Thursday, January 05, 2017

Tonight's Movie: Yojimbo (1961)

YOJIMBO (1961) is the next film to be reviewed from my 2016 10 Classics list.

YOJIMBO, also known as YOJINBO in Japan, was cowritten and directed by Akira Kurosawa.

Frequent Kurosawa collaborator Toshiro Mifune stars as Sanjuro, a samurai who wanders into a very, very bad town and sets about getting rid of all the bad guys -- which in this case means almost everyone in the village!

The movie is arresting from the opening credits, as the camera follows Sanjuro in his travels, accompanied by some striking music by Masaru Sato. When Sanjuro arrives in the village, there's a macabre moment early on illustrating just how bad this place is, but it's fun to watch Mifune's reaction. Indeed there's a fair amount of black humor in the movie, including this scene.

In fact, what makes the movie worthwhile is watching the charismatic Mifune, start to finish. He's incredibly cool, if one can describe a samurai in such terms. It's interesting to watch Sanjuro's body language, stroking his chin while thinking -- and constantly scratching himself. I wondered what prompted that mannerism.

Sanjuro constantly plots how to pit one group of villains against another, with a little quick sword work when needed. When he's not fighting or fielding bids for his services, he grabs some food from a lonely sake brewer (Takashi Shimura).

Things get more complicated when Unosuke (Tatsuya Nakadai) shows up in town -- not with a sword, but with a gun!

YOJIMBO is basically a Japanese Western, but instead of Wyatt Earp cleaning up the town it's a man with a sword. Many of the scenes, including confrontations in the empty, dusty streets, will have the ring of familiarity to anyone who loves traditional Westerns.

In turn, this movie was a huge influence on "spaghetti Westerns"; it was remade by Sergio Leone as A FISTFUL OF DOLLARS (1964), starring Clint Eastwood.

I did find the film too long at 110 minutes. By the end of the movie every possible group has fought each other or been killed, and the fighting and bloodshed went on too long for my taste. I think the narrative in the film's second half could have been tightened up considerably, with more compactly depicted resolutions for the various characters.

Other than that, it's a great-looking movie with a powerful star worth watching. His final line is beautiful.

According to IMDb, the film was inspired by a pair of Dashiell Hammett novels! YOJIMBO was filmed in widescreen black and white by Kazuo Miyagawa.

YOJIMBO is available on DVD from the Criterion Collection.


Blogger  said...

I agree with you: the film seemed too long. And I had the déjà vu feeling all the time, since I had already watched A Fistfull of Dollars. It's not my favorite Kurosawa, but it is a very good one.
I already published my list for 2017:

5:54 AM  

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