Sanjuro, a wandering samurai enters a rural town in nineteenth century Japan. After learning from the innkeeper that the town is divided between two gangsters, he plays one side off against the other. His efforts are complicated by the arrival of the wily Unosuke, the son of one of the gangsters, who owns a revolver. Unosuke has Sanjuro beaten after he reunites an abducted woman with her husband and son, then massacres his father's opponents. During the slaughter, the samurai escapes with the help of the innkeeper; but while recuperating at a nearby temple, he learns of innkeeper's abduction by Unosuke, and returns to the town to confront him. Written by
Bernard Keane <BKeane2@email.dot.gov.au>
"You don't mind if I kill all of you?" "What? Kill me if you can!" "It'll hurt."
Akira Kurosawa's Yojimbo is a not too long, not too short action film that uses its action with just the right touches of voracity and excitement, and in the backdrop is also a sense of humor to the process. If I had to recommend a Kurosawa film to someone who's never seen one before (and might be impatient to sit through the three and a half hour Seven Samurai, or might not get the non-linear structure of Rashomon), I'd put this one in their hands to try out.
Kurosawa regular Toshiro Mifune is terrific as Sanjuro Kuwabatake, a drifter of a samurai who stumbles upon a town with an assorted cast of characters, with a split between two gangs. One of the gangsters, Unosuke (Nakadai), is the only one in town; it seems, with a gun. At first Sanjuro plays each side, but when he gets beaten roughly by whom he was "protecting", he realizes the fun's over, and it's time to fight back.
Much has been made about how Sergio Leone took Kurosawa's story and characters (most in particular being a rogue from out of town) and made them into his breakthrough Fistful of Dollars- Kurosawa even sued Leone over the story rights. But to those who wonder whether Yojimbo is 'better' than Fistful or vice versa need to remember one of two things- Kurosawa took the story from Dashiell Hammett's gangster novel Red Harvest, so neither filmmaker is making something really original; and that since each film is made in a different continent, and with the slightest different sensibilities about its characters. For one thing in Yojimbo guns are scarcer than in Fistful, and there's a treatment Kurosawa has with his actors that sets it apart from the small town western scope of Leone's weapons and actors. So each film (noticeably) carries its own kind of visual style while working in a similar plot structure. In other words, it's kind of like comparing apples and oranges picked in the same farm (if that makes at all sense).
Overall, Yojimbo on its own is a lean, cool Japanese crime/action film, helmed by a master, and featuring a number of highlights to look forward to on multiple viewings. Some of those include: the scene inside Seibei's brothel (with the women dancing and singing), Masaru Sato's wonderful musical orchestrations, Mifune's curiously low-key and rough performance (which did and didn't serve as inspiration to Clint), and a climax that is up there with one of Kurosawa's finest battles. A+
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