(director/writer: Akira Kurosawa; screenwriter: Ryuzo Kikushima/from the novel by Dashiell Hammett; cinematographer: Kazuo Miyagawa; editor: Akira Kurosawa; music: Masaru Sato; cast: Toshiro Mifune (Sanjuro Kuwabatake), Tatsuya Nakadai (Unosuke, pistol packing younger brother), Kyu Sazanka (Ushi-Tora), Takashi Shimura (Tokuemon), Yoko Tsukasa (Nui), Isuzu Yamada (Orin), Daisuke Kato (Inokichi), Seizaburo Kawazu (Seibei), Hiroshi Tachikawa (Yoichiro), Ikio Sawamura (Hansuke), Yoshio Tsuchiya (Kohei), Eijiro Tono (Gonji, innkeeper), Atsushi Watanabe (The Cooper, Coffin-Maker), Kamatari Fujiwara (Tazaemon); Runtime: 110; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Akira Kurosawa; Janus; 1961-Japan-in Japanese with English subtitles)

“Not much on plot or leaving one much to think about, but it sure was entertaining.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Akira Kurosawa’s (“Rashomon”/”Ikiru””seven Samurai”) Yojimbo, which translates into English as bodyguard, was the great filmmaker’s most financially successful film and my favorite of all his films. Its magnificent black-and-white photography by Kazuo Miyagawa and snappy action sequences are much like a Hollywood Western, but this dark fable also has an edgy sardonic wit that inspired the spaghetti western. Sergio Leone lifted the Yojimbo theme for his 1964 hit starring Clint Eastwood, “A Fistful of Dollars.” The violence is graphic but well-executed in the tradition of the samurai film, and the unheroic performance by Toshiro Mifune as the film’s true hero is peerless.

It’s set in 1860 in Japan at the close of the Tokugawa dynasty and the rise of the middle-classes. An unemployed, lazy, gruff but masterful samurai, Sanjuro Kuwabatake (Toshiro Mifune), wanders into a sleepy village that is terrorized by two rival factions fighting over the turf and finds out from the embittered innkeeper Gonji (Eijiro Tono) that there’s a gang war raging over a rift between former partners. On one side is a greedy and ruthless silk merchant and brothel keeper, Seibei (Seizaburo Kawazu), on the other side a greedy and ruthless sake merchant Ushi-Tora (Kyu Sazanka). The mysterious samurai offers his services to the highest bidder; by staying with the neutral innkeeper and not committing to either side he secretly schemes to have both sides try to outbid each other for his services and that they will eventually destroy each other. He believes neither side is worth defending. The samurai cunningly starts a series of fights, performs a few killings and arranges dual kidnappings, as each side believes the other is responsible till a full scale war rages. In an act of unselfishness the bodyguard kills six of Ushi-Tora’s guards with his sword and frees a stupid weakling farmer’s pretty wife from being the property of a brewer, as the hubby lost her to a gambling debt. But Unosuke (Tatsuya Nakadai), the sly and vicious pistol brandishing younger brother of Ushi-Tora, who has the only gun in town, figures out his older blood-thirsty but incompetent brother Ino (Daisuke Kato) was duped by the bodyguard into thinking she was released by a raid from Seibei’s men and takes the bodyguard prisoner. After being subject to torture and a beating, the bodyguard escapes and is nursed back to health by the innkeeper and the cooper in a hut on the outskirts of town. When the bodyguard learns that Gonji has been captured by Ushi-Tora’s men, after they wiped out all of their rival’s men, he comes to town and using a borrowed sword from a dead man eliminates the rival gang single-handed and leaves town with only the innkeeper and cooper around for him to say goodbye to.

A great mixture of technical skill, action and comedy, while showing how contemptuous humans can be in their ill behavior that ranges from being merely obsequious to unsympathetic killers. Not much on plot or leaving one much to think about, but it sure was entertaining.

Yojimbo Poster

REVIEWED ON 7/19/2006 GRADE: A      https://dennisschwartzreviews.com/