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If you ever watched Pulp Fiction and thought: movie cool was born here, or
maybe you saw any single Sergio Leone movie and thought: this guy invented
movie-cool (if you haven't, i thoroughly recommend it - Kill Bill is nothing
to his Good, the Bad and the Ugly or Once Upon a Time in the West), then
experience Yojimbo, or The Bodyguard. Kurosawa's camera sits behind Toshiro
Mifune's man-with-no-name, inviting us to look up at the back of his head as
he walks the earth, inviting us to be in awe of this man. And as he walks,
super-cool walking-the-earth music plays. Later on, when he's taunted and
asked to prove himself, he slices a guy's arm off and plays the petty,
money-grabbing rival factions in the town he wanders into off each
If you have it in your mind that a guy called Kurosawa couldn't make movies that would impress you, that the cultural gap would be too great - be assured that Kurosawa's movies are rife with Western values. Sure, they are rife with Japanese values (i am told), but Kurosawa had a great appreciation of Western culture. He based many of his movies on Western texts, like Shakespeare, Dostoyevsky, or American gangster fiction and film. Yojimbo is one of the latter - inspired by the Dashiell Hammet novel Red Harvest (Hammett's novel The Maltese Falcon was put onscreen moment for moment by John Huston in the movie of the same name which immortalised Humphrey Bogart).
Actually, the history of the story of the lone wolf, the wanderer with a weapon, who rides into town to play off two warring factions against each other - is quite a story itself. Dashiell Hammett, an American, wrote a novel with an American private eye as the stranger. In 1961, Akira Kurosawa transposed this story to medieval Japan, after the fall of a dynasty, where a Samurai finds himself with no place to go (at the beginning, we see him throw a branch up in the air and walk the direction it falls), and no master to serve. A bodyguard with no-one to protect. In 1964, Sergio Leone transposed the screenplay of Yojimbo (nearly word for word) to the spanish desert, and he brought along a young television actor named Clint Eastwood, and together they revolutionised the western with Fistfull of Dollars, and created an entire genre, the Spaghetti Western, which sported among its attributes a gritty, desolate landscape, and a cynical, postmodern lack-of-values ideology (traditional American westerns had quite plush landscapes and were always black and white (good and evil) in their value system. Despite the massive influence of Fistfull of Dollars, it pales in comparison to both its predecessor Yojimbo, and its sequals, For a Few Dollars More and The Good the Bad and the Ugly. But still, both Yojimbo and Fistful are iconic movies, and very cool movies.
With cool music, a cool anti-hero, a fun script, and a visually spectacular canvas of an image, painted by the eye of an artist (it is said that Kurosawa storyboarded his movies in full-scale paintings), Yojimbo is one of the coolest movies ever made.
Only a handful of directors know atmosphere the way Akira Kurosawa does, only a handful. Yojinbo opens with a tracking shot of a ronin samurai walking down a dusty road. The camera wisely stays behind the samurai, played by Toshiro Mifune, so we cannot see his face or expressions. This samurai is desperate. Mifune has no master and no money. Kurosawa doesn't let you see his desperation, instead focusing on the back of his head and his profile to set up one of the most memorable characters in cinema history. The film has been copied many times, its practically the most influential film of the modern action genre. Yojinbo isn't action packed however, Kurosawa takes his time setting up characters and plot. The fact that this masterless samurai has deep compassion for strangers is different than most modern action movies alone. Toshiro Mifune is magical in the lead role. His presence is felt all throughout the film even when he isn't on camera. All film buffs should watch this film, it is a perfect example of a director and actor with confidence in their craft.
Classic samurai action pic; often imitated but never equalled. Mifune
creates a memorable character (who appeared in a sequel) in the Ronin who
decides the course of his life on the toss of a stick, and ends up risking
his life to save a village full of peasants he finds revolting. It's
possible to see "Yojimbo's" actions as either heroic or as the game of a
bored warrior in need of amusement -- as often in Kurosawa's films, the fact
that the characters' motives remain open to interpretation adds depth to the
Wonderful images, and skillful direction that keeps the pace of the storytelling tight and tells most of the story through images -- this is the kind of film that is so good it can be watched a silent film without losing too much of its impact or meaning.
I think that if Kurosawa had spent more of his time in litigation and less making movies, he might have made a living for the rest of his life off all the movies that have ripped off this movie. Certainly Eastwood's "Man with No Name" character owes a lot to Mifune's contribution; not only in Leone's films (the first of which borrows its entire plot from Kurosawa; a court settlement ensued which made sure Kurosawa made most of the profits from "Fistful of Dollars" in Asia his own) but also in Eastwood's best film as a director -- "High Plains Drifter", which borrows scenes such as Eastwood's rebuke of the villagers from "Yojimbo".
The really funny thing about all this, and what not too many American critics or audiences have noted, is that "Yojimbo" is itself a western. All the ingredients for a western are here, and the film's plot and style obviously owe a debt to Zinnemann's "High Noon". "Yojimbo" even borrows the device of time, setting up a confrontation at 3:00 a.m. as shouted by the town crier. I like "Yojimbo" better than "High Noon", so I don't want to go too far into this line of thought....
I'm not going to waste time debating which was the "greatest" or "best" of Kurosawa's movies, but if you want to know the one I enjoy the most it's 'Yojimbo'. 'Rashomon' and 'Throne Of Blood' are probably deeper and more substantial, but for sheer entertainment value 'Yojimbo' is hard to beat! Being a Kurosawa movie it's no surprise that it stars Toshiro Mifune. The two made many movies together, but this is the performance I like to watch the most. I love looking at Mifune's face! His expressions are awesome. He was without a doubt one of the 20th centuries greatest movie stars. 'Yojimbo' was a massive influence on many spaghetti westerns, specifically 'A Fistful Of Dollars', but before you bay for Sergio Leone's blood, please read Dashiell Hammett's detective classic 'Red Harvest', published in 1929 and you'll see that Kurosawa lifted his plot from it. I see no mention whatsoever of this source material in the credits for 'Yojimbo', so let's just leave the Leone bashing alone okay? Many people have convincingly argued that samurai movies were inspired by classic American westerns anyway. Walter Hill later "remade" 'Yojimbo' (or 'Red Harvest' depending on your perspective) as 'Last Man Standing' and David Lynch gave a small nod to it in his 'Wild At Heart'. You can certainly see both the samurai and spaghetti influences in Tarantino's 'Kill Bill' 1 and 2, that's for sure. "Influences", "inspirations", these are things that go around and around, it's what a writer or film maker does with them that counts. 'Yojimbo' is a classic action movie. Maybe only 'Wages Of Fear' is better. Every film buff needs this movie in their collection!
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+
If I had to choose only one movie for film students to learn from, this
would be it. Other films may be more profound, or their imagery more
groundbreaking, but this one is so tightly constructed that nothing - not
frame, word, or gesture - is extraneous.
Toshiro Mifune, one of the world's most charismatic actors, is perfection as a tough loner of a samurai who takes it upon himself to clean up a town corrupted by two gambling clans. Swirling through and around him is a story that is both technically flawless and profoundly moving.
Kurosawa meticulously infuses every detail with meaning; there's a purpose behind every shot, and aspiring directors should pay close attention (why is the camera slightly tilted? why are there concubines in the background?). His economy of style was never more amazing; watch as the samurai rides into town, and the director establishes the atmosphere with exactly one jaw-dropping shot. And the story is equally well-crafted, with no plot holes and no inconsistencies.
A wonderful tale that rolls beautifully from start to finish. See it, see it, see it!!
I just figured out why Toshirô Mifune is so mesmerizing to watch. It's just
the way he expresses himself. This guy's amazing!
I've been exploring the halls of Kurosawa and it's getting hard to leave. Yojimbo is a FUN film to watch. Toshiro as the samurai steals almost every scene he is in and I think the epitome of his character is when he's in Gonji's place lying on the floor. He doesn't brag, but when he goes into action, that's it! As soon as he enters the chaotic town, he doesn't seem fazed at all and actually enjoys it. His demeanor is really amusing and it's great watching his plan unfold; how he manipulates both groups to get his way (it's really funny). Great thing too is he's not really a hero and he's not entirely a villain. He doesn't hesitate to kill, but does so methodically. You also have "characters" including Gonji, the thugs from both sides, and Unosuke with an ace up his sleeve (or robe?) which makes things really interesting.
Yojimbo's mix of dark humor, action, and a great performance from Mifune make for a Kurosawa classic.
Yojimbo, based on noir writer Dashiel Hammett's Red Harvest is a
magnificently entertaining film. Toshiro Mifune stars as the nobody who
calls himself Sanjuro (thirty but closer to forty). He enters a town
destroyed by warring factions and plays a double-game to pit one
faction against the other thus destroying the criminal element.
Yojimbo (aka The Bodyguard) is one of the coolest and most stylish films ever made. Starring Toshiro Mifune, Kurosawa's favorite actor, as the scruffy looking Samurai, Yojimbo has all of Kurosawa's qualities and none of the flaws. The music score is an essential element of the plot and strikingly good, but admittedly bettered by the Ennio Morricone version in the Spaghetti Western remake Fistful of Dollars. The visuals are great, from the samurai swordplay, to the desolate streets, the town crier announcing its 3 a.m. to the brutal torture scene.
One of the unique things about Yojimbo is the central character. He is an anti-hero. We see him initially as a killer and a man greedy for money. But then, he saves a family by re-uniting mother and child and giving them all the money he was advanced. Mifune has never been cooler than in this film and Eastwood could only aspire to equal such a performance.
Of the two remakes, I liked Fistful of Dollars for starting the Spaghetti Western genre, although Yojimbo is a far more superior and stylish film. The gangster version, Last Man Standing, was not very good and Bruce Willis made for a poor substitute to Yojimbo. This film looks fresh and undated even today - watch it!
Kurosowa, many believe, only shot samurai pictures. Wrong. Obviously: Dersu Uzala, Dodesukaden, Dreams, Ikiru... they have nothing to do with samurai! Others say he told stories of characters trying to redeem themselves or rediscovering themselves. The exception is the Sanjuro duology (Yojimbo & Sanjuro), a world of violence and dark humor. Sanjuro (Mifune, way cooler than Eastwood in Leone's conform copy western), a wandering ronin, arrives in a town where everyone seems to have some criminal history or other and where two warring factions fight for control. He then slowly proceeds to play both ends against one another... for money? for power? no. Simply because they are all scum and deserve to die! And this is where Kurosowa and Mifune's stellar talents really gear in: Sanjuro doesn't try to be cool or dark, he just acts as a casual tourist, and his enigmatic detatchement from the violence around him makes him far more menacing than any of the abjectly evil (and ugly) townsfolk around him... and cool, let's not forget. Yojimbo is Kurosowa's most darkly amusing film and one of Mifune's most brilliant turns. It also spanned a great (though inferior) sequel. I urge you to check this out, just to see what happens when real justice kicks in...
Yojimbo is a timeless masterpiece; elegant, enigmatic and taut; one of
the best and the most influential of the action movies, and a
delectable feast to the lovers of the genre. It is the most
sought-after of the Akira Kurosawa's movies, shamelessly imitated on
multiple occasions the most infamous being 'A Fistful of Dollars' by
Sergio Leone. Yojimbo is a delightful addition to an unending list of
avant-garde movies made by the Oriental master. It is as superior to
any of the movies that it has inspired as a master is to his artless
I have had the privilege of watching five Kurosawa movies before watching Yojimbo viz. Seven Samurai, Ran, Dersu Uzala, Rashomon, and High & Low and each left me mesmerized, but in a completely different manner than the last. In my past reviews I have repeatedly committed an invidious blunder of failing to acknowledge the ginormous contribution that Toshiro Mifune made in Kurosawa's colossal success. I would be remiss again if I fail to testify the fact that Yojimbo is more synonymous with Mifune than it is with Kurosawa and anyone who has had the privilege of watching it wouldn't want me to budge even by a slightest degree. The role of 'Sanjuro', though demanding, can be any performer's dream, but a slight lack of proficiency or commitment on his part can serve as a volte-face, transforming it into his biggest nightmare. I don't think that anyone but Kurosawa is competent enough to judge Toshiro Mifune's talent as a performer and so I would like to quote an excerpt from his biography: "Mifune had a kind of talent I had never encountered before in the Japanese film world. It was, above all, the speed with which he expressed himself that was astounding. The ordinary Japanese actor might need ten feet of film to get across an impression; Mifune needed only three. He put forth everything directly and boldly with a great sense of timing. And yet with all his quickness, he also had surprisingly fine sensibilities".
In Yojimbo, Toshiro Mifune incredibly outdoes himself with a portrayal that can be excruciatingly hard to be described in words. Mifune is crafty, cunning, capricious and yet seemingly nonchalant as the ingeniously disingenuous ronin, a portrayal overwhelmed with so many contrasting attributes that it revolutionized the very concept of an anti-hero in the world of cinema. Sanjuro is a cross between a wolf and a sheep, a guardian and a usurper, a misanthrope and an altruist, a demon and an angel, a libertine and an ascetic, a fiend and a beloved, a mercenary and a messiah and that's what makes this portrayal singular and incredibly magnificent. Mifune has meticulously taken care of even the slightest gestures and the subtle changes in mannerisms during the portrayal; be it Sanjuro's perpetually grinned countenance or his nonchalant disposition. Each triviality and nuance evinces certain details that are hard to be expressed even through expatiation. Despite Sanjuro's rapidly changing expressions and his frenzied demeanor, Mifune always seems to be in absolute control.
Yojimbo is a well etched, taut narrative with a dark comical look that makes it one of a kind. Yojimbo neither appears to be superficial nor superfluous and not a moment of it is extraneous. Human values and emotions are ubiquitously similar irrespective of the cultural and the social divide between the peoples of the world and hence everyone can savour the thought-provoking movies of Kurosawa; even those who are daunted by the handicap of using subtitles can relish a movie like Yojimbo as a silent movie (because of it being so visually descriptive like the Charlie Chaplin movies). The plot of the movie is simple and may even appear to be commonplace owing to the countless imitations that it has inspired, but it is the rapport between Kurosawa and Mifune (undoubtedly the best director-actor pair of all time) that makes it so especial and unique. A penniless ronin (samurai without a master) enters a town rotten with schism (Akira Kurosawa challenged his assistant directors to come up with an image for the film to let Sanjuro know he was entering a bad town. Eventually, Kurosawa himself came up with the idea of the dog carrying the human hand). The two gangs are sporadically involved in sanguinary duels resulting in mass slaughter. The ronin demonstrates his skills by slaying two members of one of the gangs. After asseverating his supremacy, he joins the other group for a substantial sum, but backs out just when a decisive battle was about to begin. He then climbs the nearby bell tower as a vantage for himself and watches with rapturous glee the bravado of the pusillanimous gang members disappearing in thin air as they are overcome by trepidation. They lunge and retreat on multiple occasions without making an actual contact before getting interrupted by the news of an inspector coming for an official inspection. The duel is postponed indefinitely to everyone's delight. In the meantime, Sanjuro lets them know that his services are open to bidding, inducing a tussle to acquire his services while he continues to act as an instigator further intensifying the rabid rivalry between the two groups. But soon the tables are turned and this child's play transforms into a moment of reckoning for the ronin as he finds himself haplessly pitted against the surviving gang. He is captured and brutally assaulted, but he manages to escape from some local help. This culminates in one of the best climatic endings of all time as Sanjuro single-handedly obliterates the whole gang, emancipating the town from anarchy and barbarism.
It's a must watch for film students, action movie lovers, and especially those who want to acquaint themselves with the eccentrically brilliant works of the oriental master without exposing themselves to his more recondite works like Shichinin no samurai, Rashomon, Ikiru, Akahige, Ran and countless others. An absolute gem: 10/10
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