Yojimbo & Sanjuro: Two Samurai Films by Akira Kurosawa

A double re-release from one of cinema's greatest director-actor duos

DVD Watch

Yojimbo & Sanjuro: Two Samurai Films by Akira Kurosawa

Criterion, $69.95

"I've arranged a killing or two in my time," grouses Dashiell Hammett's weary Continental Op, "when they were necessary. But this is the first time I've ever got the fever. It's this damn burg. ... If I don't get away soon, I'll be going blood simple like the natives." In 1929, that fork in the road was awash in a Red Harvest, whose protagonist sets Poisonville's warring factions against one another with a devilish precision. Three decades later, in 1961 – the year Hammett died – Toshirô Mifune's grimacing samurai wanders onto a classic American Western T-street, greeted by a coyote-once-removed running down the concourse with a severed hand in its mouth. Three hundred thirty million yen in its wake, Mifune, who had already notched his best work in the service of Akira Kurosawa (Drunken Angel, Stray Dog, Rashômon, Seven Samurai, Throne of Blood, The Hidden Fortress, The Bad Sleep Well), took his darkened brow international, while his directorial sponsor agreed to a sequel. Yojimbo's bemused mercenary never lets Hammett's unrelenting bloodlust overtake him, unlike Sergio Leone, whose Fistful of Dollars (1964) loosened yet more yen to Kurosawa once the Italians were sued for piracy. Walter Hill's gutsy Last Man Standing (1996) indeed credits Yojimbo screenwriter Ryuzo Kikushima, though Hammett remains the ghostwriter. Kurosawa reworked a screenplay of his own for 1962's Sanjuro, played for even more laughs, but with a greater quotient of swordplay, and this time Mifune sees crimson. After the Tasmanian slaughter of a small garrison – Kurosawa's use of telephoto lenses magnified both speed and violence – Mifune savagely slaps the men he's just saved: "This butchery is all thanks to you." On Sanjuro's bonus documentary, one of the men on the receiving end of Mifune's "acting" still caresses the welt, while catlike Tatsuya Nakadai, Mifune's duelist in both films, laughs at his recollection of the camera being a block away and Kurosawa yelling at him because they were filming his close-up. Both films, available together or separately, receive significant upgrades from Criterion's initial DVD issue, and taken together, even Hammett would have drunk to Sanjuro's best line, delivered to Mifune by a noblewoman: "I hesitate to say this after you so kindly saved us, but killing people is a bad habit. You glisten too brightly, like a drawn sword. You're like a sword without a sheath – you cut well, but the best sword is kept in its sheath." – Raoul Hernandez


Also Out Now

Bandidas (20th Century Fox, $27.98): Luc Besson's straight-to-supermarket tumble with the good (Sam Shepard), the bad (Dwight Yoakam), and the busty (Penélope Cruz and Salma Hayek). One lucky SOB: Steve Zahn. Viva Maria!

Don't Move (Wellspring, $24.98): Stranded physician rapes a woebegone barmaid, who then becomes his mistress; Italian director Sergio Castellitto's excuse to have movie sex with Penélope Cruz, though the leads mostly pull it off.

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