Yojimbo (1961)

 “I’m not dying yet. I have to kill quite a few men first”

★★★★★

Directed by: Akira Kurosawa
Written by: Akira Kurosawa
Starring: Toshirô Mifune, Tatsuya Nakadai, Yôko Tsukasa

Yojimbo-1

Akira Kurosawa had already made his mark as an internationally renowned filmmaker for at least a decade before Yojimbo was created. The critically acclaimed  RashomonSeven SamuraiIkiru, and The Lower Depths all preceded Yojimbo, and yet, the film became Kurosawa’s most popular film in Japan. As his first comedy, Kurosawa’s masterful appropriation of genres is not only entertaining and visually stunning, but also stands as a testament to the power of good storytelling.

Yojimbo – meaning ‘bodyguard – tells the story of a samurai in 19th Century Japan who comes upon a town ruled by two rival clans. As the samurai takes matters into his own hands, his clever manipulation of the two clans is complicated by his compassion, a wary clan member with a gun, and a family caught in the violent blackmail methods of the clans.

At the centre of the action is Kurosawa’s super samurai. With an alias (the name he gives translates to “30 year old mulberry field”) and seemingly self-interested motives, Kurosawa’s samurai is not your typical Western hero. He is far more complex, mysterious, playful, and morally ambiguous. As a mercenary, Kurosawa’s samurai shows an interest in how much money he can take from the clans, using these self-involved motivations to turn the two clans against each other so that he doesn’t have to so much as lift a finger to save the town from their suffering.

It is the dark humor Kurosawa embeds into the film, however, that shows his versatility as a filmmaker. With the same witty cheekiness and calculated skill of the film’s samurai, Kurosawa infuses a subversive sense of humor into the compelling characters and their chess-like game of power. Kurosawa’s combination of stunning visual composition (often loaded with the dramatic immediacy of a stage production), a simple yet effective plot, and his own deep knowledge of samurai film conventions (and his will to bend them) culminate in a spectacular film – Yojimbo.

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