Tuesday, October 30, 2012

#806. Yojimbo (1961)

Directed By: Akira Kurosawa

Starring: Toshirô Mifune, Eijirô Tôno, Tatsuya Nakadai

Trivia: The first entry in Sergio Leone's "Man with No Name" trilogy, A Fistful of Dollars, was a remake of this film

Akira Kurosawa’s Yojimbo has been remade by such noted directors as Sergio Leone (A Fistful of Dollars), Walter Hill (Last Man Standing) and even Takaski Miike (Sukiyaki Western Django), and while I’m a fan of all these remakes, for sheer entertainment, nothing can top the original.

Toshiro Mifune stars as a Ronin (a wandering Samuria with no master) who says his name is Sanjuro (which means “30 years old”, though he confesses to being 30 pushing 40). He’s just arrived in a small town that’s being torn apart by two rival warlords, Seibei (Seizaburo Kawaza), owner of the local brothel, and Ushitora (Kyu Sazanaka), who runs the casino. Both are using their wealth and power to try and gain control of the town, with its citizens trapped in the middle, afraid to leave their homes. After he’s informed of the situation by an old man (Eijiro Tono), Sanjuro decides to help the locals out by tricking the warring factions into finishing each other off once and for all, which he does by selling his services to both gangs, using their trust in him to stir up the malice between them.

Kurosawa successfully interjects moments of humor into Yojimbo, scenes that, despite their frivolity, never undermine the movie’s overall somber tone. In one particularly funny sequence, men from both sides are creeping slowly towards each other, showdown-style, only to shy away the closer they get to actually fighting. There’s plenty of action in Yojimbo as well, most of which is brought about as a result of Sanjuro’s grand scheme. As the lead character, Mifune remains subdued at all times, a big change from the near-manic performances he delivered in The Seven Samurai and Rashomon. In Yojimbo, the actor demonstrates his range by playing a warrior who relies as much on his wits as he does his sword.

Director Kurosawa freely admitted he was a fan of the American western, and you can see that genre’s influences throughout this movie, from its sweeping cinematography to the very layout of the town, a dusty, wind-swept place that looks as if it might have been lifted right out of John Ford picture. Far from a distraction, these elements mesh wonderfully with the film’s distinctly “Japanese” story. A brilliant example of east meets west, Yojimbo is also one of Kurosawa’s finest achievements, demonstrating yet again why he was a master of his craft.

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