Tag Archives: Akira Kurosawa

Film Review: Sanjuro

Reviewer: Julie Lynn Hayes

 Sanjuro

 

Iori Izaka (Yuzo Kayama) is the nephew of the chamberlain, Mutsuta (Yunosuke Ito). He hopes to enlist his uncle’s aid in making much needed reforms in the village, but his uncle doesn’t seem interested. The superintendent, Kikui (Masao Shimizu) is very interested, and tells Iori to gather his friends quickly so he can speak to them. As the young men discuss their plans, they are startled to discover that they have been overheard by a ronin sleeping in the next room. Sanjuro (Toshiro Mifune) is quick to tell them why they are wrong and, without even knowing either the superintendent or the chamberlain, he can describe them to a tee. Too late, he realizes the meeting is to take place at the spot where they are. And actually they are already surrounded. If they are to survive, they must listen to Sanjuro.

 

Sanjuro bluffs his way out of the situation with the men, and garners an invitation from vice-chamberlain Muroto to work for him. They learn that Iori’s uncle has been kidnapped and his wife and daughter are being held. The young men protest when Sanjuro tells them they need to rescue the women first,claiming that they must save the chamberlain. But common sense prevails when Sanjuro reminds them they don’t even know where he is being held, and perhaps the women have overheard something. Through the use of Sanjuro’s crafty plan, they rescue the women. Mutsuta’s wife (Takako Irie) is grateful but serene. She advocates that they not use so much violence, but that isn’t always possible. Especially when the young men don’t listen to Sanjuro and attempt to carry out their own plans.

 

They hide in one of the young men’s homes, which just happens to be next to the home of Kurofuji, one of Kikui’s allies. Who would look for someone under their very noses? The enemy is cunning too and lead them on wild goose chases because the young ones are so quick to react. They just might ruin one plan too many!

 

Sanjuro is the sequel to Yojimbo, with Toshiro Mifune once again playing the titular character, a wandering ronin. I liked this film as much as I liked Yojimbo. It definitely made me laugh at times.  I loved the interplay between Mutsuta’s wife and Sanjuro. I think he would prefer not to kill either, but sometimes he is pushed into a situation where it is inevitable. She is a great character, and so is her daughter Chidori (Reiko Dan). Once again, the cinematography and direction are excellent, as is the soundtrack. Definitely worth watching. I give this film 5 Stars.

Film Review: Kagemusha

Reviewer: Julie Lynn Hayes

Kagemusha

In the time just before the Edo Period in Japan, rival war lords known as daimyo were often at each other’s throats, vying for supremacy. One such lord is Shingen Takeda (Tatsuya Nakadai), while his fiercest competitors are Ieyasu Tokugawa (Masayuki Yui) and Oda Nobunaga (Daisuke Ryu). One of Shingen’s commanders is his brother Nobukado (Tsutomu Yamazaki), who resembles him to such a degree that he sometimes takes his place in the field. One day, purely by chance, Nobukao runs across a petty thief who is about to be crucified and looks even more like Shingen than he is. In fact, they could be twins. So he brings the thief back with him, thinking he’d be useful as a double for the war lord.

The thief (also played by Tatsuya Nakadai) grudgingly accepts his role as double. His presence becomes even more crucial when Shingen is shot in battle. It’s imperative that his enemies not know. When the war lord dies, the thief is thrust into the position of the new war lord and has to learn about a whole new life. Nobunaga and Tokugawa begin sniffing around at rumors that Shingen is dead, trying to learn the truth. Shingen’s son Katsuyori (Ken’ichi Hagiwara) is itching for war but cooler heads prevail. He might be a little salty since he is not his father’s heir, rather his son Takemura (kota Yui) is. He realizes his father is dead but has to pretend otherwise. The angry Katsuyori heads off to take a castle on his own. When Shingen/thief discovers this, he feels he has no choice but to support his “son”:

.Inevitably, the truth comes out, and now the battle begins.

This film is one of Kurosawa’s finest. It’s big and beautiful, with the most amazing cinematography and music. The role of the thief/double was originally given to actor Shintaro Katsu (best known for playing Zatoichi, the blind swordsman/masseuse), but creative differences ended that and Nakadai received the role instead. The production ran out of money before the film was finished, but thanks to a little help from Francis Ford Coppola and George Lucas, they persuaded Twentieth Century Fox to come to Kurosawa’s aid, and the rest is history.

In a historic note, less than thirty years later, in 1601, the Battle of Sekigahara cemented Tokugawa’s

position as shogun, and the family would continue to rule for the next 250 years. Kagemusha is a very rich film, and Nakadai gives a stunning performance as the poor thief, caught up in a world he never wanted to be a part of, but his devotion to Shingen during the brief time of their acquaintance led him to do what he considered to be the right thing. I give this film 5 Stars

Film Review: Yojimbo

Reviewer: Julie Lynn Hayes

 Yojimbo


A wandering ronin (a samurai without a master) who calls himself Sanjuro (Toshire Mifune) allows Fate to lead him where it will and ends up in a small town where two rival criminal gangs are fighting each other for dominance. Sanjuro has a distinct distaste for injustice, and feels for the plight of the poor townspeople, whose very livelihood as well as their existence, is threatened by these hooligans.  The only person who is making any money is the coffinmaker. So Sanjuro decides he will help the town out by pitting the gangs against one another.

Sanjuro takes up residence at the tavern, despite having no money. The tavern keeper, Gonji (Elijiro Tono) thinks he is crazy to attempt to take on both gangs. One side is as corrupt as the other. Sanjuro goes to the head of Seibe (Seizaburo Kawazu) , who owns the brothel, and contracts with him to take care of the opposition for 50 ryo, half in advance. Having struck a bargain, he overhears a conversation between Seibe and his wife in which they reveal they will kill him when the job is done and take all their money back. Sanjuro returns the money and heads to the other side, to bargain with Ushitora.

 

Sanjuro’s plan is about to work, with both sides taking out each other, when the unexpected appearance 

by a government official in a fancy palanquin brings a halt to everything. The rivals have no wish to be perceived as having trouble in their town, not wishing to bring any scrutiny on themselves, so they decide to play nice. For now.

It doesn’t take long for Tanjuro to figure out why this minor official has such a fancy ride, so decides to


take care of him himself.  Then he learns about the abduction of a woman in the town. Her poor husband, unable to help her, builds a hovel next to the mansion where her captor lives, and can do nothing but witness her nightly ravishment at his hands. Sanjuro maneuvers her escape and gives the couple and their child money with which to leave town. He is caught and beaten up, then held captive.

He manages to escape. In the meantime, a new player has entered the scene, Unosuke (Tatsuya Nakadai). He is a gunfighter, and Ushitora’s brother. It’s inevitable that the two face off as Sanjuro cleans house once and for all.

Yojimbo means bodyguard, which is basically what a ronin is, being a samurai who has no master and thus available to be employed by anyone willing to pay his price. I really enjoyed this film. First off, it’s Akiro Kurosawa, so you know it has to be good. Secondly, it stars Toshiro Mifune, the finest actor to ever come out of Japan. The cinematography is great, and the use of the music in the soundtrack is genius.  Besides the obvious drama, there is an element of humor, especially on the part of the bemused samurai whom Unosuke nicknames the Two Bit Samurai. 

 

While putting on a tough front, Sanjuro reveals his tender side through his actions, first of all because he feels bad for this town and the hell they are being put through because of other people’s greed. He doesn’t do anything for his own gain. Even when he took money from one side, he ended up giving it to the family he reunited. And when all was said and done, he went on his way.

I will give this film 5 Stars. You can find it at Amazon