Sunday, January 9, 2011
Yojimbo; Drama, Japan, 1961; D: Akira Kurosawa, S: Toshiro Mifune, Tatsuya Nakadai, Yoko Tsukasa, Isuzu Yamada, Daisuke Kato
Japan, 19th Century. A nameless Samurai arrives in a small town torn by constant gang fights between two rival gambling cartels, led by crime lords Ushitora and his nemesis Seibei. Seeing a good opportunity to trick them both, he stays there. First, he kills three punks from Ushitora's gang to gain fame, and then offers his services to Seibei. But just as the final showdown was about to start, he leaves Seibei. He flip-flops between the two sides, making them slowly fall apart. He then joins Ushitora, but only to free a wife of a foolish gambler who lost her in a bet, reuniting them. However, he is caught by Uno, a revolver gangster. After he manages to escape, Ushitora's gang wipes out Sebei's because they thought he was hiding at them. In the showdown, the Samurai kills Ushitora and brings back peace to the town.
Long before "A Fistful of Dollars" and numerous other similar westerns, Akira Kurosawa made the original film about a mysterious stranger who arrives in a small town torn by gangsters and brings justice, the excellent (and much less morbid) "Yojimbo", which showed that Toshiro Mifune is the real "Man with no name", not Eastwood. Kurosawa crafts the simple story with good old school film-making and exploits the most from it, particularly from Toshiro Mifune in his best role, while achieving a lot with his good sense for humor here and there - in one sequence, the old man tells the mysterious Samurai protagonist that the two rivaling gangs wrecked the whole town in between them, complaining: "Only the carpenter is making a profit! He can't make enough coffins!" Besides being humorous and refreshing, that episode is also there to give a good summary of the situation in town for the viewers. Likewise, Kurosawa enjoys how the Samurai mocks the two gangs, which reaches almost absurd tones in the scene where he is observing how each side is ridiculously afraid to attack first on the street in the supposed "showdown", with juvenile gangsters just threatening each other with swords from a distance. Despite a few unrealistic examples of acting, an occasionally lax moment and the naive premise that the protagonist can beat 10 rivals without even a bruise, "Yojimbo" is surprisingly clever and undated, offering even a sly moral in the character who even saves a wife of a man who lost her in gambling.