"Yojimbo, albeit dubbed
often as an action film, is not exactly action packed and the action scenes
themselves are nothing completely special."
Tomoyuki Tanaka, Akira Kurosawa, Ryuzo
Ryuzo Kikushima, Akira Kurosawa
Toshiro Mifune, Tatsuya Nakadai, Yko Tsukasa, Isuzu Yamada, Daisuke
Kat, Seizabur Kawazu, Takashi Shimura, Hiroshi Tachikawa, Yosuke Natsuki
Time: 110 min.
crafty ronin comes to a town divided by two criminal gangs and decides
to play them against each other to free the town.
This title is available at HKflix.com
REVIEW: One day I'll stop frenetically rewatching Kurosawa,
but I've got to make the most of it right now. After Ikiru, Stray Dog and
Throne of Blood (which I'll review somewhere later), I got to this little
story about a down on his luck ronin (Mifune, who else) who stumbles upon
a little town divided by two gangs. Seeing that the settlement is rife
with corruption and evil men, our hero manages to cunningly make two sides
slaughter each other before he himself finishes the job and purges the
city of malcontent.
Sanjuro Kuwabatake ("Sanjuro" means "thirty years old",
"kuwabatake" "mullberry field", put together, his name
has as much meaning as, oh say, Clint Eastwood's "man with no name"),
the name Mifune's character goes by, is a witty deconstruction of a samurai
myth. The story takes part somewhere between the two key events in 19th
century for the Japanese - the arrival of commodore Perry and ceasing of
the Japanese isolation, and the restauration of the emperor and fall of
the Tokugawa shogunate. So, judging by this timeline, times must be tough
for samurai who are about to get out of business altogether. Sanjuro himself
is probably a good example of someone who is about to hang his sword -
he is dressed in rags, unshaven, and of relatively bad manners. He does
sacrosanct things which real samurai who abides by bushido would never
do : he openly offers his services for money, and later on in his film
he even loses posession of his sword, which was apparently a very gross
blunder for any bushido follower in medieval Japan. Just to further show
how Sanjuro is clueless in those days of changing, there is a shot near
the beginning in which he throws a stick high into the air on the crossroads
and walks further down the path in which the sharper end of the stick pointed
after the fall. Busy living, eh.
Once in town, Sanjuro quickly realises the climate when he spots a merry
looking dog who is running down the street with someone's severe hand in
his mouth. He befriends the local innkeeper who gives him a lowdown of
the situation - it's basically two goons battling for supremacy over the
local silk trade (or something along those lines), and the only one profiting
from it right now is the local undertaker. Sanjuro tells him of his idea
to purge the city himself - he is dubbed "mad" rather quick,
but that of course won't stop him.
So, he first goes and offers his services to Seibei, one of the goon leaders.
To prove his salt, he hacks up a couple of Ushi-Tora (the other goon, obviously)
henchmen, after a hilarious exchange with some of the thugs. ("You
can kill me if you can !" screams a thug hotshot, "It'll hurt"
casually replies Sanjuro). That does it for Seibei who after mucho haggling
strikes a deal with Sanjuro, but later his evil wife (again, an evil wife)
tells him how he's grossly overpaying and how they'd better kill him and
get all their money back after Ushi-Tora is vanquished. This doesn't go
unnoticed by Sanjuro who was eavesdropping, so when the encounter is about
to happen, he just decides to call it quits - in the middle of battlefield
before the encounter. So he casually walks to the other side, and just
yells, "I rejected your enemy !", climbs on an old watchtower
and decides to kick back and enjoy the show.
But alas, alas. Just as they're ready to beat the living daylights out
of each other, both sides are informed that an important inspector arrived
into town (a familiar face, that of Takashi Shimura) and that all fighting
must cease while he's there. Sanjuro's plan thus backfired, but he's got
more plotting in him left. He offers his services to Ushi-Tora now, who
is soon accompanied by his returning brother Unosuke, a very slimy looking
fellow who wields a revolver (clear sign of a dishonourable cad between
the "noble warriors", wielding a firearm). Unosuke doesn't trust
Sanjuro, and after Sanjuro concocts a little plot to free Ushi-Tora's prize
hostage, he pays him a visit and, following a brief altercation we don't
see, takes him prisoner.
Now Sanjuro is a captive at Ushi-Tora's place, and he's also beaten quite
badly. But, our hero escapes in a cunning manner (I won't give this away),
and then retreats to an old hut to restore his powers. Meanwhile, Unosuke
and Ushi-Tora, temporarily relieved of Sanjuro's presence and with inspector
out of town (they rigged a murder in the next city so the inspector could
go there on a short note), just go ahead and massacre Seibei's clan - which
clears the stage for Sanjuro's comeback and a final showdown, in which
he of course slashes the bad guys in few quick swings of a sword and releases
the old innkeeper who was held hostage by the remaining thugs. His work
done, he casually walks away from the fray, ready to purge more cities
and earn more money elsewhere.
Yojimbo, albeit dubbed often as an action film, is not exactly action packed
and the action scenes themselves are nothing completely special - what
really irked me was that there was no sound effects when Sanjuro wielded
his sword - no "swissshhh" and "kapwinggg" to be heard,
man, that's annoying innit. As such, this film is more of a social satire
in samurai garments, and its construction, narrative and the plot served
as a blueprint for the action movie industry of the future. Itself a (uncredited)
reworking of a Dashiel Hammett story "Red Harvest" (the bloke
who wrote Maltese Falcon), Yojimbo was later copied shot-by-shot more less
(again, uncredited) by Sergio Leone for his Fistfull of Dollars, and more
recently by Walter Hill (this time with proper mention of Akira Kurosawa
& co.) for Last Man Standing with Bruce Willis. Still, Yojimbo retains
much of its charm even 40 years after, thanks to a towering performance
by Mifune who is a complete package - a fighter, a joker, a schemer, a
glutton, a philosopher, and whatnot. And tell me one thing - haven't you
all immediately thunk of that scene in which Ben Kenobi slices off a thug's
hand in the sleazy spaceport cantina after he boasted to him that he's
a dangerous convict criminal when Sanjuro gives the same treatment of one
of Ushi-Tora's men ?
But eh, I enjoyed it. On to the sequel I guess.
MAIROSU'S RATING: 7.5/10