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Japan 1961
Directed by
Akira Kurowasa
110 minutes
Rated PG

Reviewed by
Bernard Hemingway
3 stars


Anyone familiar with akira Kurosawa's classic samurai films like Rashomon (1950) and The Seven Samurai (1954) may well be disconcerted by the director’s self-parodic and sometimes near-slapstick approach here. In part this is because he is hybridising the samurai genre, of which he is the most famous exponent, with the Hollywood Western and a sense of playfulness abounds. Of course it is well known that this stylistic cross-fertilization was taken even further by Sergio Leone when he remade Kurosawa's film as A Fistful of Dollars in 1964 (it was also remade in 1996 by Walter Hill as Last Man Standing, a Bruce Willis vehicle that I have not seen but which was, by all accounts, execrable).

One can certainly see in the central character Sanjuro (Toshiro Mifune in his ninth film for Kurosawa), a ronin or sword-for-hire, the seeds of Leone’s Man With No Name, much being made of his ‘outsider’ social standing, part pariah, part free spirit, although Sanjuro is more human and anyone looking for a comparable mythic hero will be disappointed. In this respect the film at times appears to be too off-hand and, one might suggest that it owes a large debt to Leone's borrowings for its continuing reputation. For those interested in the phallic implications of the gun in Westerns the scene between Sanjuro and his rival, the pistol-toting and incongruously effeminate Unosuké, is one of the most salient I can recall since that between Montgomery Clift and John Ireland in Howard Hawks’ Red River (1948).




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