ALL3920 Week 12


Yojimbo position papers please.


It was painful at first to see how much Fistful of Dollars took from Yojimbo. They were almost identical! Even some of the lines were the same. Both movies have the same scenario where an outsider comes in to a tumultuous town and tries to scam money out of the opposing sides. Both movies use “the man without a name” device which I think is really cool. The characters in Yojimbo have their counterpart in Fistful of Dollars. Some things were so identical that it was just ridiculous. For example, the conversation between “Sanjuro” and Gonji when they first meet is identical.
I think there were a large variety of camera angles used in the movie which kept things interesting. Also the music was very different in this movie. It was like a Western/Japanese hybrid although the opening song was very westernized in my opinion. I could really tell that Kurasawa really got his inspirations from western movies. I thought the make-up was done really well when “Sanjuro” gets beat up. His face really looks swollen! The acting was really good as well. Seeing “Sanjuro” crawl around on the ground with pain after he was beaten was really convincing.
There were two things that confused me in this movie. First was that fact that “Sanjuro” always kept his arms in his sleeves. That was weird. Second was that the actor who played Ushitora’s servant was one of the ugliest actors I have ever seen in my life! How did he get a job?!
My favorite line from the movie was something like this, “Kids shouldn’t play with swords! Go home to your mother! A long life of eating porridge is better than living a short life!” This line ties the movie to the beginning and also it’s just funny. This was a fun movie to watch, and I would recommend it. However, I would tell people to watch this movie first before watching Fistful of Dollars. Seeing Fistful of Dollars took some of the enjoyment out of watching Yojimbo for me.


This film follows our hero named Sanjuro, who comes upon a town and hears about the two gangs, Seibei and Ushitora that were fighting each other. He decides to stay and trick each lord into hiring him. He cuts off an arm of one of the rival gang members to show his skill. Then he is hired on as one of the men. He slowly gets both gangs to engage in battle, and slowly kills off the men.

The opening scene where we see the background of the mountains is very nice. It is very scenic and gives us a sense of where the hero is. We come upon two men fighting; from their argument we find out that they are farmers. We know that the majority of young people are joining the gangs for easy money. In one scene we see the streets are deserted and as Sanjuro walks down the street, people open there shades and look out the window curiously. This is when the cameras focus on a dog carrying a severed arm in his mouth. The realistic prop of the hand was nicely done, and having a dog casually carry it was an interesting twist. He is soon surrounded by me who run from to surround him from a dark doorway or alleyway. We can clearly see he is surrounded as he walks in almost a complete circle. We see that these men are roughed up a bit.

He enters an inn and is greeted by an old man who urges him to leave town because of all the violence. He knows that Sanjuro has no money and tells him to hurry up and leave. He decides to show his worth by going and fighting some of the gang members. We can see in the background the large amount of men lined up to see what he can do. He is once again surrounded by the other men. He swiftly cuts off the arm of one of the men. We cans see that the arm prop is not convincing. We see that he does a good job pitting both gangs against each other. There is a scene where we see he is in the brothel and refuses to pick a women and leaves to Ushitora. It later leads to an exchange of hostages. Two of them end up getting shot. After the final showdown we see all the bodies that lay in the streets. This is one of the most impressive scenes in the whole film. We also see that Sanjuro is hurt badly and slowly comes out from the barrel he was in then faints. In the end we see Sanjuro and Ushitora’s group in a show down. He beats them with no problem. In the end, Sanjuro succeeds in his quest to clean up the town and leaves.

This film and the film “Fist Full of Dollars” is extremely alike. The plot and action are very similar. Both heroes come in to town with little or no money and convince the gangs to hire them. They both turn the gangs against each other, wiping them out. Both stay at an inn, where the owners try to persuade them to leave. Even the music sounded a bit western. This film is a bit gorier; however there is a little comedic twist in there as well.

I enjoyed the humorous nature of Yojimbo, especially regarding the bad guys of the film (which there were a lot of). The bad guys were very cartoon-like in their appearance and in their behavior. It seems kind of ironic that the villains, who supposedly only gain respect by killing other men, would be afraid to fight out in the open and during daylight hours. This cowardice further adds to their comic features, particularly the scene where Sanjuro looks down from the watch tower after setting up a fight between the two sides. You see each side from Sanjuro’s overhead view as they cautiously inch forward and immediately retreat, slowly inching their way closer and closer to each other.

Sanjuro was also an interesting character in the film. Just like the opening said, he relies on his wit and his sword to survive throughout the film. It seems like he is constantly using his wits, and occasionally his sword, to get the better of the two gangs by framing each other and creating conflicts. It actually doesn’t seem to be difficult for him to do because they all seem to readily believe what he says just because of their suspicions for one another. The only one who doesn’t immediately fall for Sanjuro’s tricks is Unosuke, who eventually captures Sanjuro. However, Sanjuro is able to escape by first outsmarting the two guards and later (with Gonji’s help) having Inokichi carry him out of the town.

It was interesting to see how this film compared with the typical jidaigeki film. It was similar in that it involved a ronin who has amazing skills with the sword and can take down many bad guys on his own. As in other jidaigeki, the way the women were treated was also kind of a show of a man’s character; Sanjiro frees the woman who was being held captive and the gangs have no respect for women. However, this film also differed from the typical jidaigeki because Sanjuro does not really follow any kind of moral code; he claims he is doing what he does for the entertainment of it all. He also had no hesitation when killing other people, like when he killed three people to prove his worth to Seibei and also when he killed all six guards who were guarding the woman. Another difference is just the fact that it was made to be a humorous film; usually jidaigeki take on a serious tone.

Yojimbo is, no doubt, my favorite film that we have watched for this course. The 1961 film by Kurosawa really hit home with me in terms of its plot, characters, and presentation. The film starts off with a wondering samurai, left masterless after the collapse of the Tokugawa period. The samurai, played by Toshiro Mifune, makes his way into a town plagued by gang violence. The samurai offers his services toward both gang leaders, Ushitora and Seibei, but he consistently changes the game, going back on his employment, freeing prisoners. It is during his employment by Ushitora when the samurai frees a beautiful maiden from the gang leaders grasp, only to captured and beaten. However, the samurai escapes, and after Ushitora finally beats Seibei’s gang, the samurai returns and finishes them all off, leaving the town in peace.
The characters in Yojimbo are very believable as the gang struggle continues in the small town. The leaders, Ushitoa and Seibei, are both menacing, yet convey a believable trait of cowardice as each is afraid to attack the other. It is only after the samurai shows up, that the gang with him currently in employment has the courage to attack. An aging Toshiro Mifune really gives another outstanding performance as the samurai. In every movie of his that I have seen, he does an excellent job of portraying a believable character, in this one, a calm, collected, and calculating samurai whose intellect and subtle sense of humor make him even more intimidating.
Yojimbo has a surprisingly “western” feel to it. Many of the scenes contain wide and long shots, with a single character or sometimes more, off in the distance, similar to the way cowboys would be shot during a draw. For example, as the old man is tied up under the gate, and the samurai comes back to town to free him, the samurai is shown extremely far away, all the way down the road, standing there. One of my favorite scenes, though, has to be after the samurai leaves Seibei’s employment directly prior to a fight. He climbs the bell tower and surveys the scene as the gangs rush back and forth, afraid to make the first move. The shots from above and the shots from below the bell tower do an awesome job of showing the “almost action” from different vantage points. It’s also hard to ignore the huge grin on Toshiro Mifune’s face as he admires the cowardly, and stupidly funny spectacle.

Yojimbo is a classic film by the well-known director Akira Kurosawa. In Japanese, Yojimbo means “bodyguard” or “guardian”. Yojimbo, taking its themes from a western, has been remade into a western itself. A Fistful of Dollars, starting the ever-famous Clint Eastwood follows the same storyline, as well as scenery as Yojimbo. There are however some striking differences between both of the films that makes Yojimbo more Eastern and a Fistful of Dollars more Western.
First of all, it should be noted that both Eastwood and Toshiro Mifune, the actor in Yojimbo, received world-wide fame. In fact, Mifune received more worldwide fame than any other Japanese actor at the time, mainly because of his work with Akira Kurosawa. In the films, both Mifune and Eastwood have the aloof air about them. However, their strength as a samurai (or a cowboy) is shown in different ways. Mifune’s character is perceived as strong because of the way he is filmed. He is filmed from behind a lot in Yojimbo, and he seems taller than a lot of the other characters. His shadow also looks larger This makes him look more noble and stronger than everyone else in the village. Clint Eastwood is shown as strong by his mysterious air and charisma as an actor and by every character he plays.
While it could be argued that Eastwood is known better worldwide as an actor, Yojimbo is clearly a more well-done movie than Fistful of Dollars. The cinematography and creativity that Kurosawa uses in directing is unlike anything in Fistful of Dollars. It seems Fistful of Dollars is centered around Eastwood, while Yojimbo is centered around every character and the story. For example, the fight scenes in Yojimbo are less ridiculous than the gun-wielding battles by Eastwood in Fistful of Dollars. The way Mifune’s character draws his sword against the silk group in the beginning of the film is much more believable than when Eastwood pulls out his gun and the characters fall over. In my opinion, swordsmanship is harder to portray more realistically than shooting another character, and it seems that the slashing down of enemies was a lot more believable than the over-dramatic falling-down of cowboys who have been shot.
Yojimbo is an excellent film and probably my favorite we have watched so far. While I feel that Fistful of Dollars pales in comparison to Kurosawa’s cinematography, I do love both films as the story is classic.

The story of Yojimbo essentially documents a ronin’s crossing and double-crossing two gangs in a town that has lost any semblance of law. He takes jobs with one boss, just to turn around and accept another request from the other. Eventually, he is discovered to be a double-cross, and he is beaten up as a result. He frees himself from his detainment, and with help from an old man, is delivered safely beyond the town limits, where he recuperates. Once he learns that the old man who helped him got caught, he returns to town to square off against his rivals—who had killed off the other gang by now—and exact revenge. He saves the old man, “quiets” the town, and takes his leave.
It is actually quite stunning how nearly identical this film is to “Fistful of Dollars,” an American film that came after it. The number of similarities is astounding. The dismal, lawless towns in which only violence (“swords” in one, “guns” in the other) can prompt action; the reluctance to talk, and the preference to listen, by the main character; the position of the protagonist “right in the middle” of the two forces; the façade of peacefulness whenever officials or army soldiers are around; the exchange of hostages, one of whom is female… It almost seems as if the director of “Fistful” merely wanted to make an American version of the same film. Take the hostage exchange for instance. The woman is held captive against her will by the main antagonist, who is about the same age and skill level as the hero. She is a mother and a wife, but she is refused permission to see her family because of the main antagonist. So during the exchange scene, her son—an obnoxious young youth who screams out “Mama” incessantly, in both films—runs out to her, while she simultaneously breaks rank and runs to the son. The exchanged man is then slapped by his mother, in both films, for having gotten himself caught in the first place. In both, the main character sets up a plan ensnaring both groups, and gets both groups to pay him for it, reminding them that “this information is too good to be free.” In both, the two groups decide to “patch things up,” and declare peace, but only as a ruse and only temporarily. In both, the old man who acts as the hero’s sidekick informs the hero right off the bat that the food and drink provided are on the house, “just get out of town.” In “Fistful,” Clint tells the cooper to get 3 coffins ready, then kills four men and corrects himself, saying “Better make it four.” In “Yojimbo,” after killing a few men, the hero tells the cooper, “Get 2 coffins ready. Actually, make it 3.” In both, he hero is given half the money he is promised before the job gets done, but he gives it back before opting out of the job. In both, the hero eavesdrops on his first employer discussing whether to kill him and get the money back with the employer’s associates. In both, the hero gets savagely beat up, left alone for a while, checked upon by two men, who learn that he has escaped, and who subsequently go looking for him but can’t find him because he is hiding, under, among other places, a porch, during all of which the hero is seemingly unable to use his legs at all and so is forced to crawl. In both, the primary antagonist group interrogates the old sidekick, resolving that the hero must be residing with the other group. Thereupon, the primary group “smokes them out,” killing them one by one as they exit the burning house, even as they ask for surrender. The boss of this group, with a wife and son, offers up all his territory. The main antagonist, however, kills the boss, the son, and the wife. All of this happens while the hero, who is being snuck out of town in a coffin, watches from a distance and leaves once he has witnessed everyone’s death. The hero then spends some time recuperating, and there is a scene in which he uses his weapon and retrieves his dexterity. A messenger approaches with “bad news,” informing the hero that the old man who had been helping him got caught carrying provisions—for the hero—out of town and is now being held captive. Before the hero leaves to go save the old man, the messenger—who is the cooper—gives the hero a weapon as a gift. The old man is held up by rope by his hands, and when the hero comes, and once the fight starts, he kills everyone instantly except for the main antagonist, who, fittingly and dramatically, is given more embellishment in his death. The final kill in the film, however, does not go to the hero, and it happens after the climax has been resolved. All of these things happen in both films.
In terms of Yojimbo specifically, I really didn’t feel much noir. There was obviously a great deal of jidaigeki and Western movie influence, but the only thing “noir” about it, to me, was that it was in black and white—which of course does not count for much. Something really cool I found about Yojimbo was the score during the climax. It utilized several different instruments, all of which simply played ostinatos (I believe most of the instruments were percussive as well), but none of the ostinatos lined up with each other, creating a cacophony of alternative rhythms that helped establish a tension for the climax. Unfortunately, this was something that “Fistful” opted out of.

One of the first things that stood out to me in the film Yojimbo was the music and how it was oddly contrasting at times. The best example I can think of is when they played the upbeat, almost pokey music when the dog came trotting by in the very beginning. At first, when you can't quite tell what he's holding in his mouth, it's fitting; the dog is cute and he's just trotting by. But when he gets closer and you can see the hand, the music is at odds with what you're seeing and I liked how the music and the scene were so opposite.
Another thing that I enjoyed immensely, especially after watching A Fistful of Dollars in class, was the scene where the yojimbo 'proves what he's capable of' by killing two men and cutting the arm off a third. He walks away quietly and then turns to the coffin-maker, tells him to “make two, no maybe three coffins” and then just walks away again, just like Clint Eastwood. I really enjoyed that scene and even though it was set up the same way as in the western, I enjoyed the difference in characters as well, between that of the yojimbo and that of Clint Eastwood's character. While Eastwood's character was serious and stoic, the yojimbo, at times, was just incredibly amused with the things he did (like when he sat atop that wooden structure and just laughed at how the two groups were fighting/arguing).
One thing that caught my and confused me, however, was the dance the women did about halfway through. I realize that in this town, those women weren't exactly the proper geiko or maiko you might expect in a respectable okiya, but their dance seemed incredibly modern to my eyes. I've seen the dances that geiko and maiko perform, and the dance in this movie was very much at odds with the image I have of traditional dance. I don't know if that was a deliberate move to show that they weren't really part of a respectable establishment or what, but I definitely noticed the difference.

As it was said in the reading, Yojimbo is a second film produced by Akira Kurosawa. His auteur could already been seen in the film, his use of depth of the field and juxtaposition of characters.
From Tuesday’s lecture, the story of this film is obviously taken from “Fistful of Dollars.” Yojimbo had lots of aspects and elements sharing with “Fistful of Dollars.”
Sanjuro was roaming in the mountain and decides where to go by throwing the stick.
He arrived to one village where two groups are confronting each other: Seibei and Ushitora. Both sides tried to hire Sanjuro as bodyguard (Yojimbo) because of his strength but Sanjuro secretly decides to destroy both sides.
The setting of the film is announced in the beginning of the film, the end of Tokugawa period; uncontrolled village and the Ronin with gun are seem to be conveying this.
When I watched this film there were two impressive scenes. The one is the very first scene of the film, the long take of Sanjuro walking. The film begins with shot of mountain and Sanjuro appears and looks down. Usually you do not look down the mountain, you look up; It seemed it was representing his strength. And camera was low angle too. You can’t see his face until he throws the branch. This well represented his anonymous character and his position. He never tells his true name and he is a Ronin which is a master less samurai.
Second scene is the first confrontation of the two forces Sanjuro observes it from the tower. Surprisingly, it breaks the rule of 180 degree; the camera crosses the line.
Overall, long shot was establishing Kurosawa’s style of cinema. It created the depth of the field. For example, when Sanjuro looks outside from inside the building, Sanjuro is in CU and characters outside are in Long Shot. Most of the scenes in the film are this kind of structure.
And I personally liked the sound effect of slapping and sword slashing. He slices twice for each killing and it was more realistic than previous sword fighting. In the reading, cruel genre emerged from this film but I did not think this film was that zankoku (cruel), probably because of its comical elements.

Yojimbo was about a wandering samurai looking for work after the war had ended. Because the war was over, his great swordsmanship and samurai skills were of no use, and he had became a low class citizen in poverty. Although he was in poverty and had little money, he still had a passion to bring down the evil over earning money and wealth. He wants to put his fighting skills to good use, to protect the innocent middle class from the evil upper authorities and criminals. The sword of the samurai is still depicted as their strength and soul, as Yojimbo was nothing when his sword was taken away. But in the end, he is reunited with a sword and gains the power to defeat his enemy. Although family is supposed be priority and the most important in Asian cultures, in one of the opening scenes, a young man is sick of being poor and has a motive to have great fortune and wealth over staying with his family, displaying the corrupted priorities of some of the low class. Seibei and the Ushitora’s clan represented the evil in Japan; mischievous and cowardly criminals and gamblers, claiming the power in the village. Upper authority though still was depicted as the main opponent. When the fight was initially called off between the two clans, the fugitive gamblers are put out of work and return to the streets. Then they too wanted to rebel against society and the upper authorities. Also, when the first fight is ended because the country officials were coming to visit, everyone was to act like nothing was happening and to act like it was a peaceful village. Even the two evil powerful clans of the village were no match to the upper national authorities. The Ushitora clan also stole the wife from one of the middle class men and bullied him into not seeing her again. Of course the middle class man could do nothing or else he would have been killed. The wanderer deceives both sides with his wit and great swordsmanship skills, luring both sides against each other to make his job easier to bring peace to the village. Even though he was a wandering samurai with no use, everyone wanted to side with him because he was so dangerous. His plan to help the middle and lower classes succeeded, as both sides are defeated in the end.
The mise-en-scene was very full and realistic, with great costumes and settings. Set during the Tokugawa period, the setting depicted what a small village in Japan probably really looked like at the time, with the wooden buildings, and the humble villagers just trying to go about their business, keeping out of the way of the evil powers of Seibei and Ushitora. The opening shot of Yojimbo staring at the vast mountain range I thought was interesting in that it may have represented the huge goals of the wanderer and the mountainous challenges he was about to face. It’s a very long take shot, following the wanderer as he walks away, then lowers to follow the feet. I noticed a lot of shots like this, following a character as they were walking away. There was also a very long take shot when Yojimbo is in captivity by Ushitora’s clan and he notices the trunk lock was broken or open, the camera focuses on his face for atleast 15 seconds. I also noticed a few low to the ground shots looking up. Many times when the scene changed, it was a side out transition to the next scene. One humorous scene was when Yojimbo came to Ushitora to tell him about the kidnapping of Ushitora’s men, as Ushitora walks down the stairs, clumsy music plays with each step taken and stops when he stops. There was a couple instances where there was a diegetic metaphorical reference made. One time when Yojimbo comes back to the old man and asks for food, he says, “This town is beginning to boil again like this pot.” He also made another metaphor as the man with the gun in Ushitora’s clan is dieing. And of course Yojimbo's signature rubbing of the chin whenever he is thinking.

Kurosawa’s 1961 film Yojimbo presents a dynamic utilization of music in relation to cinematography. The wandering samurai is someone who enters this constructed mini-society, placing him in between the polar organizations within the town. As he does not directly fit in with either gang, his icon of being master-less holds true even through directly working with the groups. The movie ends almost as similarly as it begins, with the Yojimbo maintaining his individual identity, almost refusing to fit within the constraints of the town’s paradigm.
From the opening scene, the soundtrack is what makes this film pop out of the screen. The rich, sassy, sometimes jazzy, traditional-modern infused sound brings brighter contrast and life to the richness and complexity of Kurosawa’s directing. The camera direction in this first sequence is visually fluid. The simplicity of what is filmed in relation to the staged performers and objects comes to life beyond the visual plane as the audio draws the viewer into the film. I feel that from the get go, this film sets itself up as an amazing piece of art.
I thought the presentation of certain characters really added to the enjoyment of Yojimbo—namely Inokichi. The physical being of his character really amused me, in particular the makeup effects used on his face in relation to his portly sized stature. After initially seeing Inokichi, and laughing rather loudly, my interest in the nature of how the characters are introduced through their physicality became heightened.
As the bodyguard, ‘Sanjuro’, settles into the inn, it is very unique the way the inn keep presents the members of the town through opening different windows of his shop, highlighting locations of significant townsfolk. These shots reveal a visual aesthetic from contrasting the distance between the two performers in relation to the opposing characters; really focusing on the concept of the samurai being the middle ground between the two groups. This theme resonates throughout the film.
All in all, I enjoyed Yojimbo. I had heard of this piece before watching it, mainly from growing up fascinated with Japanese culture. However I had not seen it until this point. I immensely enjoyed the film’s soundtrack; I felt it presented a nice balance between 1960’s culture and life with that of the time the film takes place, 1860.

I think Yojimbo, coupled with our in-class viewing of A Fistful of Dollars, really provided us with a good view on what the wordwide position and influence of cinema was at that time. The similarities of these two films were uncanny, but I think that in itself is a testament for the importance of jidaigeki films worldwide.

I was able to draw many similarities between the genre of westerns and jidaigeki. For starters, they both frequently employ a sort of reluctant protagonist, or anti hero. In some way, the heroes of both types of film are alienated, estranged, or scapegoats in their own society. This is often the case, but not always. It seems that in both worlds, actors like Clint Eastwood and also actors like Toshiro Mifune were known for their roles as lone heroes or bad-boy protagonists.

Yojimbo, in particular, showed us a hero caught between two worlds (literally). Our protagonist, Sanjuro, is caught between a rivalry of two different factions in a small town. He sees this as an opportunity not to help either side, but to profit from their conflict. In Sanjuro's eyes, there is no way to save either side, but rather the better choice is to lead them both to their destruction to help the town to salvation.

What I found particularly interesting about this film was the amount of humor it had in it. While it wasn't necessarily laugh-out-loud funny, it was definitely leaning towards satire or black comedy. The dialogue was hilarious and snarky and filled with witty repartee. Overall, this led to a very interesting and entertaining movie. It further cemented Kurosawa in my mind as one of the most versatile and stunning directors of all time.

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This page contains a single entry by Mark Anderson published on April 8, 2010 3:58 PM.

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