Sanjuro is, by many means, one of the most light-hearted films of Kurosawa. The theme of the film is similar to many others- reality vs. illusion. For the theme, the flavor, for the first time is comedy. It is a jidai-geki, for the first time, ridiculing itself!
The young boys in the film are disciplined, stylish and good looking. They are like the perfect heroes from the Japanese sword swinger jidai-gekis. These boys dash about, valiantly doing a man’s job. They raise their swords, pull back their sleeves in the best Samurai fashion, and are then dumbfounded when nothing happens the way they had expected. On the other hand, Mifune, our protagonist, is dirty, usually irritated, foul mouthed, and obviously knows that the world of jidia-geki is not real. One of Kurosawa’s intentions in making the film is to beware the youth of judging things and people by appearances. In a noteworthy scene, after hearing their story, Mifune tells the boys that, since the superintendent is a fine looking, handsome man, it is he who is the culprit! With his experience, Mifune knows that the world is not how it seems!
Once Mifune and the boys release the chamberlain’s wife and daughter, a new adventure begins. It is hilarious to see how these two perfect ladies, in the adverse conditions, sit and discuss art and nature. The indifference of the ladies towards Mifune’s bravery has a greater message. The ladies’ attachment to aesthetics intimidates Mifune as just as he intimidates the boys! In one of the celebrated scenes, the lady calls Mifune ‘a sword without a sheath’. Then again in the last scene, after killing Nakadai in a spectacular swordfight, when the boys are tremendously impressed, Mifune bursts out on them and says- ‘he was just like me- a sword without a sheath. Good swords must stay in their sheath. Yours better stay in yours, or I’ll kill you!’ Here lies the other, subtler, intent of the film!
While the boys learn to differentiate real from illusion, Mifune learns to differentiate a higher reality from a deeper illusion!