Review: Yôjinbô (Yojimbo, 1961)


See where Sergio Leone drew inspiration for his Man With No Name trilogy!

Screenplay By: Ryuzo Kikushima & Akira Kurosawa
Directed By: Akira Kurosawa

It’s interesting to watch a movie for the first time when you have already seen the movies that used it for inspiration. I had already seen Per Un Pugno Di Dollari before ever watching Yôjinbô. It’s a testament to the talent of Akira Kurosawa that despite the stories being almost exactly the same, I never thought of Yôjinbô as a retread of what I had already seen. Yôjinbô is not only a great movie, but it is better than Per Un Pugno Di Dollari by quite a bit, and that says something.

Yôjinbô rises and falls on the shoulders of Toshirô Mifune. His unnamed samurai, the name he gives is a joke rather than an actual name, is the centerpiece of the entire film. The other characters add flavor to Yôjinbô, but they are mere seasoning to the main course that is Mifune. It struck me that in the majority of reviews I read from when Yôjinbô was released Mifune wasn’t given much credit for what he did with his character. Sergio Leone presented a man in Clint Eastwood who was amoral with the tiniest bit of morality at his core. Kurosawa has created a character with Mifune who isn’t amoral, he just appears to be. He isn’t a paragon of virtue, but he is a man with strong beliefs and a smart way of enforcing them. Mifune is powerful in his performance, his is funny, he is large and he is small, he is the driving force of Yôjinbô, but he’s also the ultimate bad ass.

There was plenty to love about Yôjinbô, across the board. I loved the music, you are immediately tied to the Western theme of Yôjinbô through the score, traditional Japanese with Old West hues added for spice. Yôjinbô is full of beautiful shots and great framing. Two, in particular stick out to me. One scene has Mifune sitting on high as the real warrior while down below the fake warriors preen and dance around each other, avoiding actual combat like it’s the plague. My favorite shot though, is after Mifune has been beaten and found his way back to the local bar. A lone strip of light plays across his eyes, ignoring his swollen face and focusing on the controlled rage that rests in his eyes and the center of his being.

If pressed I wouldn’t be able to name a single facet of Yôjinbô that I found wanting. Whether it was the acting, the score, the cinematography, the direction, the atmosphere, you name it, I loved every second of this film. It’s not a deep message film, Yôjinbô won’t give you a lot to mull over. But, it does give you a great performance from a legend, along with great set pieces and a mood of pure bad ass that permeates the entire film. If you have seen any of the Man With No Name trilogy and they have appealed to you, then you need to see Yôjinbô, just go ahead and see Yôjinbô, this isn’t a film you need to be talked into seeing.





3 responses to “Review: Yôjinbô (Yojimbo, 1961)

  1. I think Tatsuya Nakadai is really good in this movie too. I saw him in Sword of Doom last week and he’s quickly become one of my favourite samurai movie actors. In both films he plays characters who are rotten to the core, but he sells it very well.

  2. I have yet to see Sword of Doom, I’ll have to check that out some day.

  3. Pingback: Yojimbo/Yôjinbô (1961) | timneath

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