What’s the most surprising sword fight in cinematic history? I humbly submit Sanjuro, the 1962 samurai film directed by Akira Kurosawa. The movie stars the brooding Toshiro Mifune, whose shoulders are more expressive than any actor I’ve ever seen. Kurosawa loves shots of Mifune walking away from the camera and rolling his right shoulder forward in a “let’s get on with it” kind of way.
In the movie’s final scene, Mifune faces off against Tatsuya Nakadai, a samurai he has defeated. And since Mifune has also outsmarted him, Nakadai’s honor is at stake. He requests a duel. Mifune makes a half-hearted attempt to talk him out of it, but fails. The men are inches apart. While nine other men look on from a very close distance, Mifune and Nakadai stare into each other’s eyes. The seconds seem like minutes.
In this Criterion Collection interview, Nakadai describes how the duel was set up and then we see the big reveal.