Yojimbo

A part of this view­ing list: Criterion Collection Spine #52: Akira Kurosawa’s Yojimbo.
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You might know the re­make of this film bet­ter than Yojimbo it­self. Clint Eastwood and Sergio Leone re­told it as A Fistful of Dollars. I’ve not ac­tu­ally seen A Fistful of Dollars, but this is the sec­ond time I’ve seen Yojimbo. While the film isn’t as deep or ripe for crit­i­cal analy­sis as many of Kurosawa’s other works, it also isn’t as shal­low and an­ti­cli­mac­tic as the Criterion Essay in­di­cates. Alexander Sesonke states that:

Mifune achieved in­ter­na­tional star­dom in Kurosawa’s films of the 1950s, emerg­ing as an ac­tor of com­pelling power, ca­pa­ble of a great range and sub­tlety of ex­pres­sion. But as Sanjuro, no sub­tlety is nec­es­sary — sheer phys­i­cal pres­ence suf­fices.

Yet what kept con­stantly catch­ing my at­ten­tion was the sub­tle cun­ning and glee that Sanjuro takes in play­ing the war­ring gangs against each other. He al­most al­ways has a smar­tass grin lurk­ing when open dis­dain is not present. His phys­i­cal pres­ence suf­fices for the two-di­men­sional sup­port­ing char­ac­ters he ma­nip­u­lates, but the au­di­ence and the innkeeper [the only other char­ac­ter to show ac­tual de­vel­op­ment in the film] are privy to the strate­gic mas­tery that is Sanjuro’s true strength.

The innkeeper shouldn’t be dis­re­garded. He is the only per­son we see in the film that takes an in­de­pen­dent role and sees no point in the fight­ing. His dis­dain stands in op­po­site to the undertaker/​cooper and Sanjuro’s view of the war as an op­por­tu­nity. Their dif­fer­ent opin­ions are based on eco­nom­ics, the innkeeper’s cus­tom has been hurt by the fight, while for the un­der­taker busi­ness is boom­ing, but they also re­flect the per­son­al­i­ties of the char­ac­ters them­selves.

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As Sanjuro plays one side against the other, the innkeeper slowly comes to un­der­stand that, though he is mer­ce­nary, Sanjuro is vir­tu­ous un­der­neath. An easy dis­tinc­tion be­tween good and evil would not have caught Sanjuro’s at­ten­tion the way that the bad ver­sus worse sit­u­a­tion that ac­tu­ally ex­ists in the town does. This nov­elty ap­peals to a true ronin lifestyle, self-serv­ing but not ap­pear­ing so, and well-suited to such a mal­ad­justed, mis­an­thropic per­son­al­ity as Sanjuro. Even af­ter he gets his ass handed to him and is near death, his spirit is never more alive. This is where it is eas­i­est to see how Western in in­tent is Yojimbo; with its par­tic­u­lar style of de­ter­mi­na­tion and in­tent. It is some­what hi­lar­i­ous but not un­ex­pected then, that a film made with de­lib­er­ate Western in­flu­ence would be picked up and re­done by a Western di­rec­tor. Although there is prob­a­bly less dif­fer­ence be­tween East and West than mod­ern and tra­di­tional.

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2 thoughts on “Yojimbo

  1. this is one of my fa­vorite movies. in the odd mo­ments where i find my­self imag­in­ing what i would have been like if i’d been a man, i al­ways pic­ture my­self as a sort of cross be­tween toshiro mi­fune in this movie and brian blessed in black adder.

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