Sarcastic samurai saves several simpletons with some sick swipes of his sword. Say that seven times fast. With a lisp.
Akira Kurosawa was a cool guy. I never met him, but I’ve seen some of his work. Neat stuff. Props dude, nice job.
I’m sure his soul can move on to the next world now that he has received a compliment from me. It all goes back to the blog’s motto:
“tap2gg, laying the souls of celebrated film directors to rest since June.”
Today, I review Sanjuro. Sanjuro is one of those movies which falls into the bucket of Kurosawa’s lesser known films, along with (in my humble opinion), High and Low, The Bad Sleep Well, and Red Beard. These are all really great Kurosawa movies that I don’t hear talked about nearly as much as his more celebrated works like Rashomon or Ran. However, Sanjuro is a really fun movie nonetheless and is still up there as being one of my favorite Asian movies ever. It also has the distinction of being the first Kurosawa movie I ever saw.
Sanjuro tells the story of a group of young, hot-headed samurai who attempt to arrest some corrupt court officials. However, their naivete lands them in more trouble than they could have bargained for. Luckily for them, Sanjuro, a shrewd ronin with a harsh tongue and rough manner, guides them on their mission to stop the plotting politicians. Time and time again, the youthful exuberance of the samurai gets them in sticky situations and Sanjuro tries his best to pull everybody out before it’s too late.
It is definitely a more light-hearted samurai flick than Yojimbo or Seven Samurai. Sanjuro is played by Kurosawa’s mainstay, Toshiro Mifune. This guy is amazing in every film he’s in. Whatever movie I see him in, he always knock his performance out of the park. As the calculating samurai with a rough exterior and soft heart, Mifune does a great job.
I love everything about this movie, from the acting, to the script, to the plot, to the cinematography. However, with me, it almost always comes down to the characters, which incorporates elements of all of the aforementioned things. What I found intriguing in this film was the added complexity to Sanjuro’s character. It is never fully revealed, but there is an aspect to Sanjuro and his past which is definitely strange. He does not want other to follow him, and despite his superior abilities as a samurai, he does not seek employment as one. He is content with being, as he is often referred to in the film, “a sword without a sheath”. However, at the end of the film, he concurs with a statement made early in the film by another character that, ‘the best sword is kept in its sheath”.
I find this to be an interesting concept, as it really wraps up the moral of the movie. All throughout the film, the young samurai who want so desperately to, “kick arse and take names” so to speak, are told to calm down and think things through before acting, or risk acting harshly. Often, their thoughtless actions result in the loss of lives and deter their efforts. These young men might be described as “swords without sheaths”, as they quite literally can not keep their own swords in their sheaths.
However, of all the characters in the film, the one described as “a sword without a sheath” is Sanjuro. During every tough situation, he insists on waiting and seeing what might happen before moving in, swords-a-blazin’. He despises having to kill and reprimands the young samurai when they force him into a situation where he has to draw his blade. And yet, he is a sword without a sheath. Why? I believe the reason comes from his satisfaction with being a ronin.
In the time of the samurai, the sword was thought to represent the soul of a samurai. It was a physical manifestation of what it meant to be a samurai. That is just how it was. And when you were a samurai, you did not swing the sword for yourself. The only honorable way to swing your sword was in the service of your lord. Samurai came together under this common belief of the sword in their souls and the honor of their lord. This was the way of the samurai, and it is what gave rise to their indomitable spirit.
However, what of ronin? A ronin, or masterless samurai, has no lord to swing his sword for. He swings his sword for himself. And for a samurai, there is no honor in this. His sword swings for no one else. It is now a selfish tool of self-preservation. It has no home to go to. It has no sheath. When you are a samurai, you know who your enemies are, they are the enemies of your lord. You know when to sheath your sword and when not to. In other words, those samurai who have a lord or clan have a “sheath” to go back to. When you are a ronin, how can you sheath your sword? The world is your enemy, because you are alone. Your sword might as well have no sheath, and thus your soul is laid bare. This is the despair of the ronin, and it is why Sanjuro insists that no one walk his path. As good of a swordsman as he may be, he knows that the path he wishes to walk is one without a bright future. He understands better than anyone that the best sword is one that has a sheath to return to.
That’s it from me folks. Thanks for reading and have a great day.
No, not the MATSSSS?!?