Worth A Look: Yojimbo

Yojimbo is an old black and white film from 1961, by the famous Japanese director Akira Kurosawa. One of these days I plan to find out more about Kurosawa, who was also one of the writers for this film, but that day is not today. Nevertheless, the writing of Yojumbo, and its sequel Sanjuro, is interesting. The characters are broad types, but not stereotypes. They have range and colour which they lend to the film.

Yojimbo is the story of a lone samurai who, after tossing a stick at a cross roads in order to decide which way to go, finds himself in a town at war with itself. The film doesn't waste any time in explaining the ins and outs of the situation to us. The town guard greets the samurai with some advice about which side to choose, the samurai soon sees, as he walks down the street, that the town is indeed in trouble, and an old man at the humble inn explains the rest. Yet all this explanation comes in an engaging way. The guard is eager to give the samurai his news because he expects payment in return, and his words as he directs the samurai to the inn, "I'd take you there myself but I'm the town guard," are both humorous - he's clearly not doing a very good job of guarding the town, then - and to the point: he is too afraid of something to be effective against the trouble. When the innkeeper goes into his spiel, he opens windows in different parts of his inn so that the samurai can see for himself what is going on. There's a faction of gamblers out one window, the other faction out another window, and the coffin maker next door. Later in the film, it makes sense that the samurai would keep returning to this place, both because the innkeeper is becoming a sort of friend, and because he can keep watch from there. The characters in this film are not mere decoration, they do some work to keep the plot moving and to provide twists in it.

One of those twists is when one of the contenders turns up with a six-shooter which he is very fond of.

A quick look at Wikipeidia shows that Kurosawa was influenced both by Hollywood westerns and the work of Dashiell Hammett.Yet the film feels sprightly mainly because the characters are allowed to do their work without seeming forced. They never seem to have lines put into their mouths that don't suit their characters or the scene around them. They have a light touch.

The samurai, played by Toshiro Mifune, has no name. When asked, he looks about and names himself after a mulberry field he can see. In the sequel, Sanjuro, when asked, he names himself after the camellia trees that feature in the story.

This is worth checking out when you have the time. The DVD I have is in Japanese with English subtitles, "The Akira Kurosawa Collection" from Madman Entertainment. It's fun.