Director Akira Kurosawa and his favourite actor Toshiro Mifune are at the top of their form in this action-packed Samurai clasic.
This movie, the sequel to the immensely successful Yojimbo, is a relatively light-hearted romp through the traditions of the Samurai swordfight movies, as Mifune's character, the strange solo Samurai Sanjuro, helps a gaggle of inept locals defeat the corrupt City Hall.
It's lighthearted, but the action never stops. And the lighthearted nature disappears abruptly towards the end of the movie, as it culminates in one of the most brilliantly executed -- and fastest -- duels in the history of cinema. Whether we're comparing it to other head-to-head encounters in Japanese cinema, American Westerns or Italian spaghetti westerns, this duel stands out as blood-chillingly dramatic. It made my day.
Kurosawa, who is most famous in the West for The Seven Samurai, found in Toshiro Mifune an actor with the cool charisma of Clint Eastwood and the menacing presence of Robert Mitchum. Some combination.
And in film-style, while there's considerable stylistic evolution from such early work as Seven Samurai, there's still strong pointers to other earlier filmmakers such as the great Russian auteur Sergei Eisenstein.
But references be damned. Kurosawa wouldn't have cared if we spotted inspirations or not, as long as we were entertained. And he was a master at that -- in the slow sustained build-up to sudden explosive violence; in the cliched but appealing philosophising which accompanied the violence. Here was the inspiration from which Serge Leone drew A Fistful of Dollars. Here is the prototype for Dirty Harry. Here is wonderment.
This is a solid anamorphic transfer of this black-and-white movie.
The palette is shades of grey rather than strong black-and-white contrasts, but tonings are rendered subtly and there seems to be very little detail lost in the many night scenes in this movie.
For a film of this vintage, there are remarkably few image flaws such as flecking or scratches, and there appears to be no edge enhancement used. Solid work all round, if not up to the best restoration standards used by American companies such as Warners for treasures from their vaults.
The basic two-channel mono soundtrack is very clear for dialogue, but sounds harsh at times when the music soundtrack is heard. However, music is employed very sparingly during this movie, with Kurosawa a master of silence, so the overall effect is fine.
This is a terrific movie. It makes a great, perhaps the perfect, introduction to the work of Akira Kurosawa if you're a newcomer to this genre.
Buy it or rent it, but see it at all cost!