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Film / Sanjuro

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"You're too sharp. That's your trouble. You're like a drawn sword. Sharp, naked without a sheath. You cut well. But good swords are kept in their sheaths."
Mutsuta's wife to Sanjuro

Sanjuro (椿三十郎 - Tsubaki Sanjūrō) is a 1962 Japanese Jidaigeki film directed by Akira Kurosawa. It is the sequel to 1961's Yojimbo, and stars Toshiro Mifune once again. Kurosawa had been writing a film adaptation of the novel Peaceful Days by Shugoro Yamamoto, with the intention of having his assistant director Hiromichi Horikawa direct the project. In response to the popularity of Mifune's character in Yojimbo, the script was rewritten to have Sanjuro be the titular main character, and Kurosawa decided to direct the film himself.

While Yojimbo had a dark comedy about a wandering Rōnin manipulating two criminal organizations into mutual self-destruction, Sanjuro has lighter comedy, teaming the same character up with ten wacky sidekicks, plus a character who misses out on the whole Jewish Mother stereotype only by being Japanese. Their mission: expose the corrupt official playing the local government like a fiddle.

Despite its relatively rushed production (getting released less than eight months after Yojimbo's premiere and being adapted from a work that didn't even have its lead character originally), it turned out to be an acclaimed sequel.

Sanjuro provides examples of:

  • Affably Evil: Muroto is fastidious and polite, and his sharp mind reminds Sanjuro a little of himself.
  • Animal Motifs: Whereas in Yojimbo Sanjuro's behaviour- his habit of scratching a lot, his confident, shambling walk- is akin to that of a wolf or a dog, in Sanjuro he's compared to a tiger or a cat: he's intelligent and deadly, but much more languid.
  • Beauty Equals Goodness: Inverted with Chamberlain Mutsuta and Superintendent Kikui. The Chamberlain describes himself as having a "horse face", which lead the warriors to mistrust him despite his being an honorable man, while they initially assume that Kikui is a good man who will aid them in dealing with the corrupt officials because he's handsome, when he's really their ringleader. Also inverted with a couple of ugly but well-meaning young sidekicks. Played straight with Sanjuro, who is scruffy but very handsome.
  • Big Bad: Superintendent Kikui, the Corrupt Politician our heroes are fighting.
  • Big Good: Chamberlain Mutsuta.
  • Bittersweet Ending: Sanjuro kills Muroto, but he's not happy about it, given all he'd learned from Mutsuta's wife.
  • Brilliant, but Lazy: Sanjuro is an excellent strategist and a Master Swordsman, but he would rather spend more time dozing in a corner of the room rather than participating in the activities of his nine companions.
  • Broken Ace: Sanjuro becomes one by the end after trying not to kill people and ending up with twenty seven dead men by his hand.
  • Bumbling Sidekick: The nine young men whom Sanjuro offers to help, although they get the job done smoothly whenever they follow Sanjuro's instructions without complaint.
  • But Now I Must Go: The Lord of the region offers him a job, but Sanjuro doesn't show up. The Lord reveals that he knew Sanjuro would never be able to settle down like that, and the young samurai Sanjuro had been tutoring chase after him to change his mind. Ends up subverted; after having to kill his adversary, Sanjuro's too upset to stay, but he won't be venturing on either, with the implication that it's time to retire his blade.
  • Call-Back: Sanjuro retains his tendency to make up a name for himself based on what he sees out the door...and again, the false name results in his having to add that his real age is actually "closer to forty".
  • Character Development: Some of the Sidekick!Samurais actually have a change of perspective throughout the course of the movie.
    • As does Sanjuro himself due to the old lady's metaphor of how "a good sword stays in its scabbard."
  • Character Tics: As in Yojimbo, Sanjuro has habits of scratching his head and beard, and hitching his shoulders.
    • Takebayashi is often seen pacing up and down, showing that he can be a bit of a Nervous Wreck.
  • Characterization Marches On: Sanjuro has grown weary of his ruthlessness in Yojimbo and tries to refrain from it in this movie, even though he ends up killing 27 people by the end.
  • Deadpan Snarker: Sanjuro, endlessly.
    Sanjuro: You tired of being stupid yet?
  • Deconstructed Trope: Sanjuro's brutal tendencies as a fighter, thanks to wise advice from the Chamberlain's wife.
  • Dragon Ascendant: This is what Muroto hopes to be to Superintendent Kikui.
  • The Drifter: Sanjuro.
  • End of an Age: Not immediately apparent, but as this film takes place shortly after Yojimbo, the film likely takes place in 1860, give or take a few months, less than a decade before the Meiji Restoration and the end of the Tokugawa shogunate. The previous film already hinted at Japan's opening to the outside world with Unosuke's revolver. In this film, almost all the samurai apart from Sanjuro himself and Muroto are either bureaucrats or warriors in name only; in the scene where Sanjuro kills the guards to free his four captured comrades, almost none of them put up a decent fight, with the guards being either too incompetent or too cowardly to fight back. And the chief conspirators themselves (minus Muroto) all turn out to be outright cowards when they surrender without a fight to the nine young samurai who storm their compound and free Mutsuta after being tricked by Sanjuro to give them the signal. All of this signifies the decline of the samurai class, which had already been an ongoing process for the past two centuries as Japan was at peace.
  • Facial Dialogue: Half of Sanjuro's reactions to the sidekicks are glares of disdain.
  • Goldfish Poop Gang: What Sanjuro calls the sidekicks in the trailer.
  • Happy Dance: The sidekicks start jumping and cheering once a plan they had going worked. Then they catch themselves once they realise that the enemy is right next door so continue their Happy Dance quieter.
  • Have You Told Anyone Else?: Why the Sidekicks at the beginning of the movie are cluelessly waiting for the villain's agents to arrive and murder them. Fortunately for them, their chatter wakes Sanjuro up and he decides to save their silly asses.
  • Heel–Face Turn: The guard they capture at Mutsuta's mansion has one of these and becomes quite nice. He even points out that Yamyoji Temple has no upper floor, a flaw in the final plan that was overlooked.
  • High-Pressure Blood: Muroto at the very end. It's actually the Ur-Example of the trope in film, and a fine example of Throw It In!: the "blood" pump malfunctioned, running at full pressure rather than the intended rate, but the visual effect of the blood and the difficulty of cleaning up the fake "blood" led Kurosawa to just go with it.
  • Higher Understanding Through Drugs: Sanjuro tells the sidekicks that "Drinking makes me smarter".
  • Horrible Judge of Character: Before the beginning, a group of young samurai incorrectly identify the corrupt official in the clan, and plan to root him out. This would have played out perfectly for the actual corrupt official if a certain nameless ronin hadn't been eavesdropping.
  • Idiot Heroes: The nine sidekicks.
  • Jerk with a Heart of Gold: Tsubaki Sanjuro, natch. He's lazy, rude, unpleasant, disrespectful to the younger warriors and even insults Mutsuta's wife behind her back, he has no shame for indecent behaviour in public, and he begs for food, defying the proper code of honor. However, he has a stronger moral code than he did in Yojimbo and always watches out for the nine younger warriors even though their idiocy annoys him. And as the prisoner points out, his jab towards the Chamberlain's wife was because he's more comfortable with insults than with sincere compliments.
  • Kissing Cousins: Hinted at by Mutsuta's daughter Chidori as she talks about the times when she and her cousin Iori (Mutsuta's nephew) have met in the barn they're hiding in. See Roll in the Hay below.
  • Last Villain Stand: The duel against Muroto.
  • Lighter and Softer: Which oddly makes it more violent than Yojimbo in parts.
  • Line-of-Sight Alias: The ronin gives his family name as Tsubaki (camellia) after the nearest plant life.
  • Manly Tears: Sanjuro is moved to tears after he is forced to kill Muroto in a duel.
    • Particularly, Sanjuro was looking forward to avoiding all unnecessary use of his sword like the old lady said. Circumstances spurned him otherwise, however.
  • Master Swordsman: Sanjuro, naturally. When he feels like it.
  • Not a Morning Person: Sanjuro, repeatedly. When he's not in any urgent situation, he's usually seen yawning, stretching, scratching his head and neck, etc.
  • One-Man Army: Sanjuro, of course.
  • One-Word Title
  • Overly Long Gag: The short montage of Sanjuro getting repeatedly woken by the nine other samurai as they bustle about giving information.
  • Overdrawn at the Blood Bank: The final duel. See above for the reason.
  • Protagonist Title
  • Quieter Than Silence: Prior to the final duel, it becomes completely silent as the duelists stare each other down. The eventual strike is punctuated by the Scare Chord as indicated above.
  • Real Men Wear Pink: Played for laughs when Sanjuro is caught carrying an armload of flowers.
  • Reverse Grip: It's how Sanjuro wins the Single-Stroke Battle.
  • Roll in the Hay: Strongly implied when Chidori settles back against the hay comfortably and sensually while they are hiding in the barn, as she recounts how she and her cousin Iori have often spent time in that very same barn. Iori's awkward expression and him quickly excusing himself as she recounts this to her mother lends credence to this.
  • Running Gag: The guard keeps coming out of his prison to chime in on the conversations that the warriors are having.
  • Samurai Ponytail: Mifune's samurai with no name is a poor wandering ronin with a short, scruffy ponytail that sticks straight out of the back of his head.
  • Scenery Porn: Rich black-and-white imagery of the town and the gardens.
  • Seppuku: Superintendent Kikui after his defeat. Chamberlain Mutsuta was also in danger of doing this to himself while under captivity.
  • Sheathe Your Sword: The moral of the story, taught to Sanjuro by Mutsuta's wife.
  • Single-Stroke Battle: The final battle.
  • Spanner in the Works: Hilariously, the Sidekicks screw up Sanjuro's plan to infiltrate the enemy.
  • Spotting the Thread: At one point Sanjuro lures out the corrupt official's army by telling them that he had heard the rebels plotting while he napped on the second floor of a certain shrine on the outskirts of town. Unfortunately, someone eventually remembers that the shrine in question is a one story building, resulting in Sanjuro getting caught.
  • The Strategist: If there's one lesson the movie repeatedly hammers, it's the value of The Strategist. The actual number of men in Kikui's faction is somewhere in the hundreds, and they're beaten by nine greenhorns and their accidental leader through careful action and misdirection.
  • Surrounded by Idiots: Sanjuro repeatedly displays this attitude regarding the others. Understandably.
  • Too Dumb to Live: Those Sidekicks wouldn't last 10 seconds without Sanjuro watching their back. See Have You Told Anyone Else? above for the establishing example.
  • Visual Pun: "We can't walk around like this. We look like a centipede."
  • Ugly Guy, Hot Wife: Mutsuta's wife is an attractive middle-aged lady, whereas Mutsuta is referred to as a "scarecrow." Mutsuta himself recounts an encounter where, as he was riding by, someone said of him that "the rider has a longer face than the horse."
  • Women Are Wiser: Mutsuta's wife is more sensible than most of the men in the movie, save for Sanjuro and Mutsuta, and the former takes her words to heart.
  • Worthy Opponent: Sanjuro considers Muroto to be one, and the feeling is mutual.
  • Xanatos Speed Chess: Their plan to rescue the Chamberlain quickly goes awry, but Sanjuro shows mastery of Magnificent Bastardy by exercising this trope.
  • Yamato Nadeshiko: Mutsuta's wife as seen in the page quote; a sheath takes care of its sword.