The year is 1860, and samurai Sanjuro Kuwabatake (Toshirô Mifune) finds himself out of work and master-less after the fall of the Dynasty. Now Sanjuro travels by himself with nothing but his sword and wits. On his travels, he runs into a town with two rival gangs at war led by gamblers. Upon careful speculation, Sanjuro devises a way to profit off of both gangs and rid the world of some scum.
Murder, deception, and greed are all factors that play into this plot. Everyone is out for personal gain, including Sanjuro. The way director Akira Kurosawa wrote this was flat-out perfect. Everything is constantly changing, which makes the characters even more vibrant than they already are. One plan isn’t just set and then followed throughout the whole film; Kurosawa rather plays with the “every action has a reaction” idea, making characters forge the story rather than just a simple event or two. Watching Sanjuro constantly adapting his plans of deception and scum control was by far the most entertaining portion of the film.
If ever there was a doubt in your mind concerning Toshirô Mifune’s badassness, then this should help to remove that doubt. His role as the anti-hero Sanjuro is downright awesome, and he helps to establish this within the first 20 minutes of the movie by showing off his skills in brute force and wit. I actually feel bad for the other characters in this movie because all of them are very vibrant and evil, but Toshirô Mifune casts such a big shadow with his role that they are minuscule in comparison. In fact, the first time I saw Yojimbo, the only thing I remembered a year later was Toshirô Mifune’s stellar performance and badassery. Unosuke (Tatsuya Nakadai) is a great, merciless villain whose performance could strike fear into even the tough-guy type. However, Inokichi (Daisuke Katô) has a villainous appearance that I will never forget. Something about his face is just flat-out mean but stupid (both great compliments to his character).
This film still looks fresh today. Sure, there are a few cheesy scenes like Sanjuro throwing the knife at the leaf (which was filmed backwards) and the dismemberment of the arm, but who cares? The film still holds up beautifully today. The camera work is beautiful and gives Yojimbo an epic feeling that can’t be denied, especially when Sanjuro emerges from the dust approaching the oncoming gangsters. The action sequences are still an adrenaline rush, and even if they look ridiculously fake, they’ve got a more realistic touch than these circus performance action acts of today’s films.
Akira Kurosawa was a great director, and this just goes further to prove why. The plot is something that a lot of writers could learn from (character choice-driven, not event-driven), and the characters are extremely realistic with their constantly selfish acts. For those who haven’t seen this, I highly recommend it, especially if you’re a fan of old westerns. Kurosawa was one of the directors that helped inspire the American western. For those of you that don’t know, this film inspired the Clint Eastwood classic A Fistful of Dollars (actually, it was a blatant rip-off, and Kurosawa sued the hell out of the director for that) and the Bruce Willis film Last Man Standing. Of course, neither can compare to Kurosawa’s.