This semi-comic 1961 film by legendary director Akira Kurosawa (Rashomon, Ran) was inspired by the American Western genre. Kurosawa mainstay Toshir˘ Mifune (The Seven Samurai) plays a drifting samurai for hire who plays bo... more »th ends against the middle with two warring factions, surviving on his wits and his ability to outrun his own bad luck. Eventually the samurai seeks to eliminate both sides for his own gain and to define his own sense of honor. Yojimbo is striking for its unorthodox treatment of violence and morality, reserving judgment on the actions of its main character and instead presenting an entertaining tale with humor and much visual excitement. One of the inspirations for the "spaghetti Westerns" of director Sergio Leone and later surfacing as a remake as Last Man Standing with Bruce Willis, this film offers insight into a director who influenced American films even as he was influenced by them. --Robert Lane« less
"The great Akira Kurosawa directed "Yojimbo" -- first released in 1961. The film stars frequent Kurosawa collaborator, Toshirô Mifune, who's as good here as he's ever been. The film is set in the post-samurai era, and Mifune is a wandering samurai offering his services as a bodyguard. He stumbles upon an inept, warring town and decides to make some money - perhaps having a little fun in the process.
Of all Kuosawa's movies, "Yojimbo" is probably structured the most like a traditional western. Not surprisingly, Sergio Leone used it as his inspiration for "A Fistful of Dollars," the first of his "spaghetti-Westerns." Obviously, "Yojimbo" is better than the vast majority of movies, foreign or otherwise, but I was a bit disappointed nevertheless. Many people consider "Yojimbo" to be among Kurosawa's best film. However, the serio-comic approach didn't work entirely for me. I did not connect with it the way I did with other great films by the director, such as "Rashomon" or "High and Low."
In addition, the DVD transfer is problematic. A hissing sound can be heard throughout the movie, and the film just wasn't cleaned up the way it should have been before being transferred. Finally, the DVD includes no extras, save for the original trailer for "Yojimbo." Overall, the film is quite good although not Kurosawa's best, and the packaging is below par. "
Death in the Dust and the Wind
Gary F. Taylor | Biloxi, MS USA | 12/07/2003
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Although it lacks the scope of THE SEVEN SAMURAI, THRONE OF BLOOD, and other more widely known films by the celebrated Akira Kurosawa, the 1961 YOJIMBO (also known as BODYGUARD) is one of the most important films of the second half of the 20th Century--and a film that was deeply influenced by American film. Even so, YOJIMBO stands on its own merits: it's a magnificent piece of cinema that will fascinate even those who normally turn up their noses at "movies with subtitles."In theory, the film is based on the 1929 Dashiell Hammett novel RED HARVEST--but transports the basic story to a period in Japan when the Samurai class has fallen on hard times and must seek employment as common body guards. Sanjuro Kuwabatake (brilliantly played by Toshiro Mifune, who appeared in several Kurosawa films) is such a one, a scruffy looking and aging warrior who finds himself caught between warring factions of a Japanese village and responds by playing the two against each other.One of the film's greatest assets is its visual style. Kurosawa is very clearly influenced by the look of the American western here, and most particularly so, in my opinion, by HIGH NOON. Consequently, YOJIMBO leaps the cultural divide with considerable ease--but Kurosawa uses the images of empty streets and the lone warrior to considerably different effect, presenting him as a dangerous figure who emerges from the dust and the wind to rip wide his foes. But the film does not rely on visual style alone: there is plenty of hard substance here, too. The plot is tightly wound, action-intensive, and laced with a dry and very black humor, and the cast is superlative throughout.As it borrowed from the American movie western, so did it influence American film in return, most obviously in the form of the popular Clint Eastwood "spaghetti westerns" of the 1970s--where it was essentially remade as A FIST FULL OF DOLLARS. But frankly Clint Eastwood never had it so good: with Kurosawa at the helm and Mifune as the lead, Eastwood's "lone stranger" feels mighty tame in comparison.The Criterion DVD offers the film in original widescreen and in the best possible condition short of a full digital restoration. As noted elsewhere, there are occasional blips and lines--but honestly the film is so driving that you will barely notice them. The subtitles also seem to be a better translation than I've seen in any other version. YOJIMBO was my introduction to Japanese cinema. I urge you to let it be yours as well.GFT, Amazon reviewer"
Hooray for cynicism!
Wheelchair Assassin | The Great Concavity | 09/14/2006
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Those looking for redeeming social messages might want to look elsewhere, but if you're in the mood for a violent, stylishly shot, and decidedly nihilistic good time you should be sure to give Yojimbo a look. Presaging the role Clint Eastwood would soon make famous in the Sergio Leone's spaghetti westerns, not to mention countless action-movie leading men since, Yojimbo helped to introduce the concept of the amoral antihero as main character, as well as give cinema (Japanese or otherwise) one of its all-time most fascinating figures. Played by the great Toshiro Mifune at his glowering, imperious best, samurai-turned-drifter Sanjuro Kuwabatake is one of film history's great protagonists-hard drinker (don't interrupt Sanjuro when he's enjoying his sake), master strategist, seemingly peerless swordsman, and unapologetic self-seeker. He's the kind of guy you can't help but like; even if his actions would be considered reprehensible in most times and places, at least he doesn't proclaim any lofty ideals or lay claim to any moral high ground while killing people. As a samurai with no master and no clan to owe allegiance to, going through a time of flux in Japan, Sanjuro enters a world where old values don't apply and he has only his own survival to think about. Since he's found himself where life is cheap, the movie seems to be saying, Sanjuro's actions, underhanded or not, are as justifiable as anyone else's. Besides, as Sanjuro himself notes, at least the people he kills are even worse than he is.
Anyway, as the movie opens, Sanjuro wanders into a town where commerce is at a virtual stop (with the exception of the local undertaker's business, which is thriving) and the factions of two local bosses are fighting each other for dominion. Sanjuro quickly sees there's money to be made off the conflict for anyone with his combination of flexible morality and astonishing skills with a sword, and he just as quickly starts playing the two sides against each other to see which boss will dig deeper to procure his services. As hostilities escalate, there's all sorts of conniving and backhanded maneuvering from everyone involved, with occasional breaks for Sanjuro to slice and dice whatever poor folks get in the way of his objectives. The violence obviously isn't as graphic or realistic as what you'll get from later color movies, but the battle scenes are shot in a nicely frenetic and unflinching manner, even if they consist largely of Sanjuro cutting through his opponents without breaking much of a sweat. At the very least, the fight scenes here are certainly preferable to the constant CGI-fests action fans are subjected to nowadays.
It becomes evident early on that this movie isn't going to be entirely serious (if the bouncy, jokey score doesn't clue you in, the dog running up to the main character with a severed hand in its mouth might), but the comic elements don't subtract from the movie's violent, morally ambiguous nature. If anything, the film's humor plays up the absurdity of the conflict into which the protagonist enters and the principals involved in it. In one scene that's especially indicative of the movie's cynical point of view, Sanjuro excuses himself from a planned battle right before it starts, and proceeds to watch with amusement as the two sides tentatively approach each other and back off over and over, obviously not feeling quite as brave as they did before it actually came time to fight.
All humor aside, though, this is still a technically stunning movie, especially in its visual depictions of its stark 19th-century setting. The cinematography features tons of great, sweeping shots of a town square as desolate physically as it is morally; the final battle is especially well-shot, with the two sides (Sanjuro and everybody else) slowly moving towards each other as the wind blows dust all around them, the score turning darker in order to ratchet the tension up even more.
It's obviously not an easy task to rank this movie among Kurosawa's filmography, although of the several that I've seen I'd put this one a very small notch below The Seven Samurai for the number-one spot. That said, though, in terms of ideas, influence, and sheer coolness of its protagonist, Yojimbo belongs on the short list of the greatest movies of all time. Guy-movie enthusiasts everywhere owe it a watch or two."
Snowbrocade | Santa Barbara, CA | 08/05/2006
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Akira Kurosawa is one of the most talented and beloved Japanese directors to cross over into the western market. Yojimbo illustrates why. Shot in heavily contrasted black and white, Yojimbo is not only a beautiful film but an interesting cultural portrait and a psychological tale of conflict. The talented Toshiro Mifune in his prime plays the lead and Tatsuya Nakadai is notable as the villain obsessed with his gun.
Yojimbo means bodyguard. It is the 1860's and out-of-work samurai wander the country. The hero of the piece is a nameless and scruffy looking character. But his swaggering catlike grace, along with his characteristic shoulder shrugging walk, reveals his muscular strength and lighting speed with the sword. This charismatic ruffian arrives at a village that appears to be under siege. Villagers peer from behind blinds as he enters, and a breeze blows fallen leaves in the empty streets.
Our hero learns the village is in the middle of a gang war. He becomes a trickster figure who pits the gangs against one another and brings the problem to a conclusion--after demonstrating his superiority both in fighting and in intelligence.
This highly enjoyable period piece is not only a classic story but a view into Japanese cultural heritage. A must see for film buffs since many directors refer to this film. It is a great film for anyone just to see Mifune's visceral performance. Sergio Leone's "A Fistful of Dollars" was an unauthorized remake which resulted in legal action. It is interesting to note that the plot for Yojimbo was based on a Dashiell Hammett story, Red Harvest. In addition Kurosawa stated his inspiration for the film was a noir detective thriller called "The Glass Key" starring Alan Ladd and Veronica Lake. Apparently a scene where the hero is getting beaten in "Yojimbo" is from the exact same scene from "Glass Key", copied shot by shot. Kurosawa was also a big western fan and some of the plot as well as shooting angles are influenced by American Westerns."
Great movie, unfaithfull presentation.
Naoki Nomura | Saitama, Japan | 01/06/2000
(3 out of 5 stars)
"Eventhough this is one of the greatest movie from Criterion collection, I can't say this is recommended for anyone who loves this film. likewise "Yozimbo", Criterion did not use new print for this DVD edition. Instead, they used same transfer from their old LaserDisc version. The print is not in good condition, neither is the soundtrack. The more pathetic thing is that you can't see all of samurais filled on the screen. Most of the time, ten samurais, including Mifune Toshiro, are fit in widescreen originaly. But in here, one or two samurais are missing in left or right side. This is almost pan & scan! I want to know why Criterion did not use Hi-Difinision transfer from Japanese LD version approved by director himself? (Did you know that one of his film "High & Low" is in 4-track surround stereo?). I realy hope that when they releace "Red beared" on DVD, they'll have the best transfer......"