Sanjuro AKA Tsubaki Sanjûrô
R1 - America - Criterion Collection
Review written by and copyright: Cory Max (16th March 2008).
The Film

After the financial and critical success of Yojimbo, studio executives at Toho approached Akira Kurosawa to direct a sequel. Taking Shugoro Yamamoto's novel Peaceful Days, and replacing the two samurai with Toshirô Mifune’s vagabond anti-hero ronin Sanjûrô, Kurosawa would create one of his lightest and funniest films. Another deviation from the original story is that Sanjûrô’s fight is not with a gang of yakuza, but with corrupt government officials, giving the film a separate storyline needed to distinguish and distance it from its predecessor Yojimbo. By making these changes, Tsubaki Sanjûrô comes across as less of a sequel and more of a prequel in that Sanjûrô’s sheathed sword mindset in the film, is replaced with a kill at all cost cynicism in the screenplay of Yojimbo.

Set in nineteenth century Japan, a group of nine young and ambitious samurai uncover a web of corruption in their clan. When the leader of the group Iori Izaka (Yuzo Kayama) confronts Mutsuta the chamberlain (Yûnosuke Itô) with their findings, he is surprisingly rebuffed and suspicious of the chamberlain’s actions. He then seeks out superintendent Kikui (Masao Shimizu)and informs him of his conversation with Mutsuta. At first, Kikui’s response is one of shock and uneasiness at the revelations of corruption that Iori and his followers have uncovered, but his demeanor changes to an overtly eager willingness to help them bring the guilty to justice. He tells Iori to gather his group and wait for him at a temple on the outskirts of their territory. As Iori is relaying this story to his company of cohorts, the sound of another visitor to the temple can be heard in an adjacent room. When the stranger makes his presence known to the group, they are fearful that he is a spy of Mutsuta and are ready to kill him.

Introducing himself as a wayward ronin, he suggests that Mutsuta is not the corrupt official but that Kikui is the guilty one. He uses the chamberlain’s own words to state his case, “The worst one is beyond your imagination”. When the group begins to heed Sanjûrô’s advice, they tell him of their impending meeting with Kikui at the temple. Instantly, Sanjûrô realizes the trap that Kikui has set to capture his antagonists. Through his guile and bravado, Sanjûrô takes on Kikui’s men and saves the nine samurai’s lives. When it is realized that the chamberlain’s life is now in danger through the statements made to Kikui by Iori, Sanjûrô agrees to assist them in freeing the kidnapped chamberlain and exposing the true criminal to the clan. Throughout the course of the film, Sanjûrô will deal with the group’s immaturity and will have to bail them out of life threatening situations that will arise in their pursuit of justice for the guilty.

As sequels go, Tsubaki Sanjûrô is in a class of its own. If Yojimbo had never been made, Tsubaki Sanjûrô would stand alone as a respected chambara classic. Interwoven with suspense, action and comedy, its narrative is free to meander toward its exciting finale involving the two powerful adversaries, Sanjûrô and Hanbei (Tatsuya Nakadai). At a time when bloodshed was not shown onscreen, the silent standoff between the two samurai would forever be etched in cinematic history as an exciting precursor to the bloodlettings made by future directors Sergio Leone and Sam Peckinpaugh. A highly recommended film, Tsubaki Sanjûrô is a non-stop thrill ride for anyone who enjoys a good samurai story overflowing with believable action.


If you owned Criterion’s original release from 1999, then this new edition relegates that disc to the status of skeet target. First off, this version is anamorphically enhanced for 16:9 televisions, but better still is the fact that it is finally being offered in its OAR of 2.35:1. With a Kurosawa film, any missing portions due to cropping should be considered criminal. The contrast seems to have been enhanced to bring out more of the detail of the frame, and the transfer is relatively free from debris. Blacks are bold and there is hardly any notice of shimmering at all. An outstanding effort.


Originally, this film was released with a recorded soundtrack that was enhanced by the Perspecta Stereophonic sound system. Perspecta took the basic mono soundtrack and spread it across three separate channels. It wasn’t true stereo, but it added a little more depth and body to the dialogue and score. Criterion has given the viewer the choice of 1 channel mono or 3 channel utilizing the center channel and front satellites of a 5.1 sound sytem.

Optional English subtitles are also included.


As with most DVD’s from Criterion, the commentary is worth the purchase price alone. Stephen Prince has done the lion’s share of Kurosawa commentaries for Criterion and once again has provided not only an insightful treatise on the film, but an entertaining one also. He stays on course with the film, never deviating on a tangent that could detract from the viewer’s pleasure.

Included with the disc is a 22 page booklet containing essays pertaining to the film and its director, by Donald Richie, author of The Films of Akira Kurosawa, Michael Sragow, Yoshirô Muraki, Keiju Kobayashi and Teruyo Nogami.

As with the other DVD’s of Kurosawa films, Criterion gives us a 35 minute excerpt from Toho’s documentary Akira Kurosawa: It Is Wonderful to Create. I wish that Criterion would release this documentary as a stand alone DVD, as the wealth of insight this documentary offers is essential to understanding the importance of Kurosawa’s film legacy.

Finally, there is a theatrical and teaser trailer for the film.


The Film: A Video: A Audio: A Extras: B+ Overall: A


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