AKA: Bodyguard, Yojinbo (technical romanization)
Year Released: 1961
Distributor: The Criterion Collection
Running Time: 110 Minutes
Rating/Recommended Audience: 13+
Related Films/Series: Sanjuro, Zatoichi Meets Yojimbo, Kaze no Yojimbo (anime modern remake), A Fistful of Dollars, The Warrior and the Sorceress, Last Man Standing, Omega Doom, Inferno, Sukiyaki Western Django
For Fans Of: The Hidden Fortress, Seven Samurai, A Fistful of Dollars
-Most of the movies seen in the related films section are international remakes. A Fistful of Dollars would be the most famous one. Sergio Leone didn’t secure the rights to the Yojimbo screenplay, so that film was delayed for three years in America.
Oh, Akira Kurosawa…The cinematic gift that keeps on giving. It was inevitable that I would review at least one of his films. My first experience was watching Ikiru years ago which I enjoyed. I even saw Ran and Rashomon as part of a world cinema class during my college days. I had heard of Yojimbo years ago when I saw a trailer to Kaze no Yojimbo which was a modernized anime remake of said movie. Not that I saw either that adaptation or the progenitor at the time, but I made a mental note of seeing it at some point and that didn’t happen until this year. I know. You may boo me for not watching it soon enough.
Now onto the review proper. Yojimbo is a story that takes place during 1860 in Japan. This was a time period where tons of samurai became ronin (masterless) due to the increasing middle-class and the shogunate started to lose power. That time period has been done before in other Japanese films and TV with Rurouni Kenshin being a popular example when it was released stateside and aired on Cartoon Network back in the 00s. The ronin in question is Sanjuro who’s trying to find work in this new economy at that point in time. There’s a problem because the town he visits is run by two rivaling criminal organizations who gamble a lot. He gets offers from both sides to be their bodyguard hence the title of the film. There’s so much intrigue going on with which side Sanjuro decides to pick and not to mention other characters in this town are bought off by either side. Sanjuro is quite the calm and crafty character who manipulates the gangs by switching sides while using this as a part of his plan to get rid of both factions. Little things like him using the fake surname Kuwabatake (literally mulberry bush) because he sees one outside or just laughing while watching the first gang war make me chuckle a bit. He’s quite competent in fighting, but only does so when he has to. He’s played by Kurosawa regular Toshiro Mifune, so you know it’s going to be a quality performance.
The rival gangs have their own personalities like how Seibei was the original kingpin of the town’s criminal life and he has a brothel to get some extra capital. On the flipside, there’s his rival Ushitora who originally worked for Seibei, but betrayed him after he was nixed for succeeding his empire after being passed on to his cowardly son. Inokichi is Ushitora’s younger brother who can be a typical dumb bruiser character, but at least he’s funny though. During the first gang war, both sides try charging at each other, but they also back away which reveals the cowardice of the two warring factions in this town. Even the mayor and law enforcement are corrupt in some way or else all of this gambling and black market revelry would have stopped ages ago.
The twists and turns in Sanjuro’s plan were interesting even despite some of the shenanigans that Seibei and Ushitora’s men pull off with the various bribes and double crossing that goes on.
As much as I found the Sanjuro character interesting, there are times where he can be a bit too unrealistic. I get that he’s an expert swordsman, but some of the fights, he barely even breaks a sweat and takes out several armed men in a matter of seconds. The only thing preventing him from achieving invincible hero status would be the scenes where he’s tortured by Kannuki who’s this giant criminal that is able to bloody him up real good. A random note here: Am I the only person who thinks that Kannuki looks like a Japanese version of The Great Khali? Other than that, Sanjuro just completely owns most of the people he fights.
Yojimbo is a solid addition to the Kurosawa catalog. It’s not my favorite movie from this Japanese director, but it’s still worth watching for those interested in his filmography or want to see where A Fistful of Dollars came from.
Adjustable Point System:
Add 1-2 points if you’re a Kurosawa fan.
Subtract 2 points if you hate black and white films.
-Hilarious interaction with the villains
-Suburb film score
-Sanjuro’s temporary Marty Stu moments
-Some characters can be stereotypical
-Lack of character development for some secondary characters
Final Score: 8/10 Points
Content Warning: Teens and up. The violence does get bloody and the body count piles up later on in the film. One of the characters owns a brothel despite nothing overtly sexual happening, but the implications are still there.
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