Toshiro Mifune did not receive an Oscar nomination for playing the samurai in Sanjuro.
defeat the corrupt men trying to ruin their clan from within.
Now I've said again and again that it is astonishing the way Toshiro Mifune can find such a variety even in similair roles. Well here comes a challenge because Mifune is playing the exact same role he had in Yojimbo. Reprising a role, especially a heroic seemingly straight forward role often can be difficult. It not only seems difficult to regain that same exact enthusiasm, but also there usually is a problem when the character's arc was always finished by the end of the original film. Well Mifune already gave a great performance as the samurai in Yojimbo, and this time he actually has a slightly less dramatic role to play in terms of the way the story plays out. Now just that base line of the performance in terms of being the badass cool character that the samurai was in the original once again is can be found in the sequel. That old dog twitch once again is found here, and that whole easy going yet quietly intense manner. None of it feels repetitious in the least, and it is clear that Mifune lost none of his devotion to the role in the year between the reprise. Of course one might argue that all that had work was done in the first film, which is true to a point, but Mifune does deserve credit for not losing that certain magic in the transition.
The film though is different as Yojimbo, though that film had its moments of fun to be sure, it was a considerably darker story in general than Sanjuro. Though Sanjuro has some bloodshed itself its tone in general is shifted to the lighter side of things, and I honestly I'd quite easily say that it's really a comedy. There is a reason Mifune/Kurosawa are the greatest actor/director pair of all time, and that is because it always seemed as though they were in sync with one another. That's once again the case as Mifune gives almost a purely comedic turn in his reprise here. It's intriguing as Mifune basically plays it as the samurai is taking the whole thing a bit less seriously than last time. This does not seem out of place as Sanjuro, despite having some lives on the line, is very lighthearted, for example when captured the samurai in Yojimbo was beaten to an inch of his life, here they just tie him up. This all works of course because the film actually is rather hilarious. Mifune is one of those who contributes the most to this. He was funny in Yojimbo as well when the samurai flaunted his superior intelligence over his foes, and he does this once again. Mifune though perhaps plays it up all the more, though with a slight adjustment as it is positioned to teach his allies this time rather than provoke his enemies.
Mifune is a whole lot of fun here as he basically has the samurai even more on top of his game than even in Yojimbo as he attempts to help the group of men he's helping win the day. Mifune portrays an enjoyable detachment of sorts as he helps the men, more of because it is simply his nature to do the right thing rather than having any particular affection for the men. In fact some of the funniest moments in the film are from Mifune's exasperated reactions at the men as he has to deal with the bumbling men who consistently makes the wrong decision leaving samurai to correct things. Though Mifune is so perfectly sardonic on the surface, once again though Mifune quietly conveys the honest goodness in the samurai in the moments where no one else is looking. Of course Mifune here does not even necessarily leave these moments as too serious for example in one scene where the samurai is left to look after two somewhat daffy women who were rescued from the corrupt men, Mifune delivers the genuine concern in the samurai as he watches over them, but Mifune again makes the scene very amusing actually by depicting a slight confusion in his silent reaction as he watches their somewhat bizarre behavior.
Now there is slight expansion on the character is that in this one, fitting its lighter tone, is that the samurai is getting a bit tired of killing and would rather not kill if possible. Again Mifune is very good in depicting this conflict in the samurai well portraying just a powerful yet subtle outrage in the samurai whenever he is forced to kill due to the foolishness of others. The one other mainly dramatic element in this one is in his relationship with the most competent villain of the film, Hanbei, played by Tatsuya Nakadai of course. What's interesting about this one is that even though they are at ends, more or less being the only competent member of each of their groups therefore at odds with one another, the relationship between the two is quite the opposite. Mifune does not depict a hatred in the samurai for this man instead he is quite effective in revealing a certain respect towards him, not for the actions of the man, but rather Mifune shows that the samurai senses a man who is of a similair spirit. For most of their interactions there is not any hate and Mifune is very good with Nakadai in establishing almost a friendship of sorts as the two do get along. Of course Hanbei being a self proclaimed rotten man will prevent this from ever occurring leading to a final confrontation. Mifune is terrific as he portrays an anger in the duel. What's remarkable is that is is not an anger towards Hanbei, but rather anger towards the circumstances that force him to potentially kill a man who is in many ways like the samurai. Mifune finds a new place to take the character, even managing to shift the tone of him slightly without losing what made the role special to begin with. I won't say he bests his work in Yojimbo, but its strong reprise that comes close to matching that great performance.