|Directed by||Akira Kurosawa|
|Produced by||Ryuzo Kikushima
|Written by||Ryuzo Kikushima
|Music by||Masaru Sato|
|Editing by||Akira Kurosawa|
|Distributed by||Toho Company Ltd.|
|Release dates||January 1, 1962 (Japan)
May 7, 1963 (US)
|Running time||96 minutes|
Nine young samurai believe that the lord chamberlain, Mutsuta, is corrupt after he tore up their petition against organised crime. One of them tells the superintendent of this, and he agrees to intervene. As the nine meet secretly at a shrine and discuss their problem, a ronin (Mifune) emerges from another room where he had been resting. The ronin had overheard their plans, and suggests that the superintendent is in fact the real corrupt official. While at first the samurai are insulted by his claims, they soon find themselves surrounded by the superintendent's men, proving that he was correct. The ronin fights off the men in return for money; however after realizing that Mutsuta and his family must now be in danger, he decides to help the samurai bring down the corrupt officials.
Indeed, when the samurai go to Mutsuta's house, they find that he has been abducted and his wife (played by Takako Irie) and daughter (Reiko Dan) are imprisoned in the house. Following Sanjuro's suggestion, a servant from the house gets the guards drunk, allowing the samurai to free the women. The group hide in a house next door to the superintendent's compound, which contains a large number of (camellia) trees. Mutsuta's wife asks the ronin's name; looking out the window at the tsubaki (camellia) trees, which he can see over the fence separating the two properties, he invents the name Tsubaki Sanjūrō, meaning "thirty-year-old camellias". The lady chastises Sanjuro for using his sword too frequently and insists that he refrain from unnecessary killing, noting that the best swordsmen keep their weapons in their sheaths.
The Superintendent's henchman, Muroto Hanbei (Tatsuya Nakadai), and several other corrupt officials address a plan to outsmart the chamberlain's followers. First they post an open notice that the chamberlain has been arrested and charged with being involved in organized crime. Afterwards, they try to lure out the samurai by sending out the officials' palanquins, assuming that the samurai will think the corrupt officials are in them and attack. This backfires on them, however, when a posse of people from the town, inflamed by the open notice, ride out to protect the palanquins, just as the samurai are preparing to attack. The samurai then retreat to their hideout.
Sanjuro decides to get closer to Hanbei's master by going undercover as his henchman. Mistrust causes several of the samurai to believe he is switching sides. The samurai agree that four of them will follow him: two who believe in him and two who do not. However, Sanjuro realizes he is being followed and the four are easily captured by Hanbei. When Hanbei leaves to request reinforcements, Sanjuro frees the four captured samurai, at the expense of having to kill all their guards. He demands that the four tie him up, and is found in that situation by Hanbei. Sanjuro tells Hanbei that they were attacked by a large number of samurai, and admits that Hanbei cannot hire him after such a disgraceful fiasco. To make amends, Sanjuro insincerely commits to finding the attackers.
The next day, Mutsuta's wife and daughter find a piece of a petition in the small stream that flows from the superintendent's compound to their hideout. The samurai realise that this could only have come from Mutsuta, who must therefore be imprisoned in the compound. While at first they consider a full on attack on the officials, they soon realize that the compound is filled by the superintendent's forces, so that such an attack would be futile.
Sanjuro hatches a plan to get the army out of the compound, by telling Hanbei that he saw the rebellious samurai at a temple where he was sleeping in the second story of the gate. He says he will then send a signal for the samurai to attack by floating large numbers of camellias down the stream. The first part of the plan works, with the superintendent's forces rushing off to the temple; however Hanbei catches Sanjuro trying to drop the camellias in the stream, realizes something is fishy, and ties him up. Just as Hanbei is preparing to kill Sanjuro, the remaining corrupt officials realize that Sanjuro has tricked them (the temple where Sanjuro said he saw the rebellious samurai does not have a two-story gate). They convince Hanbei not to waste any further time over Sanjuro and instead catch up with the superintendent's forces and have them return to the compound as soon as possible. In a comedic scene, Sanjuro tricks the officials into making the signal for the samurai to attack. It works and they manage to rescue Sanjuro and Mutsuta. Hanbei returns later to find he has been made a fool once again.
Mutsuta is restored to his position as chamberlain, and the superintendent commits suicide. As Mutsuta, his family and the loyal samurai are celebrating, they realize that Sanjuro has slipped away. They race off and find him with Hanbei, about to duel.
Sanjuro is reluctant to fight and tries to dissuade Hanbei saying that if they fight, one of them would surely die and nothing would be gained by that. However, Hanbei is obdurate, saying his dignity has been soiled and that killing Sanjuro is the only way to restore it.
The two face off at each other and remain unmoving for almost half a minute. Finally, as Hanbei draws his sword, Sanjuro kills him by drawing and slashing forward and up in one single swift move. A fountain of blood gushes from Hanbei and he falls dead. When the young samurai cheer his victory, Sanjuro becomes angry, says he's in a bad mood and that his dead adversary was exactly like him. He now has a fuller understanding of Lady Mutsuta's admonition that the best swords are the ones that are kept in their sheaths. Sanjuro then stalks off in a huff after warning the worshipful young men not to follow him.
- Toshiro Mifune as Sanjuro Tsubaki
- Tatsuya Nakadai as Hanbei Muroto
- Yuzo Kayama as Iori Izaka
- Takako Irie as Mutsuta's wife
- Reiko Dan as Chidori
- Takashi Shimura as Kurofuji
The story is largely based on Shūgorō Yamamoto's short story "Peaceful Days" (日日平安 Nichinichi hei-an). Originally Sanjuro was to be a straight adaptation of the story. After the success of Yojimbo the studio decided to resurrect its popular antihero, and Kurosawa reimagined the script accordingly.
The scene where a single blossom falls into a rushing stream raised severe problems on how to pull it off. Originally the crew considered using piano wire but were afraid the light glinting on it would show up on film. A female costume designer suggested unraveling a woman's stocking and using the nylon due to its strength and invisibility. When it worked, Kurosawa said the happiness he felt at that moment was "indescribable".
In the same documentary Nakadai and production designer Yoshiro Muraki relate that the notorious "blood explosion" at the film's end was done in one take. At the moment that the compressor hose attached to actor Tatsuya Nakadai was activated it blew a coupling causing a much larger gush of fluid than planned. In fact it was so strong that it nearly lifted him off the ground and it took all his might to finish the scene.
- "Sanjuro". britannica.com. Retrieved 22 August 2012.
- Richie, Donald. The films of Akira Kurosawa. p. 156.
- Yoshinari Okamoto (director) (2002). Kurosawa Akira: Tsukuru to iu koto wa subarashii [Akira Kurosawa: It is Wonderful to Create] (in Japanese).
- Sasamori, Junzo; Warner, Gordon (1989). This is Kendo - the art of Japanese fencing. pp. 38–41. ISBN 0-8048-1607-7.
- Sanjuro at the Internet Movie Database
- Sanjuro at allmovie
- Criterion Collection essay by Michael Sragow
- Sanjuro (Japanese) at the Japanese Movie Database