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Release Date(s)1962 (March 23, 2010)
Studio(s)Toho (Criterion - Spine #53)
Toshirô Mifune and Akira Kurosawa teamed up once again with Sanjuro, a fast and fun companion piece to 1961’s Yojimbo. Thanks to the huge box office and international acclaim for Yojimbo, Kurosawa’s financial backers wanted to follow it up as quickly as possible. As luck would have it, Kurosawa already had a script prepared – one he’d written previously, based on Shugoro Yamamoto’s short story Peaceful Days. With a quick character change here, a bit of humorous commentary there, and the addition of Mifune’s Sanjuro character (here calling himself “Tsubaki Sanjuro” or “Thirty Year-Old Camellia Tree,” though as he points out he’s actually closer to forty now), Kurosawa’s sequel was ready to shoot, allowing his audience to laugh and thrill once more at the stylings and skills of film history’s best loved samurai.
Sanjuro begins inside a temple, with a group of nine samurai discussing a difficult situation. It seems they have a corrupt leader in their clan, and they’re not sure which of their two superintendents to trust. Because of society’s predilection to trust something attractive over unattractive, they end up putting their trust in the wrong man and mess up big. Sanjuro, who has been lounging in the back of the temple, overhears the whole conversation. He lets them know how naive they are and scolds them for seeing things only at face value – a theme that runs through this whole film. (It’s an apt one, given that Sanjuro himself is a seemingly scruffy brute who doesn’t follow any of the traditional rules of the samurai, yet has more honor than most men of his time.) Being a fan of the underdog, Sanjuro decides to protect the samurai from being killed. But the only way he’ll be able to walk away cleanly is to end the corruption once and for all, and see the right person put in charge.
Sanjuro is not as awesome a film as Yojimbo, but it’s also not made in the same style either. This film is period comedy as only Kurosawa could tell it. There’s solid action to be sure, but it’s the incredible humor (involving both the film’s characters and Kurosawa’s thumbing his nose at conventional costume dramas) that really stands out. The film also features very solid acting by everyone involved. So while it’s is not as awesome as Yojimbo... Sanjuro remains an incredibly enjoyable film in its own right.
Like the new Yojimbo Blu-ray, Criterion’s Sanjuro BD is essentially a direct upgrade of their most recent DVD special edition of the film. Presented in full 1080p high-definition, mastered from restored elements, the film looks about as good as you can ever imagine seeing it. Contrast is good (if not quite as good as the Yojimbo BD), with solid blacks and excellent image detail. Grain is light but remains to keep the image appropriately film-like, and there’s only very minor, age-related print issues. The original Japanese audio is again presented in LPCM 1.0 lossless, as well as DTS-HD MA 3.0 lossless, which recreates the film’s vintage “Perspecta” mix. (The latter is definitely the preferred audio choice.)
All of the extras from the 2007 DVD release are carried over here, including the Stephen Prince audio commentary, the It Is Wonderful to Create documentary installment, the film’s theatrical trailer and the gallery of stills. (The trailer and stills are now also upgraded to HD.) The DVD’s liner notes booklet is also reproduced here essentially word-for-word, though in a size befitting the smaller BD case. If you have the option, the Blu-ray upgrades are definitely the best way to experience these films at home.
- Todd Doogan