Sunday, November 21, 2010


      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.


  1. I am not sure I watched this. I have seen many of Kurosawa's movies but think not this one. I still got Ran to watch and Kagemusha to rewatch. I might try this one at a later date. I would probably like it. Comparing it to a western seems to make sense. Did he really base this movie directly on the Hammett novel? I thought there is a film noir based on Hammett's novel, The Glass Key, that is said to be Kurosawa's source. Be it as it may, your review puts me in the mood to read some Hammett.

  2. Here is what my research has determined. Kurosawa told an interviwer that he based the movie on a film noir titled "The Glass Key" which is based on the Hammett novel. Some critics claim it is more obviously based on the Hammett novel "Red Harvest". Based on the plot summaries, it appears to me to be closer to "Red Harvest", but the torture scene is clearly from "The Glass Key". Read "Red Harvest" - it is considered the better of the two. My review of "Ran" is coming up in about a month.

  3. Thanks for the research. I'm postponing watching Ran as it is so long.

  4. this is one that keeps slipping under my radar. I have only seen Seven Samauri which seems to play alot more often. I have read Red Harvest and the description does sound alot like it. Theres also a short story by Hammett called Nightmare Town i believe. Love Hammett.
    Another entertaining movie obviously inspired by Hammett and prob Yojimbo as well is Walter Hill's Last Man Standing with Bruce Willis and Christopher Walkin. Updated to the depression era. A little underrated that one.
    Theres even a very long running comic about a wandering Yojimbo style rabbit called Usagi Yojimbo which is very obviously a tribute to the character in the movie.


Please fell free to comment. I would love to hear what you think and will respond.