Yojimbo is a film I’ve been meaning to see for close to a decade now and finally got around (I know, I know…) to watching it as it is finally getting the blu-ray treatment here in the states. As it borrowed from the American movie western, so did it influence American film in return, most obviously in the form of the popular Clint Eastwood westerns of the 1970s and then remade as A Fistful of Dollars. Many people consider Yojimbo to be among Kurosawa’s best film. However, the serio-comic approach didn’t work entirely for me. I did not connect with it the way I did with other great films by the director. Still, this highly enjoyable period piece is not only a classic story but a view into Japanese cultural heritage. Yojimbo means bodyguard. It is the 1860’s and out-of-work samurai wander the country.
As hostilities escalate, there’s all sorts of conniving and backhanded maneuvering from everyone involved, with occasional breaks for Sanjuro to slice and dice whatever poor folks get in the way of his objectives. The source of all this conflict is because commerce is at a virtual stop and the factions of two local bosses are fighting each other for dominion. While the basic themes of this story are not unique, many factors add an interesting and unusual charm to this film.
I personally have some difficulty keeping track of which characters are aligned with which of the two warring factions, and that becomes difficult when the rival groups start exchanging prisoners and whatnot. Whilst the movie wasn’t as fast-paced as modern rendition, it’s still an entertaining movie to watch. It’s even more intriguing to see how much movie making has progressed over the years. These things are what made Kurosawa such a celebrated filmmaker, he makes you pay attention to his simple visuals and trains the viewer to read between the lines. The film has some nicely choreographed bits of swordplay but it isn’t anything too flashy or extravagant.
Like I said before, the humor was a big turn off for me. While very little is explictly humorous, Kurosawa has a way of deriving very subtle black humor from the horror of the situation itself, and the very small extent to which most people are fazed by that horror. Another small gripe, which keeps Yojimbo from reaching a perfect score, is a lot of space is taken up by unimportant conversations, which aren’t redeemed by an exceptionally realistic ear for dialogue. Especially considering its bleak import, it doesn’t seem to have earned the right to go on for so long, but it’s still a very good film. This has been a very influential film and it deserves to be. Just because I don’t hold it as high in regards as alot of other critics doesn’t mean this film is any less powerful. This is not Kurosawa’s best film, but it is still a classic, and I highly recommend this to fans of Japanese or Samurai films, and anyone who appreciates world cinema.
Header graphic courtesy of Helen Kaur – http://helenesse.deviantart.com/