Akira Kurosawa made a great many samurai movies in his long and storied career. And while Seven Samurai is undeniably the masterpiece, with Ran as its kaleidoscopic bookend, few are as fun as Yojimbo & Sanjuro, a B-movie pulp adventure to the core. The indomitable Toshiro Mifune stars as Sanjuro, a wandering warrior who stumbles upon a dusty, dead-end town ruled by two warring crime families. Out of sheer boredom, or so it seems, Sanjuro fans the flames of petty hatred, offering his services as a bodyguard to both parties, until the situation erupts in an all-out who-wants-to-buy-his- sword arms race. (The plot’s so rich and elemental that it’s been remade twice — with Clint Eastwood in 1964’s A Fistful of Dollars and with Bruce Willis in 1996’s Last Man Standing.)
This isn’t the first time Criterion has issued a dazzlingly restored version of Yojimbo, but it is the first time it’s been packaged with the 1962 sequel, Sanjuro (which is kinda like Kurosawa’s Jurassic Park 2 — not nearly as good as the first, but still bearing the mark of a master). The set has everything you’ve come to expect from Criterion: in this case, a tasteful, knowing commentary by Kurosawa scholar Stephen Prince, subtitled making-of documentaries, and a drop-dead gorgeous picture. And since each frame is like a work of art, it’s worth every penny.