Yojimbo Review – Simply Divine

This town is full of men who deserve to die.

– The Samurai to the inn-keeper in Akira Kurosawa’s masterpiece Yojimbo

As we were watching Akira Kurosawa’s Yojimbo (1961), an eerie feeling of seeing one of Sergio Leone’s spaghetti westerns crept over us.

You know, a stranger drifts into a small town where bad things are happening and bad men are on the ascendant.

Along with the stranger comes an uneasy wind that sends fallen leaves scattering, the people rushing inside and curious, hopeful folks peering through windows and half-open doors.

Soon the velocity of events, mainly the intensity of violence in the town, accelerates.

Ultimately, the stranger triumphs, turns his horse away from the town and rides off, leaving the bad elements kissing the dust.

Thieving Swine

Ha ha ha, a bit of research provided the reason for our uneasy déjà vu while watching Yojimbo.

Sergio Leone had blatantly stolen Kurosawa’s Yojimbo and remade it as A Fistful of Dollars.

Sure, A Fistful of Dollars was pleasing to the eye and Ennio Morricone’s music euphony to the ears.

But stealing is stealing, right?

An angry Kurosawa was not amused and sent a letter to Sergio:

Signor Leone, I have just had the chance to see your film. It is a very fine film, but it is my film. As Japan is a signatory to the Berne Convention on international copyright, you must pay me.

When Sergio demurred on paying up, Kurosawa did not hesitate to sue. He won and got the Italian thief to fork out 15% of the worldwide collections of A Fistful of Dollars.

So don’t let anyone fool you that Indian film-makers are the only thieves lurking around tinseltown!

Divine Film

Yojimbo was our first full movie from the Japanese director Akira Kurosawa.

Ryuzo Kikushima and Kurosawa wrote the screenplay for this acclaimed film.

And soon as the movie was over, we took a birch cane and unmindful of our shrieks flagellated ourselves mercilessly blue and red for the temerity of ignoring this master director for so long.

Moments into the movie, as the Samurai is walking down the main street of the town a dog comes running in the opposite direction with a severed human hand in its mouth, stunning both the Samurai and the viewers.

In that brief scene, Kurosawa provides the chilling history of violence in the town more powerfully than any other character in the movie can do so later – the inn-keeper through his angry exclamations to the Samurai, the constable through his nutty antics or the villagers staying inside behind closed doors.

Set in the 1860s, Yojimbo centers on the violence in a small town betwixt two criminal factions led by the brothel-keeper Seibei and his one-time henchman Ushitoro.

Before long, gamblers, criminals, drifters and fugitives have joined both sides in unleashing mayhem in the town.

But the town will soon get a fresh start thanks to the Samurai and his sword.

The great Japanese actor Toshiro Mifune plays the Samurai a.k.a. Ronin, who’s drifted into the town, with a magnificence rarely seen on the screen.

Bearing a stoical demeanor, a regal carriage, ruthless with the sword when necessary, and sporting the rare bemused smile as he eyes the pusillanimous foot-soldiers on both sides from a chair high above the street, the tall Mifune towers over the film.

The side actors are a treat to behold providing as they do the comical aspects of the film.

Eijirō Tōno as the inn-keeper Gonji and Ikio Sawamura playing the nutty constable Hansuke throw in remarkable performances.

Yojimbo also owes its enduring appeal to its extraordinary photography.

In my not-so-humble view, over 75% of directors forget that movies are a visual medium meant to feast the eyes foremost.

Here’s where the film’s photographer Kazuo Miyagawa comes in with his keen eye for the right angle in sync with the theme of the movie and context of the scene.

The film is an extraordinary amalgam of wide-angle and closeup photography.

The Samurai is always shown as towering whether it’s against the snow-covered mountains in the distance or walking in the main street of the town, a symbolic suggestion of his moral superiority over his surroundings.

Not surprising.

After all, Kurosawa was a director for whom moral themes were precious in an amoral world.

Heavenly Music

To say that Yojimbo’s soundtrack offers glimpses of heaven would be no exaggeration.

Masaru Sato has wrought a magic that’s completely in tune with the tone of the movie.

A fusion of Western classical and Asian tunes reverberate throughout the film multiplying the viewer’s joy a thousand-fold.

Recommending a movie like Yojimbo to the Indian troglodytes who revel in garbage like Himmatwala, Rowdy Rathore, Ajith’s Billa or Dabanng is a sin of which I shall have no part!

6 Responses to "Yojimbo Review – Simply Divine"

  1. vjcool   March 25, 2013 at 1:06 am

    Have watched Sanjuro.. the sequel to this film..It was great..and don’t miss ‘Ran’

    SearchIndia.com Responds:

    Will watch both.

    From an artistic perspective, I think Yojimbo was bigger than Sanjuro and Ran!

    • vjcool   March 25, 2013 at 1:07 am

      and ‘M‘ by Fritz Lang.

      SearchIndia.com Responds:

      Alas, M is not on Instant Play…I’ll wait for the DVD.

      But some of Fritz Lang’s pre-sound movies like Spies, Woman in the Moon, Metropolis Restored and Siegfried are available on Instant Play.

  2. Sisri   March 25, 2013 at 2:51 pm

    is this on Netflix yet? or Redbox?

    Offtopic: will we see a blog post /commentary about Sanjay Dutt clemency debacle?

    SearchIndia.com Responds:

    1. On Netflix DVD but not on Netflix streaming….RedBox I doubt.

    I just cancelled Netflix streaming but retained the DVD portion of the service.

    Plan to sign up for Hulu Plus ($7.99/mth) tonight to access all these classic films online. During the weekend, Kurosawa films were free because the late director’s birthday was on March 23.

    2. On Sanjay Dutt, every chutiya in India wants to give him a free pass because he’s suffered enough, because he was a kid then (Sanju Baba was a 31-year-old “kid” in 1993), because he’s changed a lot….

    Bottom line, I would not be surprised in the least if Sanjay Dutt gets a pardon. But such is the course of (in)justice in Mera Bharat Mahaan! 🙁

  3. TheThirdMan   March 25, 2013 at 9:24 pm

    Kurosawa – you just cannot miss Rashomon, Seven Samurai, Ikiru, Hidden Fortress, Throne of Blood for sure.

    Thanks to studying at Film & Television Institute of India (FTII), Pune got to see all these films on 35 mm! Heaven to say the least!

    If I remember right, Sivaji Ganesan’s Andha Naal (1954) was heavily inspired by Rashomon.

    SearchIndia.com Responds:

    You write: Thanks to studying at Film & Television Institute of India (FTII), Pune got to see all these films on 35 mm! Heaven to say the least!

    I bet you never got to see Himmatwala at the institute! 😉

    Surely, your teachers lacked the foresight to grasp the genius of this monsterpiece which would be honored by Indian filmmakers by being remade three decades later!

    • vjcool   March 26, 2013 at 11:33 pm

      ON Andha Naal (1954) – found similarities with eye of the needle (1978).. where the spy lands on an island and tries to radio the german and wats for their uboat and is killed by the girl he loves once she knows he’s a spy… like in andha naal the husband is a radio operator who radios the japs to bomb chennai and alo wais for their sub , and is killed by the wife once she knows hes a spy

  4. vjcool   March 26, 2013 at 11:45 pm

    I’m not sure about this movie but you may like it and I’ll like a review

    SearchIndia.com Responds:

    1. I will watch Ben X tomorrow morning since it’s on Netflix Instant Play….but right now I’m torturing myself with the 1983 monsterpiece Himmatwala.

    2. Review of Ben X?

    Yes, but only after completing reviews of two fine French films De rouille et d’os (Rust and Bone) and Les petits mouchoirs (Little White Lies) that I’ve watched lately.

    I’m now veering round to the view that it’s hard to beat the French film-makers when it comes to contemporary human dramas!

    3. Back to Ravi, Rekha, Padma, Shakti, Govind, Champa and Sher singh in Himmatwala (1983). 🙁 🙁

    And to think Indians are remaking this garbage…..In a million years, there’s no hope for Bollywood or the benighted people who patronize such an excrescence.

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