Sunday, November 21, 2010
SHOULD YOU READ IT? "YOJIMBO"
This is part of my series of possible Top 100 movies that appear in my "Video Hound's War Movies" guidebook that received 4 "bones". Is it worthy of viewing even though it has subtitles?
The director is the acclaimed Akiro Kurosawa, who also made "Seven Samurai". It is based on two stories by Dashiell Hammett. Although not a true story, it is set in 1860 during the period after the fall of the Tokugawa Dynasty in Japan. The samurai were unemployed now that their royal employers were no longer in power. Many became "ronin" which were warriors who wandered around selling their services. "Yojimbo" means "bodyguard".
The movie opens with a ronin named Sanjuro (meaning "Mulberry Bush") tossing a stick in the air and then heading in the direction that it points to. He enters a town which is seemingly deserted. He realizes this is his kind of place when a dog walks by with a severed hand in its mouth!
The town is divided between two gangs of "gamblers" (subtitle translation error?) which are led by loathsome brothers. Sanjuro befriends an innkeeper and decides to play the two sides against each other. He proves his prowess by quickly dispatching three villains. He is good. The film moves back and forth as he schemes with each faction. The dynamics change when the son of one of the gambler-leaders returns to town sporting a revolver. He is a psycho named Unosoke. The firearm symbolizes the omenous future for the sword-wielding samurai.
Sanjuro gets captured and tortured after aiding a woman who was a sex slave to Unosoke. He kills six guards in a bloodless, but violent scene and reunites her with her family. It seems Sanjuro has a heart of gold and is one tough dude. He survives the torturing and of course gets his revenge.
It was remade as "A Fistful of Dollars" and if you have seen that Clint Eastwood movie, you definitely should see "Yojimbo". It is fascinating to see the parallels - especially the final showdown. I kept trying to see if Sanjuro had a iron plate under his kimono. I have to admit that I prefer Leone's movie. And by the way, "Yojimbo" is much more in the western genre than the war movie genre (mysterious stranger comes to town, dusty streets, townspeople hiding indoors, showdowns, etc.) . For this reason, I will not be considering it for entry into my Top 100.
I recommend this movie. Sanjuro is one cool dude. Toshiro Mifune (one of my favorites) does a great job as the anti-hero. Kurosawa is his usual brilliant self. Lots of stationary, wide screen shots. Interesting characters, if a bit clownish. The humor is cartoonish and a little out of place. It is a good history lesson about a Japan in transition and a warior class growing obsolete.