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Classic World Films: Yojimbo
Cooler than Clint
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Yojimbo (1961)

Directed by Akira Kurosawa
Starring Toshiro Mifune, Eijiro Tono, Kamatari Fujiwara, Takashi Shimura.
110 min, b&w

Like The Seven Samurai, this Kurosawa movie is a jidai geki, a historical film set in 1860s Japan. It is one of Kurosawa's more accessible films and actually one of the rare classic foreign films that any audience is very likely to enjoy. After the somewhat heavy-handed exposition, the compelling action and memorable characters will draw anybody in.

The story focuses on a nameless samurai, played by the great Toshiro Mifune, who roams the land after losing his master. He arrives in a town that has become the battlefield for two warring gangs of gamblers. The samurai sells his services and plays both sides against each other, double crossing to his heart's content. Sword fights, treachery, deceit, and general mayhem ensue.

The film's memorable characters, along with its cleverness and wit made the difference to me -- there's a very effective current of humor running alongside the heroics and violence. A marvelous shot early in the movie shows a dog running across the samurai's path with a human hand in its mouth.

Something about Kurosawa's films seems to be crying for Western remakes, and just as The Seven Samurai returned to American screens as The Magnificent Seven, Yojimbo (which translates as "bodyguard") was remade as A Fistful of Dollars with Clint Eastwood. Not that Clint isn't cool, but for my money, Toshiro Mifune outdoes him in style -- and he wears a better costume, too.

That the film's photography (by longtime Kurosawa cinematographer Kazuo Miyagawa), the settings, and production design are marvelous almost goes without saying. Whether you are looking for an accessible way into classic Japanese cinema or simply for an entertaining and rewarding rental, Yojimbo is well worth watching and rewatching.

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