Sunday, May 20, 2012

Yojimbo (1961): A Classic Samurai Adventure by Akira Kurosawa

Yojimbo (Yôjinbô) is probably one of the most influential films by Japanese director Akira Kurosawa. It's a well-made film with solid acting, direction and cinematography. Over the years, Yojimbo has influenced many movies and filmmakers. Some of those have been an almost exact remakes of Kurosawa's film, e.g., Sergio Leone's A Fistful of Dollars (Per un pugno di dollari) with Clint Eastwood and Walter Hill's Last Man Standing starring Bruce Willis. Others, like the more recent Lucky Number Slevin are not so close to the original but share some of its plot's elements. Apart from feature films, Yojimbo has influenced also other forms of entertainment like television series or variety shows but its greatest effect has been on filmmaking.

Yojimbo itself has been inspired by the western genre and especially John Ford's films. Some claim it is more or less based on Dashiell Hammett's novels Red Harvest and The Glass Key. This is to point that despite Yojimbo's story has not been entirely original, it has been told and filmed in a way that has made the movie hugely important for the future film creators.

The story of Yojimbo (meaning "bodyguard"), similar to Akira Kurosawa's own film Seven Samurai from 1954, is about a samurai and a town needing a kind of protection. A samurai with no name (Toshiro Mifune) who has no master comes to a town with two competing criminal gangs. He decides to stay and work for the gangs constantly changing sides in order to make more money and help the peaceful population by reducing the size of the gangs.

Kurosawa uses Toshiro Mifune's competent acting to establish a likeable character regardless of his restrained talking and hasty use of sword. The plot development also favors the samurai's attractiveness. Many of the other actors have previously worked with Kurosawa too thus the director knows them and directs them very well. In addition to the plot's resemblance to western movies, the cinematography also relies on many of the western genre common shots like the hero standing alone in a wide frame or showing dust clouds between the adversaries.

Most of the town (which actually looks like a small village) is never seen and this reinforces the impression that the only important entities in this place are the two hostile crime gangs. There is a man who announces the time as though to remind the time still hasn't stopped in the town. But then he also obeys the gangs.

Yojimbo is a black and white film which may not be to the taste of everyone. On the other hand, The Artist has proved recently there are many who are not put off just by the lack of color in a film. If it wasn't shot in black and white though Yojimbo would be a different movie. Masaru Sato's soundtrack is a great complement to the narrative and its distinctive melodies and sounds help for the creation of Yojimbo's specific atmosphere, as does the usual raining in Kurosawa's films.

Being one of Kurosawa's best efforts Yojimbo is a must for movie buffs. Despite not being loaded with plenty of action it sets the course for many future action films. And even if you are already familiar with the story, don't worry about your high-grade entertainment cause it's a pleasure to observe the details of Kurosawa's masterful filmmaking.


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