Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Faves: Yojimbo

Akria Kurosawa's 1961 samurai action picture was a re-creation of Hollywood westerns in samurai Japan. It worked really, really well. Lots of action, intrigue and comedy. My 12 year old son who likes neither sub-titles nor black and white, watched the whole thing.

The funny thing is that Yojimbo went on to influence westerns and science fiction movies. Sergio Leone's first spaghetti western, A Fistful of Dollars, was a straight re-make, including the lead character with no name, few morals (well hidden), and awesome skills. It was re-made again (not very well) with Bruce Willis as Last Man Standing in 1996.

The biggest impact of Kurosawa's samurai pictures, however, was on Star Wars. In particular, the sword fighting, but also in terms of plot elements and characterizations.

Yojimbo was an enormous commercial success and led to the almost as good sequel Sanjuro. Also great, but not quite as much fun. Both are anchored by Torshiro Mifune's bravura performance as the man with no name. Nearing 40, the athletic action sequences were very hard on him. However, he rose to the occasion and delivers an impressive physical performance.

The commentary on my version is by a film professor who painstakingly teases out all the political sub-texts in the script. There are many. But this is not a film that needs or wants such scrutiny. It was intended to be a terrific action picture and that's the way it is best watched.