Review: Yojimbo (1961)

Ah, Yojimbo. Forgive me for feeling little nostalgic, but once upon a time I discovered a couple of old black & white VHS tapes in the local library that became my entrance to Akira Kurosawa and then through his movies, eventually, belatedly, to the wondrous dimension of Asian cinema. Yojimbo was shorter than the other tape (Seven Samurai) so I watched it first. Ah, Yojimbo … it’s been a while, but thanks for a rather superb introduction.

Toshiro Mifune owns this film (recognised at Venice, where he won Best Actor). You can just take a snapshot as he dramatically strokes his chin and be happy. His swordplay style in this film is very minimal, exact and dangerous. Quite the professional killer, he casually saunters into action and mows his cowardly opponents down. It’s hilarious rather than spectacular, almost the anti-Tsui Hark way of staging fight scenes. Kurosawa is far more interested in character development and story than creating a visually rich or complex canvas, but with a performer like Mifune why wouldn’t you just set-up the tracks, point the camera and roll?

Everyone who sees Yojimbo notices the remarkable score by Masaru Sato. Percussive instruments dominate the soundtrack, supplying the film with a wild, untamed energy that is matched by many of the diegetic sounds (wooden doors opening and closing, paddle druming, feet sprinting on floorboards). It lends the town a pre-industrial organic feel, suggesting the type of place where a solitary, determined figure (with some sharp steel!) can still make a difference … and accumulate some fast wealth.

Yojimbo is an all-time classic that is easy to watch and enjoy, especially with ample pots of sake. The action may be a little light for some, the political machinations a bit too contrived and silly, or the experience to close to that offered by Hollywood … but for many it remains a much-loved and endlessly copied treasure of 1960s cinema.

9 mulberries out of 10.
Bookmark the permalink.