A story so influential to cinema it got two remakes and one official sequel.
Akira Kurosawa is the man taking the directors chair today, most well known for the epic Seven Samurai he helped to shape Japanese cinema. His stature became so large that even western audiences took notice, and in some cases his films were more popular in the west. His films are famous for being remade by American and European filmmakers, Rashomon, Seven Samurai and Hidden Fortress all got a revamp. Yojimbo did get a remake, however not a official one until 1996 with Last Man Standing. Of course there was A Fistful of Dollars the unofficial remake that Sergio Leone never got permission to remake, leading to Kurosawa suing him for plagiarism. Here is an interesting article that goes into more detail comparing all three films: http://www.h2g2.com/approved_entry/A1161271
So lets explain the outline of Yojimbo, which in turn will briefly outline those two remakes previously mentioned. In 1860’s Japan a ronin walks in on a village of two rival gangs. In a bid to free the village of its criminals he forces the gangs into fighting each other.
Unfortunately most people will have seen A Fistful of Dollars before they even knew of Yojimbo, down to the vastness of Hollywood having such a grasp of the film industry. I was one of these people, though I knew of Yojimbo, I had Leone’s film available to me first. I will now never know what effect the reverse viewing will have made on my opinion of both films. However despite the annoying order in which I viewed them I do know one thing for sure, Yojimbo is the better film.
Its not just that without Yojimbo you would not get A Fistful of Dollars infact thinking about it you would not get the whole The man with no name trilogy, and a film that often reaches the top of the best films list will never have been made. (The Good, The Bad and The Ugly) Like many Samurai films Yojimbo feels very theatrical, and by that I mean the acting in the fight scenes are particularly dramatic. It’s all adding to a fantasy feeling created through the large swipes of the swords and emotions felt. This then causes an almost laid back approach made all the more so by the deliberate comedic elements. Its as though Kurosawa doesn’t want it to be taken too seriously, perhaps to cover some of the more violent aspects, which for its time was fairly extreme.
Yojimbo’s small village creates a great feeling of intimacy between the characters leaving no escape of tension and conflict. The viewer will feel claustrophobic and yet familiar of the surroundings and at no point do you feel unsure as to where you are, something that perhaps A fistful of Dollars fails to achieve but then vast landscapes are expected in westerns. Its worth mentioning that Kurosawa often uses themes of western life in his films and Yojimbo takes influence from the novel Red Harvest which is about american gangsters. Though saying this there are obvious hints at Japanese culture, the woman depicted barely speak and if so are put down straight away from the authoritative men. This hints at the Japanese capitalism at the time, for if the woman were given any plot it would shy away from this.
Yojimbo has a brilliant artistic style from the score to the camera shots and its settings. Kurosawa apparently painted storyboards and this film does feel like an art piece right down to the performance of the main actor Toshiro Mifune. He manages to give off a cool and calm demeanor that one can’t help feeling Eastwood took inspiration from, the samurai is a constant presence throughout and as the viewer we have to believe in Mifune.
For film lovers to Eastwood fanatics, Yojimbo is a must watch purely for its influence in shaping the films of today and the films often considered to be the best.