Tatsuya Nakadai did not receive an Oscar nomination for portraying Hanbei Muroto in Sanjuro.
Nakadai finds the same sort of presence as Mifune, and when the samurai later states the danger presented Hanbei, opposed to their other enemies, it is wholly earned by Nakadai's performance. Nakadai as usual excels in the villainous role as he is able to convey such malevolence in those eyes of his that seem to pierce the soul, and simply oozes menace with such ease. There is something rather remarkable in Nakadai's work as he goes beyond making Hanbei simply a worthy foe for the samurai. It's rather interesting in their first meeting, despite the samurai beating a few of his men, Nakadai does not portray an antagonism towards the warrior. Nakadai's reaction instead suggests Hanbei is only rather impressed by the samurai's skill, and is in fact more than happy to offer the samurai a job. This might seem just the set up for the samurai to find a into his enemy's good graces, but Nakadai and Mifune take it bit further than you might expect.When the samurai comes for the job, wanting to infiltrate the enemy from within for more information, Nakadai portrays only an honest warmth in Hanbei as he enthusiastically welcomes the samurai into his ranks.
Their initial conversation scene, as Hanbei fills the samurai in on the situation, is a great moment. Now Hanbei does not mind stating that he is just as corrupt as the men he works for, Nakadai brings such a glee in Hanbei when he makes this statement yet this is not as simple as it might seem. There is an underlying genuine understanding that Nakadai conveys as well as Mifune despite the fact that the samurai is tricking the man. The understanding though is not in regards to their moral codes, that is where they do differ as the samurai is a good man and Hanbei is not, but there is a connection still. Nakadai and Mifune both present men of a similair sort, though again of a different morality, as they not only are aware of each other's skill, but also share a mutual perspective on those around them. This is present through a definite cynicism in that they both know they are in fact much smarter than the men they are helping, the problem is they happen to be helping two different set of fools. It's a real camaraderie that Nakadai and Mifune develop for the moment, I especially like how much fun Nakadai shows Hanbei having when the samurai gives an example to him of how he will impress Hanbei's boss.
I love that Nakadai and Mifune briefly make the two a good team as they share the same sort of grace as the take down four men together. Unfortunately the pseudo friendship of the two cannot continue when the samurai must release the men, since they were those he was trying to help, while Hanbei is away. Nakadai's actually pretty hilarious in his depiction of Hanbei's surprise at his men all being dead, and his disappointment at seeing the the samurai hog tied as the soul survivor. Nakadai rightly suggests Hanbei is much less convinced by the next story the samurai comes to him with, as he keeps an observant stare upon him as though he's trying to see if he can find the truth of the man. Hanbei actually technically outsmarts the samurai catching him in the middle of sending a signal, and technically would win the day if it were not for the incompetence of his bosses. Nakadai though is fascinating as he depicts a very real sense of betrayal in Hanbei as he lashes out at the samurai, before needing to ride off as a messenger. The samurai of course wins the day for his allies, but that still leaves one final duel, a natural occurrence for any Nakadai/Mifune collaboration, with Hanbei due to that earlier betrayal. Again what's so special about this is that's not just a good guy facing down the bad guy. They instead find that same connection before, and Nakadai is actually even rather moving, despite being the main villain, by revealing a genuine despair in Hanbei due to the samurai manipulating him. Nakadai gives a great performance as he not only fulfills the duties of being a menacing foe for the samurai, but also subtly offers more substance by for once given truth to that often said villain cliche of "we're not so different you and I".