Sanjuro (椿三十郎, or Tsubaki Sanjūrō) is a black-and-white film directed by Akira Kurosawa, released in 1962, and starring the charismatic Toshiro Mifune. Once again I got ahead of myself by watching the sequel before the prequel, in this case Kurosawa's Yojimbo (1961).
After recently re-watching some of Kurosawa's massive works such as Rashomon (1950), Seven Samurai (1954) and Ran (1985), Sanjuro felt overall like a smaller endeavor but still equally Kurosawa in terms of style, pace, humor and cinematography. Actually, of the three other films I just mentioned, I found Sanjuro most similar to Ran for all the scheming characters and their dramatic struggles for power, but visually they're mostly poles apart; while Ran has lots of wide shots and expansive scenery, Sanjuro by comparison feels claustrophobic, and this creates a sense that "the enemy" or his spies always could be just outside the door. With this feeling of enclosure we're also deprived of a sense of distance between the various groups vying for power, and this effectively adds to the uncertainty and suspense.
All in all I enjoyed Sanjuro, especially for its comic elements. The heated exchanges between the band of nine young samurai (repeatedly referred to as baka, or idiots) and the rōnin Sanjuro (Mifune) were entertaining, as were the many well choreographed sword fights.