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Yojimbo (1961) * Hidden Gem *

Posters are turning out to be my new favorite art...
Posters are turning out to be my new favorite art...

Genre: Samurai Period Action Crime Drama (Japan)

Starring: Toshirô Mifune (Red LionSamurai Rebellion), Tatsuya Nakadai (RanKagemusha)

Directed By: Akira Kurosawa (Seven SamuraiI Live In Fear)

Overview: A hungry ronin drifts into town looking for work and find two rival gangs in the middle of a feud that has the whole town in its clutches. Sanjuro finds opportunity knocking on both sides.

"What a beautiful day! Sixteen down and it's not even ten o'clock!"
"What a beautiful day! Sixteen down and it's not even ten o'clock!"

Yojimbo is a story that is set in one of the most black-and-white scenarios I've ever seen, but its over-simplified plot leaves room for the conniving bad-ass that is Sanjuro, here a bodyguard, to skulk around in a complex manner.

When thinking of stories that are boiled down to the basest of archetypes, something as simple as A versus B / this bad guy versus that equally bad guy, and one lone man standing in the middle guiding the tides of change, there's nothing more simple than Yojimbo. You could even go so far as to say theatrically so - it's all too perfect. But it works. It works so well that of all The Emperor's films I've seen so far, including Seven Samurai, this is probably the one that would most appeal to the mainstream-haters-of-subtitled-stuff. It's not a long epic with moral quandaries. It's one man, screwing with two groups and doing the best he can to make the outcome his own - with no one to call his master.

Add that there's enough swordplay to appeal to the action fan and the argument that this was heavily influenced by John Ford's westerns and the foreign film hater may just perk up and listen. Add that Clint Eastwood starred in the remake, the grossly inferior A Fistful of Dollars, and even the most reluctant Hollywood-film-only viewers may give this a shot.

As stories go, it's blunt like a club: hungry super-hero samurai drifts into town looking for work. What he finds is its inhabitants afraid to leave their houses because of a gang war. On the left, one leader with his sake trade and his army of thugs. On the right, another gang leader with his prostitutes and his own sworded goons. Right in the middle is the bar owner, the ever coffin-building undertaker... and Sanjuro, contemplating which side to join as bodyguard. He's smart and calculating, but not so perfect that his plans all run smoothly. Fun characters and enough serious subject matter to make everybody happy.

I'm sure Kurosawa was pleased with this one.

No one to play with...
No one to play with...

Performance: 9 Cinematography: 9 Script: 8 Plot: 8 Mood: 9

Overall Rating: 86% (Yo! Jimbo! Check It Out!)

It's rare that I rave about a soundtrack but Yojimbo's mood is definitely enhanced by its music. Kurosawa isn't big on keeping a score that's 'period', and this one has this traditional / jazz fusion that really works. The score is one of those that has a distinct sound that familiarly crops up between scenes, like when Sanjuro walks around after having put a plan into motion. The score is really inspiring, really fun... to the point that I may just look for the soundtrack.

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The score is by MASARU SATOH and it's incredibly influential. It was composed and recorded in about a week.


check out this cool Yojimbo t-shirt:

Yojimbo Shirt

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