As is so often the case when a movie is just really good, I don’t have that much to say about it. I’ve written before about how much easier it is to talk about things you don’t like, or things that provoke some immense question. In this case, this is just a super fun film with some incredible acting. Which makes for a first-rate cinema experience, but a pretty boring essay around these parts!
What I will say is that it’s just such a pleasure watching Toshiro Mifune work. He was seriously a national, in this case Japanese national, treasure. He descends on the proceedings here and lifts them up, in concert with the as-usual incredible work of Akira Kurosawa, and the rest of the filmmaking team. Most of the rest of the cast doesn’t stand a chance, they are merely there to provide the strict structure that makes his complete lack of it all the more noticeable.
This is a film about contrasts. Mifune’s Sanjuro is a character in motion, physical in his disregard for societal norms. Everyone around him is instead mechanical and stiff. Their order allows his chaos to shine through. All of them except Tatsuya Nakadai, who is almost as towering a figure as Mifune himself. The pairing is absolutely delicious.
Contrasts. Strict samurai codes come up against Mifune’s earthy lack of concern and Nakadai’s complete and open dastardliness. It all melds together to create something far greater than the sum of its parts. Not a masterpiece really. More of a trifle, something absolutely perfect and small and delicious. More of this please!