YojimboDirector: Akira Kurosawa
Toshiro Mifune portrays a Samurai who finds himself in the middle of a feud-torn Japanese village. Neither side is particularly honorable, but Mifune is hungry and impoverished, so he agrees to work as bodyguard (or Yojimbo) for a silk merchant (Kamatari Fujiwara) against a sake merchant (Takashi Shimura). He then pretends to go to work for the other, the better to let the enemies tear each other apart. Imprisoned for his "treachery," he escapes just in time to watch the two warring sides wipe each other out. This was his plan all along, and now that peace has been restored, he leaves the village for further exploits. Yes, Yojimbo was the prototype for the Clint Eastwood "Man with No Name" picture A Fistful of Dollars (1964). The difference is that Fistful relies on Eastwood for its success, whereas Yojimbo scores on every creative level, from director Akira Kurosawa to cinematographer Kazuo Miyagawa to Mifune's classic lead performance.
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- [B&W, Wide Screen]
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Cast & Crew
|Toshiro Mifune||Sanjuro Kuwabatake|
|Eijiro Tono||Gonji the Sake Seller|
|Yosuke Natsuki||Farmer's Son|
|Yoshio Tsuchiya||Kohei the Farmer|
|Atsushi Watanabe||Coffin Maker|
|Shinobu Muraki||Production Designer|
|Yoshiro Muraki||Costumes/Costume Designer,Production Designer|
|Masaru Sato||Score Composer|
|Dashiell Hammett||Source Author|
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This film is a splendid example of Japanese cinema, and a credit to cinema in general. In addition to the Eastwood movie, it was also remade more recently as "Last Mans Standing", set in the Southwest in the Twenties, with Bruce Willis playing the "bodyguard" who turns two rival gangs against each other. More film noir than western, it stands on its own well for those who enjoy a well-told story and good acting, and who can handle an elevated body count.
The beginning of this tale, when our hero tosses a stick into the air to see which way it lands to choose his path, is just one of the many elements which makes this such an amazing story and one my favorites of Kurosawa’s many masterpieces. What the bodyguard chooses to do first with his newfound independence is quite surprising and ambitious, like piecing together an amazingly complex jigsaw puzzle made of human nature, or staging a performance of an epic masterpiece with no previous management, production, or directing skills. But I guess he may as well tackle a mountain, since there is not much use starting small with his skills and personality. As he orchestrates the deception, our hero is much like a master puppeteer with exquisite timing and talent to incite the mayhem to achieve his goal. While the basic theme of this story is not unique – the result of greed, manipulation of others, and the changing of the world (tradition vs. progression) – many factors add an interesting and unusual charm to this film. There are plots within plots, surprising deception, perfectly paced mounting tension, unpredictable plot twists, stories within stories, distinctive and amusing characters (the big guy with his huge mallet is a lot of fun), the seemingly never-ending face offs, backstabbing, character flaws and our hero continually placed in the perfect position to observe, listen, and evaluate. Also, the bodyguard’s impeccable timing in manipulation of both sides is nice, fulfilling our expectations and keeping the story moving along. What if bodyguards were really like this? (mischievous, brilliant, manipulative) The famous people of the world would be in terrible trouble. The humor in this story is wonderful, even the macabre humor of the dog carrying the human hand in its mouth while trotting along to fairly spunky music. I also love the funnier fight sequences, which seem to come right out of clown school and resemble football skirmishes instead of battles. In several of the scenes, it appears that the swordsmen are miming roasting marshmallows instead of fighting with their weapons. Nice addition of lightness to a serious tale. Our hero sticking around after he has discontinued his services purely for “the entertainment” also accentuates the humor aspect of this movie. The mix of character types is also interesting including a dominatrix, a prodigal son, a damsel in distress, several amusing drunks, and many bumbling idiots. The ease in which our hero is able to manipulate these human beings is extremely unbelievable however, many aspects of this film fall into that category and it is still a wonderful story. This is one of those rare instances in which certain trite, far-fetched, and predictable elements are actually good and serve to enhance the story. The nature symbolism is a nice addition to this film including the cleansing rain allowing us to shift gears from Act I to Act II, and the dust storm, which precedes the more unpredictable part of the story serving to unsettle and disorient us. Finally, the shadowy, light dancing, night fires scene is amazing, intensifying the town’s debauchery and our hero finally stepping up to get involved in the action before ultimately getting caught in his own web. This scene is perfect, like an expertly lighted stage drawing us into Act III. I have only described a few of the wonderful features of this film. There are many others, which warrant several viewings to truly appreciate the complexities of this story. For those who enjoy this movie, I also recommend the sequel, Sanjuro, which is equally well done. --J.H. Sweet, author of The Fairy Chronicles, and Kurosawa fan.
A very entertaining movie that has inspired numerous characters in other action movies.