Greetings again from the darkness. Yojimbo translates to “bodyguard”, but do not make the mistake of comparing it to the 1992 sappy mess The Bodyguard (Kevin Costner, Whitney Houston). This is one of the finest Japanese films ever made, directed by arguably the greatest Japanese director (Akira Kurosawa), and starring one of the top Japanese actors (Toshiro Mifune). It also served as the inspiration for Sergio Leone’s classic 1964 western, A Fistful of Dollars (with Clint Eastwood).
Based in 1860, we meet the unemployed ronin/samurai (Mifune) wandering the countryside allowing a tossed tree branch to determine the direction of his path. It leads him to a town where the ominous first visual is a dog carrying a human hand in his mouth. We realize this isn’t going to be the most welcoming of towns.
The town is controlled by rival factions: the Silk merchant versus the Sake brewer. They represent crime lords Seibel and Ushitora, respectively (think modern day bloods vs crips). Our clever ronin decides to play both sides against the middle and ends up hired as a bodyguard by BOTH gangs. As you can imagine, this leads to real problems for all involved.
The psychology of (corrupt) power and fear is in play here, as is some dark humor (the coffin maker). The biggest clash comes with Unosuke (Tatsuya Nakadai), who proudly carries the town’s only pistol. He certainly enjoys (and abuses) the respect and power that comes with that handgun. The samurai are trained to be loyal at any cost, and it’s quite interesting to see our protagonist adapt to the self-preservation required in his new world.
Masaru Sato delivers a very unique score – one quite unusual for the samurai genre. Toshiro Mifune (pictured left) has one of the great faces in cinematic history, and Kurosawa is in prime form. This is definitely one to see if you enjoy the best films from all countries. Other must see Kurosawa films include: Rashomon (1950), Seven Samurai (1954), Kagemusha (1980), and Ran (1985). It should also be noted that Kurosawa directed a comedic sequel to Yojimbo called Sanjuro (1962). The sequel also starred Mifune.
watch the trailer: