If it weren’t for a special effects glitch made on a Kurosawa film in the 1960s, the entire action film genre would be vastly different.
Action movies as they exist today wouldn’t be the same without a mistake by a special effects team in the 1960s. Akira Kurosawa’s films are all incredibly influential Seven samurai Construction of action film structures RashomonThe unreliable narrators. However, it is his 1962 Samurai film, sanjurothis is perhaps the most powerful of all.
At the peak of sanjuro, Hanbei Muroto (Tatsuya Nakadai) demands satisfaction from Sanjuro Tsubaki (Toshiro Mifune) after he was made a fool of throughout the film’s run. Reluctant to fight, Sanjuro tries to dissuade Hanbei, but to no avail. The ensuing duel is brief: Hanbei is able to unsheath his blade, but not before Sanjuro has already cut him through. The duel is more reminiscent of a quick draw than a sword fight, which is fitting sanjuro‘s prequel, Yojimbodirectly influenced Clint Eastwood’s Man With No Name in Sergio Leones dollar Trilogy. Sanjuro’s swiftness with his katana is highlighted by a geyser of blood erupting from Hanbei’s torso as he dies, covering everything and everyone around them.
While incredibly impressive, Blood Geyser wasn’t supposed to happen like this. For effect, Tatsuya Nakadai had a tube hidden under his costume that was filled with fake blood and pressurized to 30 pounds. However, when it came time to film the duel, a coupling in the hose broke. This meant that all of the blood was released at once, rather than a smaller, more continuous flow of blood. The pressurized rush of blood was aided by the recipe for the fake blood itself: chocolate syrup diluted with sparkling water. Diluted chocolate syrup was a common recipe for fake blood in black-and-white films. It was similarly used in the shower scene in Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho. Although it was a mistake, Akira Kurosawa loved the blood geyser and refused to shoot the effect again. Since then it has influenced the entire action genre.
This influence is most evident in Quentin Tarantino’s films, particularly the Crazy 88 fight Kill Bill Vol 1. To avoid ban in the United States, the scene suddenly turns black and white as The Bride (Uma Thurman) begins dispatching O-Ren Ishii’s entire army one by one with her katana. With each kill, a similar geyser of blood erupts from the slain bodyguards. The scene is a clear homage to Kurosawa sanjuro and one of the biggest action sequences ever filmed, punctuated by the colossal amounts of blood spilled and one of Tarantino’s highest body counts.
The effect was so impressive that Kurosawa continued to use it himself in his later films. Lady Kaede’s beheading in the 1985s ran is as dramatic as Hanbei’s death in sanjuro because of the gigantic spatters of blood on the wall behind her. To this day, modern action films use the blood geyser effect. Sword fights in movies like The princess wouldn’t be nearly as fun to watch without them. Every time an action movie character dies in a spectacular display of gore and carnage, it’s due to an error on set sanjuro.
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