1963, Janus Films, 143 min, Japan, Dir: Akira Kurosawa

In director Akira Kurosawa’s hands, corporate executives can be just as ruthless as 16th-century samurai. Kingo Gondo’s (Toshiro Mifune) plans to take over a shoe company hit a snag when kidnappers demand a ransom for his son. It turns out the criminals have the wrong boy – the son of Gondo’s chauffeur – but still want their money. Loosely based on the Ed McBain novel King’s Ransom, this crime drama pairs the executive’s dilemma with a police procedural that’s equally gripping. In Japanese with English subtitles.

1958, Janus Films, 139 min, Japan, Dir: Akira Kurosawa

Director Akira Kurosawa’s first widescreen film is a matchless mix of drama, action and humor that helped inspire STAR WARS. Toshiro Mifune stars as a warrior shepherding a princess-in-disguise through war-torn feudal Japan with a pair of bumbling peasants in tow. “One of the greatest action-adventure films ever made.” - David Ehrenstein. In Japanese with English subtitles.

1962, Janus Films, 96 min, Japan, Dir: Akira Kurosawa

Director Akira Kurosawa helms this YOJIMBO sequel, utilizing Shugoro Yamamoto’s novel Peaceful Days as a model. Wandering ronin Sanjuro (Toshiro Mifune) decides to help a young samurai (Yuzo Kayama) and his brash cohorts when Kayama’s uncle (Yunosuke Ito), the chamberlain of their clan, is framed by a corrupt superintendent. Much of the humor and character interplay is based on Mifune’s scruffy appearance and the seeming contradiction – at least to the adolescent proper swordsmen – of his consummate, strategic skill. Tatsuya Nakadai is the prime adversary, a proud samurai in the superintendent’s employ who’s every bit as dangerous as Mifune. There’s not nearly as much swordplay here as in YOJIMBO – since the war is mainly one of words and subterfuge – but when the final burst of violence erupts courtesy of Mifune and Nakadai, it’s a dazzling shocker. In Japanese with English subtitles.

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