Toshiro Mifune is the title Ronin in 19th century Japan, a dishevelled, somewhat sleepy loner who nonetheless is a man to be reckoned with. He hooks up with 9 lowly samurai who are convinced that the local Chamberlain (Yunosuke Ito) is corrupt and are hoping the superintendent (Masao Shimizu) will do something about him. The wily warrior Sanjuro however, surmises that it’s actually the superintendent they need to be wary of. The men greatly disagree but Sanjuro is soon proven right, and becomes their protector of sorts. However, when Sanjuro seems to be all pally with the superintendent’s slightly more honourable henchman Muroto (Tatsuya Nakadai) they don’t know what to make of their protector’s motives. Is he merely manipulating Muroto in order to help his hapless new friends? Or does Sanjuro have other motives?
Another day, another Toshiro Mifune flick directed by Akira Kurosawa (“The Seven Samurai”), this 1962 Samurai flick is really good stuff. Of all the Mifune/Kurosawa films I’ve seen, this is the one that is the most purely a showcase for Mifune’s unmatched badassery. Here, Mifune projects a kind of attitude of fearing nothing and no one, and is almost sleepy about it. He may be the most laidback bad arse of all-time. It’s like he already knows there’s no way anyone else can beat him, so why sweat? He’s just fucking cool, and it’s a treat to watch. Mifune’s so iconic in these sorts of roles that you forget that he’s an actor playing a role here. That may be the highest compliment you can pay a performer. Early on you already get a sense that the guy is unbeatable when about 20-30 guys decide to stop attacking him because it’d take too long to kill him. Bad. Arse. Up until the gloriously blood-spurting finale, there’s no blood here but I swear the title character murders the fuck out of about 150 people singlehandedly here, give or take about 120 or so. IMDb has the final count at 27, but it feels like a lot more. Still, he kills people aplenty and seemingly with ease.
As for the film, it joins “Yojimbo” and “The Hidden Fortress” (as well as one other, yet-to-be reviewed, unnamed film that you may guess) at the top of the list for Kurosawa films I’ve seen, with “Rashomon” not far behind them. There’s a little similarity to “Yojimbo” to some of the plot, but not nearly enough to be considered plagiaristic. Mifune’s Sanjuro is really only manipulating one side of the warring factions here. In fact, it is considered to be a sequel to “Yojimbo”, though it didn’t really play that way to me.
Fans of Samurai flicks really need to see this one, it’s freaking cool. Mifune is a laidback bad arse mofo extraordinaire. Excellent music score by Masaru Satô (“The Hidden Fortress”, “Yojimbo”) as well. The screenplay is by Kurosawa, Hideo Oguni (“The Hidden Fortress”, “The Bad Sleep Well”), and Ryuzo Kikushima (“The Hidden Fortress”, “Yojimbo”).