In Medieval Japan, an elderly warlord retires, handing over his empire to his three sons. However, he vastly underestimates how the new-found power will corrupt them and cause them to turn on each other...and him.
Sanjuro, a wandering samurai enters a rural town in nineteenth century Japan. After learning from the innkeeper that the town is divided between two gangsters, he plays one side off against the other. His efforts are complicated by the arrival of the wily Unosuke, the son of one of the gangsters, who owns a revolver. Unosuke has Sanjuro beaten after he reunites an abducted woman with her husband and son, then massacres his father's opponents. During the slaughter, the samurai escapes with the help of the innkeeper; but while recuperating at a nearby temple, he learns of innkeeper's abduction by Unosuke, and returns to the town to confront him. Written by
Bernard Keane <BKeane2@email.dot.gov.au>
The fact that the main villain sports a gun shows the slow creep of Westernization and pitches the film as roughly taking place in the 1860s. It was around about this time that the USA started forcing Japan to come out of its isolationist policy that had effectively kept the country stalled in a feudal, almost medieval society. See more »
The interval between the noise of the gunshot, and the ringing of bell is too long. See more »
Let me go, father. It's my chance.
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After a string of classic masterpieces, Kurosawa confronted his influences head-on. Throwing John Ford's Western aesthetics into a blender and painting them pitch black. The results are Yojimbo and its legacy.
Yojimbo ("the bodyguard") is the tale of a flea-ridden wandering swordsman, Sanjuro (Toshiro Mifune, in his finest performance). He arrives at a gang-war ravaged town and starts hiring himself out to both sides, playing them off against another, in order to wipe all the scum out. Sound familiar?
Even though Yojimbo the film is a thrilling ride and very funny dark comedy, it is hard to imagine what a bombshell this was for audiences at the time of its release. It is as far removed as can be from the then squeaky-clean aesthetic of samurai films: you can almost smell the sweat and the grime of the sordid town and characters. The action is fast and furious, enhanced by Kurosawa's deft use of telephoto lenses and Masaru Sato's avant-garde score. With all that, Yojimbo was a massive kick in the pants of a fossilized genre.
It exploded beyond the confines of its own country and genre, forever influencing the very Westerns that had inspired it, particularly a new wave out of Spain and Italy at the time. One Sergio Leone copy/pasted the whole plot into his own revisionist Western and gave us the Dollars trilogy. The slightest of Spaghetti Western enthusiasts owes Kurosawa a debt of gratitude.
As with all truly great work, its greatness exists even devoid of context, and for all the historical precedents it set, all Kurosawa wanted to make was an entertaining film. That he bloody well succeeded is the least you can say about Yojimbo.
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