Anthony's Film Review

Yojimbo (1961)

Akira Kurosawa directs an interesting story about a clever ronin...

When you think of Japanese film director Akira Kurosawa, you generally think of samurai pictures. One of his most famous films, if not the most famous, was Seven Samurai in 1954, which presents a simple story on a scale that is epic and allows for much film analysis and discussion. I say this because it illustrates Kurosawa's style of making the most out of simple ideas. Another example of such a film is the 1961 historical drama Yojimbo (which is the Japanese word for "bodyguard"). The story in this film is also a simple one: A ronin (a samurai without a master) who calls himself Sanjuro Kuwabatake wanders into a town that is run by two competing criminal gangs, but, rather than move on, decides to stay and plot to get rid of both gangs by turning them against each other. Now, just because I am able to summarize the entire plot of the movie in one sentence doesn't mean that the film is simplistic. Remember, if Kurosawa is directing it, he will do much with it.

You can definitely see this in the first half of this almost two-hour film. When Sanjuro enters the town, he isn't greeted with any kind of threat from either gang. Rather, the bosses of the two gangs, named Seibei and Ushitora, want to hire Sanjuro as a bodyguard. What's interesting is how clever Sanjuro is. As a warrior who only strikes when the moment is right, he uses the offer of employment to his advantage. He accept one gang's offer and, in his new position, learns what he can about the gang conflict as well as who is who. Basically, the first hour of the film is devoted to nicely written dialogue that explains the characters and setting.

If you think that sounds good, wait until you get to the second half of the movie. This is where Sanjuro finally makes a bold move to set his plan in motion. He tells someone to report to officials that six men have been killed, then kills six gangsters with his sword and uses that same weapon to destroy their house. Then, when Sanjuro explains what has happened, he tells a clever lie to pin the blame on the other side of the gang war. It's a moment that deserves applause, but one character unfortunately complicates the matter (though making the story more interesting): a gangster with a pistol, who discovers Sanjuro's deception. Sanjuro is soon brutally beaten, and we in the audience wonder if he will live or die.

Besides the writing, acting, and cinematography, I just love the character of Sanjuro, because he is essentially a sage among fools. Consider an early scene in the film where the two gangs come out and prepare to engage in a deadly fight. At first, Sanjuro is allied with one side, but just before the first attack is made, he announces that he relinquishes his duty as a bodyguard, so that both sides have to fight each other without him involved. This, of course, is exactly his plan. It's funny to see how there is no bloodshed right away because both sides are too scared to make the first move. Any sign of an offensive move on one side triggers a defensive position on the other, and this repeats in both directions. All of this occurs while Sanjuro is doing absolutely nothing. The patient sage indeed wins over the impulsive fool.

Like Seven Samurai, Yojimbo is a simple story presented in artistic detail. The story and characters are developed nicely within the confines of the film's running time, and Toshiro Mifune, the actor who plays Sanjuro, embodies a character who is strong and wise yet also vulnerable and human. Yojimbo is not really an action movie as one might typically see it, because there is action only when it is needed. The important thing is that the movie presents a story about justice, honor, and discovering oneself. Again, when you put a film into Akira Kurosawa's hands, he will surely give you something of cinematic value.

Anthony's Rating:

For more information about Yojimbo, visit the Internet Movie Database.


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