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Yojimbo

Poster
Directed by Akira Kurosawa
Produced by Ryuzo Kikushima
Akira Kurosawa
Tomoyuki Tanaka
Written by Ryuzo Kikushima
Akira Kurosawa
Starring Toshirō Mifune
Tatsuya Nakadai
Yôko Tsukasa
Isuzu Yamada
Music by Masaru Satō
Cinematography Kazuo Miyagawa
Takao Saito
Editing by Akira Kurosawa
Distributed by Toho Company Ltd.
Release date(s) April 25, 1961 (1961-04-25)
Running time 110 minutes
Country Japan
Language Japanese
Followed by Sanjuro

Yojimbo (用心棒 Yōjinbō?) is a 1961 jidaigeki (period drama) film directed by Akira Kurosawa. It tells the story of a ronin (masterless samurai), portrayed by Toshirō Mifune, who arrives in a small town where competing crime lords make their money from gambling. The ronin convinces each crime lord to hire him as protection from the other. By careful political maneuvering and the use of his sword, he brings peace, but only by encouraging both sides to wipe each other out in bloody battles. The title of the film translates as "bodyguard". The ronin calls himself Kuwabatake Sanjuro (meaning "Mulberry Field thirty-year-old"), which he seems to make up while looking at a mulberry field by the town. Thus, "Sanjuro" can be viewed as an early example of the "Man with No Name" concept (which previously appears in a number of novels, including Dashiell Hammett's Red Harvest and other works[1]), made famous in the Clint EastwoodSergio Leone collaborations, commonly known as the Dollars Trilogy, the first film of which follows a similar plot to that of Yojimbo.

Contents

Inspirations

The film's style makes use of similar styles to western films, including Toshirō Mifune as a lone hero in this wide shot

The film's look and themes were in part inspired by the western film genre, in particular the films of John Ford. The characters—the taciturn loner and the helpless townsfolk needing a protector—are reminiscent of Kurosawa's own The Seven Samurai (1954) and have become western archetypes. The cinematography also mimics conventional shots in western films, such as that of the lone hero in a wide shot, facing an enemy or enemies from a distance while the wind kicks up dust between the two.

Kurosawa stated that a major source for the plot was the film noir classic The Glass Key (1942), an adaptation of Dashiell Hammett's 1931 novel. In particular, the scene where the hero is captured by the villains and tortured before he escapes is copied almost shot for shot from The Glass Key.[citation needed] However, it has been noted that the overall plot of Yojimbo is actually much closer to that of another Hammett novel, Red Harvest (1929). Kurosawa scholar David Desser and film critic Manny Farber, among others, state categorically that Red Harvest was the inspiration for the film; however, other scholars, such as Donald Richie, believe the similarities are coincidental.[2]

Cast

Production

Many of the actors in Yojimbo worked with Kurosawa before and after, especially Toshirō Mifune, Takashi Shimura and Tatsuya Nakadai.

At one point the hero, beaten, disarmed and left for dead, recovers in a small hut where he practices with his throwing knife by pinning a fluttering leaf. This effect was created by reversing the film: in reality, the leaf was pinned, the knife yanked away by a wire, and the leaf blown away.

Influence

Both in Japan and the West, Yojimbo had a considerable influence on various forms of entertainment.

Kurosawa directed a companion piece to Yojimbo in 1962, entitled Sanjuro, in which Mifune returns as the ronin, who keeps his "given name" Sanjuro (meaning "Thirtysomething") but he takes a different "surname" (in both films, he takes his surname from the plants he happens to be looking at when asked his name).

In 1964, Yojimbo was remade as A Fistful of Dollars, a spaghetti western directed by Sergio Leone and starring Clint Eastwood in his first appearance as the Man with No Name. Leone and his production company failed to secure the remake rights to Kurosawa's film, resulting in a lawsuit that delayed Fistful's release in North America for three years. In Yojimbo, the protagonist defeats a man who carries a gun, while he carries only a knife and a sword; in the equivalent scene in Fistful, Eastwood's pistol-wielding character survives being shot by a rifle by hiding an iron plate under his clothes to serve as a shield against bullets.

The 1970 film Zatoichi Meets Yojimbo also features Mifune as a similar character. It is the twentieth of a series of movies featuring the blind swordsman Zatoichi. Although Mifune is clearly not playing the same man (his name is Sassa, and his personality and background are different in many key respects), the movie's title and some of its content do intend to suggest the image of the two iconic jidaigeki characters confronting each other. Incident at Blood Pass, made in the same year, stars Mifune in a role similar to that of Yojimbo.

In The Warrior and the Sorceress (1984), the mercenary warrior Kain (David Carradine) sets rival warlords Zeg and Balcaz against each other in a battle over a town's only well. The action is set on Ura, a desert planet with two suns.

Last Man Standing (1996), a Prohibition-era gangster thriller directed by Walter Hill and starring Bruce Willis, is an officially authorized remake of Yojimbo.

At the closing of Episode XXIII of the animated series Samurai Jack, a triumphant Jack walks off alone in a scene (and accompanied by music) influenced by the closing scene and music of Yojimbo. In Episode XXVI, Jack confronts a gang who destroyed his sandals, using Clint Eastwood's lines from A Fistful of Dollars, but substituting 'footwear' for 'donkey.' The influence of Yojimbo in particular (and Kurosawa films in general) on the animated series has been noted by Matthew Millheiser at DVDtalk.[3]

More recently, both Lucky Number Slevin and Sukiyaki Western Django have the plot of a loner caught between two warring gang bosses.

In video games, Yojimbo was both an enemy in Final Fantasy V and Final Fantasy VI, and as a "sword-for-hire" aeon in Final Fantasy X.

Notes

  1. ^ Dashiell Hammett, Red Harvest, 1989, Vintage Publishing, ISBN 0679722610.
  2. ^ Allen Barra, "From Red Harvest to Deadwood", Salon (2005)
  3. ^ "Matthew Millheiser at DVDtalk". http://www.dvdtalk.com/reviews/10528/samurai-jack-season-1. 

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