Time: 110 Minutes
Age Rating: Violence
Toshiro Mifune as Kuwabatake Sanjuro
Tatsuya Nakadai as Unosuke
Yoko Tsukasa as Nui
Isuzu Yamada as Orin
Daisuke Katō as Inokichi
Takashi Shimura as Tokuemon
Kamatari Fujiwara as Tazaemo
Atsushi Watanabe as the town’s Coffin Maker
Director: Akira Kurosawa
A nameless ronin, or samurai with no master (Toshiro Mifune), enters a small village in feudal Japan where two rival businessmen are struggling for control of the local gambling trade. Taking the name Sanjuro Kuwabatake, the ronin convinces both silk merchant Tazaemon (Kamatari Fujiwara) and sake merchant Tokuemon (Takashi Shimura) to hire him as a personal bodyguard, then artfully sets in motion a full-scale gang war between the two ambitious and unscrupulous men.
After watching Akira Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai, I wanted to check out more of his movies, I could already tell that he was a fantastic filmmaker. While there was a wide selection of popular and acclaimed movies of his that I could’ve decided to check out next, I ultimately decided on Yojimbo, an action samurai movie starring longtime Kurosawa collaborator Toshiro Mifune. While it’s not quite as great as Seven Samurai, Yojimbo was great and well worth the watch.
Something that Yojimbo is known for is that A Fistful of Dollars, the first movie in Sergio Leone’s “The Man with No Name” Western trilogy starring Clint Eastwood, was unofficially based on it. If you’ve seen A Fistful of Dollars, you’ve more or less seen Yojimbo as they mostly have the same storyline, characters and climax. In all fairness, in one way or another, Yojimbo has been copied across nearly every form of media, and you can tell its very influential. The story is fairly simple: a mysterious man arrives to a town and plays two warring rival gangs against each other. It’s quite entertaining, and there’s hardly ever a dull moment. The blending of tones is fantastic, managing to be funny, dark and thrilling all at once. The first half is rather playful, whereas the tone darkens in the second half. The humour is particularly well timed, Yojimbo is a lot funnier than you would expect it to be, making it a pretty easy watch. There wasn’t really an emotional impact from watching this movie, it’s mainly just simple fun from start to finish, I enjoyed it for that. The movie also fleshes out some of its characters that could’ve ended up as flat caricatures, which really does add to the movie. Yojimbo is a slow burn, and the plot itself isn’t unpredictable (exact same plot to A Fistful of Dollars aside) but is still tense and entertains throughout.
The cast are all good, but the standout is Toshiro Mifune, who gives yet another fantastic performance. He plays a ronin that happens onto the small town with two warring gangs, who decides to play them against each other while profiting from it, and of course by the end he becomes a reluctant hero. He’s calm and quiet, suave, and very clever. He really was the original “Man with No Name” character, being able to blend stoic toughness with humour, and playing rough and ruthless while deep down being a good person with a heart. As said earlier, many of the people the film focuses on could’ve been flat caricatures but instead they’re complex, well-defined, fully fleshed out characters. The comedic side characters also keep the movie from getting too serious.
Having seen Seven Samurai, I already knew that Akira Kurosawa is a fantastic filmmaker, and he doesn’t disappoint here either with his top notch directing. First of all, the cinematography is incredible, framed and composed perfectly, and often times telling the story visually. The action itself is superb, and still holds up to this day. It’s very easy to see why and how many of Kurosawa’s films have managed to greatly influence the modern action genre. It was actually more violent than you would think it would be, especially for a movie released back then. Additionally, it is accompanied by a great score by Masaru Sato.
Yojimbo is a great samurai action movie, with a familiar and simple yet entertaining story, directed with such skill by Akira Kurosawa, and with a strong and memorable lead performance from Toshiro Mifune. If you hadn’t watched anything from Kurosawa before, Yojimbo isn’t a bad place to start his filmography.