
Instead, the Japanese master made what is probably the closest he ever came to a comedy.
The mighty Toshiro Mifune actually plays a parody of the character he created in Yojimbo.
In this 1962 release his sword slinging samurai is like a scruffy housecat. All he wants to do is eat, drink and lie around. And judging from the way he keeps scratching himself it’s been awhile since he had a bath.
He may be lazy but he still has wicked skills with a blade and he is still a sucker for the underdog. So when he wanders into an internecine struggle between warring factions in a small village he turns down big bucks from the bad guys to reluctantly help a group of idealistic but inexperienced samurai rescue an abducted village elder and restore him to his rightful place as the head of the clan.
Even though the tone of the overall film is light there is still plenty of swordplay including a climactic duel in which the blood literally spurts out of actor Tatsuya Nakadai (who plays the heavy of the piece, just as he did in Yojimbo). The scene may seem tame by modern standards but it was fairly shocking back in the day.
To find out what really happened during the filming of the controversial scene you will have to check out the extras on the Criterion Collection.
In addition to a lovingly restored hi def version of the film the Criterion DVD includes a minidoc on the making of Sanjuro, including interview clips with Nakadai, production designer Yoshiro Muraki and longtime Kurosawa collaborator Teruyo Nogami. There’s even a vintage interview clip from Kurosawa himself. (You’ll also find an essay on the film from esteemed movie critic Michael Sragow in a booklet tucked inside the DVD.)
PS Yojimbo was previously written up in this blog.