Thursday, June 24, 2010

Say It Ain’t So Sanjuro


Sanjuro

When the Chamberlain and his family are kidnapped, nine samurai’s from his clan plot to rescue him. Fortunately for the young men, Sanjuro (Toshirô Mifune) just happens to be hanging out in their house (literally) and advises them that a greater scheme is at hand. Sanjuro believes that the Superintendant is responsible for all of this and offers to aide them in their quest to save the Chamberlain. Before Sanjuro and the nine samurai can free the Chamberlain they must figure out how to defeat Hanbei (Tatsuya Nakadai), the samurai in charge of governing the Superintendant’s soldiers

After being wowed by Yojimbo I was hoping for a similar high out of Akira Kurosawa’s follow-up Sanjuro. As any drug addict can attest, chasing that repeat high often leads to more harm than good. After witnessing Yojimbo’s offbeat blend of action and humour I was rather excited to revisit the world of that loveable ronin, Sanjuro. Sadly Sanjuro’s world now suffers from a case of overpopulation. Instead of sitting back and enjoying the wonderful way Sanjuro’s mind works, I was forced to endure several uninteresting supporting characters. At times the movie feels like Sanjuro and the Nine Dwarfs. When the nine other warriors are not whining about wanting to save the Chamberlain, they are constantly disobeying all of Sanjuro’s suggestions. There are only so many times I can watch the same scenes play out.

It is even more infuriating when you consider that Sanjuro has already established himself as “the man” within the first act of the film.I do not know about the rest of you, but if a mysterious ronin appears inside my house and tells me that I have been set up. I might be a bit skeptical at first. Yet if it turns out that he was right about set up, and then proceeds to save my life by taking on twenty to thirty men by himself!!! I would be the first person by his side with a pen and paper in hand ready to take notes.


It also does not help matters that Sanjuro is now dealing with issues of guilt. After an official’s wife comments that Sanjuro is like a shining sword (i.e. always in use) compared to all the best swords which remain in their covering; we see a drastic change in Sanjuro. He begins to feel deep remorse for having to take a person’s life and no longer wants to be viewed as the cool killer. I am all for growth in characters but, for this type of film, the change should fit the essence of the character. It was already established in the first movie that Sanjuro is a caring person whose vanity gets the better of him at times. Did the character really need to go the “why did you make me kill him” route?

It is at this moment where the shine Sanjuro had in Yojimbo slowly begins to dull a bit. It is similar to watching the Star Wars prequels and finding out that the evil Darth Vader, the most fearsome guy in the galaxy, is really just a boy with a broken heart. While I still like the character of Sanjuro on the whole, I wish he had been in a better film than this. Like many sequels, before and after it, Sanjuro does not match its predecessor. While Toshirô Mifune valiantly tries his best to repeat the magic he had in the first film, it is the abundance of useless supporting players that hold his character, and the film, from reaching those heights once again.


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