Yojimbo (1961)

Yojimbo (1961), directed by Akira Kurosawa.


Thug: I've committed every crime in the book!

Sanjuro: So you won't mind if I kill you?

Thug: What? Kill us if you can!

Sanjuro: It'll hurt.

Thug: We're gamblers. We ain't afraid of the sword.

Sanjuro: [chuckles] There's no cure for fools. [draws sword, visits split-second death and mayhem on the gang, turns and walks away]

A scruffy lone samurai wanders into a town divided between warring factions. If he can rescue the innocent and get the goons to kill each other off he will have had a good day.

It is now late in the samurai era and the rich industrialists with their gangster allies are supplanting the old feudal order. Kurosawa satirizes contemporary Japan and in his fantasy version of history the samurai triumphs over the new order one last time.

This is funnier than his earlier costume pictures and has a jazzier score. The story is now a classic one: it was remade as Leone's A Fistful of Dollars (1964) and Walter Hill's Last Man Standing (1996). Kurosawa sued for a cut of Leone's picture and made more on it than on his own version.

It is probably the Toshiro Mifune role best loved by audiences. Despite the general wryness in tone, the violence is more explicit than in his earlier films. He takes a sadistic beating.

How the wheel turns: Kurosawa was influenced by John Ford westerns and Dashiell Hammett books and films, and his work in turn inspired new westerns and hardboiled movies.

The Criterion Blu-ray has a better image than the other b&w Kurosawa I have seen recently: The Seven Samurai (1954) and Rashomon (1950). It's often very fine.

The excellent commentary track gives not only an appreciation of the camera work but loads of detail on the director's intent, his habit of illustrating problems of the present with stories of the past, the historical and contemporary context, his debt and influence.