Sunday, December 13, 2009

Yojimbo 1962 : out-westerning the western

An unemployed samurai sometime around 1850 arrives in a dusty  town to find the town torn by a bitter factional fight between the silk merchant and the wine brewer. He cleverly manipulates the situation, offering his military expertise to the higher bidder.The townsfolk are hapless victims in this war of hoodlums. The samurai walks away at the end, the feud concluded and peace restored to the town.

Whether he draws inspiration from the American western or vice versa is arguable, but certainly we have a fast action entertainer of the Sholay genre. The renowned film-maker once again puts his full cinematographic plumage on display. It also presumably displays a period of Japanese history, and the one lone fire-arm--a revolver which exerts considerable influence in the balance of power in the gang war--as symbolic of that country's emergence from it's feudalistic era to the period of rapid westernization, which started in the period in which the action occurs..

There is not much I find to write about. It's a film beautiful on the eye in it's dusty, grimy, wind-lashed setting. It resembles the grey, ramshackle, disintegrating world like Gold Rush. It is engrossing to observe the unfamiliar mannerisms, cadences of speech and body language. Bloodshed, violence, meanness, treachery--the full dose of villainy is there.

Sadly, the most popular of his films, both on it's home-ground as elsewhere. A good one, I guess, but just not my genre.
Criterion Essay, Alexander Hanske
Roger Ebert's Great Movies Essay


Ronak M Soni said...

Are you sure it's 'round 1850? Seven Samurai had many more firearms, but I'm pretty sure it was set earlier. Indicates that Yojimbo happened earlier.

Actually, his most popular film is Seven Samurai. At least, the IMDb top 250 list would say so (Seven samurai at 15, Yojimbo at 141).

Personally, this is the Kurosawa I enjoyed least, and I've watched Rhapsody in August, which is supposed to be one of his worst movies.

S M Rana said...


1850 is an estimate I picked up from somewhere. Just referring to Wiki, the American's sailed into Japan in 1850s in their gunboats, ending 200 years of self chosen isolation, and beginning the rapid westernisation called the Meiji restoration.

Ronak M Soni said...

The criterion essay link leads to the pic you used.

S. M. Rana said...


Corrected. Thanks.

Literary Dreamer said...

I have not seen Yojimbo yet, but my personal favorite is The Seven Samurai. What a great film!

Then again, another film I have not seen (which Ebert argues is Kurosawa's greatest film) is Ikiru, which has nothing to do with samurais.

S. M. Rana said...

@ LD

Ikiru, which I have seen twice and planning to see again for the purpose of writing a review, is a rare philosophical film, different from the samurai series. Kurosawa's Macbeth ( another name, of course ) is also nice.

vivek said...

Could easily have been my favourite Kurosawa film, if not for High and Low. I know a lot of people prefer Ikiru, but in films like Yojimbo, Sanjuro (to an extent) and High and Low there still remains a freshness even when their respective "genres" have taken a beating with time.