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052 - Yojimbo


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#1 marcusbulbous76

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Posted 22 February 2009 - 10:31 AM

052.jpg
YOJIMBO
Akira Kurosawa

Japan • 1961 • 110 minutes • Black and White • 2.35:1 • Japanese
The incomparable Toshiro Mifune stars in Akira Kurosawa’s visually stunning and darkly comic Yojimbo. To rid a terror-stricken village of corruption, wily masterless samurai Sanjuro turns a range war between two evil clans to his own advantage. Remade twice, by Sergio Leone (A Fistful of Dollars) and Walter Hill (Last Man Standing), this exhilarating genre-twister remains one of the most influential and entertaining films ever produced. Criterion is proud to present this Kurosawa favorite in a new, high-definition digital transfer.

 

DISC FEATURES

  • All-new, restored high-definition digital transfer
  • Optional Dolby Digital 3.0 soundtrack, preserving the original Perspecta simulated-stereo effects
  • Audio commentary by film historian and Kurosawa scholar Stephen Prince
  • A 45-minute documentary on the making of Yojimbo, created as part of the Toho Masterworks series Akira Kurosawa: It Is Wonderful to Create
  • Theatrical trailer and teaser
  • Stills gallery of behind-the-scenes photos
  • New and improved English subtitle translation
  • PLUS: A booklet featuring an essay by critic Alexander Sesonske and notes from Kurosawa and his cast and crew


#2 marcusbulbous76

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Posted 22 February 2009 - 10:31 AM

NOTES:

  • DVD Reissue Release Date: January 23, 2007
  • Blu-ray Release Date: March 23, 2010
  • OOP DVD Release Date: September 28, 1999
  • Blu-ray cover artwork:

052BLU.jpg

  • OOP DVD cover artwork:

052OOP.jpg

  • Also available as part of the DVD or BD Yojimbo/Sanjuro box set:

BOX_YOJIMBO_SANJURO.jpg BOX_YOJIMBO_SANJURO_BLU.jpg

  • Also available as part of the AK 100 collector's set:

AK_100.jpg 052AK.JPG



#3 CFK

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Posted 13 April 2009 - 03:41 PM

The film is excellent.

So are the supplements:
Stephen Prince's audio commentary is very informative and enjoyable. One of the best I've listened to. (Some day I'll get to the Sanjuro commentary.)
I also liked the "Akira Kurosawa: It Is Wonderful to Create" documentary. Very interesting stuff here too. It's quite rare to see the 1st camera assistant being interviewed. I'm glad they had done it here. "He was the best focus puller in Japan." Marvelous.

#4 mikesncc1701

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Posted 03 August 2010 - 03:17 PM

Sat my buddy American Jedi down to watch this yesterday. I remember it being very enjoyable, but upon a second viewing, really got a kick out of the humor in it. I actually didn't realize how funny it actually is with my favorite scene when the guy gets the bottle busted over his head for running off at the mouth. Mifune's is so casual in the way he goes about playing both gangs, not even worried he might eventually become a target, it's just a phenomenal performance. Kurosawa has always had a way with the camera but I think his best work is done when using the 2.35:1 ratio. Just look at this and The Bad Sleep Well and you can just sense the magic produced. That's not to say when using the 1.85:1 ratio, he's not as good. Using a smaller width, he can still pack so much information into the frame without it seeming obtrusive, it's nuts. Can't wait to re-watch Sanjuro.

#5 masterofoneinchpunch

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Posted 03 August 2010 - 05:24 PM

This is one of my favorite films and one that I often lend to people who are new to chambara or jidai geki. Many will recognize the story from A Fistful of Dollars, but almost all who have borrowed this have enjoyed it. Donald Richie calls this Kurosawa's first "full-length comedy" specifically indicated because of the townspeople "They are a gallery of grotesques, a congress of monsters." I am also in agreement with Richie that this is "the best-filmed of any of Kurosawa's pictures." He goes in great detail why in his book on Kurosawa.

I tend to have a fondness for loner characters (or I sometimes partially jokingly state the "psychotic loner genre") and Sanjuro here (30 years old though he is definitely much older) fits the bill of the individualist, a ronin not searching for a master. He is gruff, cynical, drinks and is the antithesis of a good samurai.

The western influence here is seen again in a Kurosawa work. While I need to read Red Harvest and feel how much that influenced this film, I'm sure of a Ford and Sturges element in these films. Richie goes over the High Noon relationship (townspeople not worth saving, similarities between Cooper and Mifune) as well as Shane (which was widely seen in Japan), but after seeing many Ford films after this movie I'm sure if I do a rewatch I can spot some (after watching The Lost Patrol, I easily saw a similar scene in Seven Samurai in dealing with the graves in both films; Izo also mentioned this to me as well).
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#6 american jedi

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Posted 06 August 2010 - 12:38 AM

A few days ago I watched this with mikencc1701 and before this I had only see 1 Kurosawa film which was Seven Samurai, which I love, but I have to say that Yojimbo was great. Kurosawa has a unique ability to find some of the ugliest people I have ever seen in my life. Its is very obvious that many westerns have been made on the basic principals of Kurosawa's film. I could plainly see how The Man With No Name Trilogy was inspired by him. Now i cant wait too see Sanjuro.
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#7 masterofoneinchpunch

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Posted 07 September 2010 - 12:18 PM

I have read it stated that this film was a remake or at least an adaptation of Hammett's Red Harvest and I've occasionally mentioned this as well. This seems to have caused a dichotomy amongst certain critics where some mentioned in this source:

For decades, American film critics such as Manny Farber and Andrew Sarris have assumed that Yojimbo was, in fact, an uncredited version of Red Harvest--"a bowdlerized version," wrote Farber in an oft-quoted 1966 essay, "The Decline of the Actor." In The Samurai Films of Akira Kurosawa, David Desser states categorically that Yojimbo "is an adaptation of Dashiell Hammett's Red Harvest" and that "the basic situation that motivates the plot in Yojimbo is adapted from Hammett's Red Harvest."


and others like Donald Richie does not even mention it in The Films of Akira Kurosawa (3rd Edition) and Alain Silver's THE SAMURAI FILM (EXPANDED AND REVISED EDITION) refutes it and is mentioned here:

Even the footnotes can be fascinating. On page 314 Silver offers up a mini essay that disputes the notion that YOJIMBO is unofficially based on Hammett's RED HARVEST. Noting that there are narrative similarities, Silver traces the critical history of the belief and asserts that the connection is bogus.



When I receive that book I will quote that passage here. I had always wondered why Richie never mentions the relationship between Red Harvest and Yojimbo. I have even had conversations from people who state that the similarities of this film to the book were as similar as A Fistful of Dollars to this film.

My feelings is that one should never assume (assumption is the mother of all fuck-ups) anything. There is so much felonious information out there (this reminds me of when people state that Reservoir Dogs is a complete rip-off of City on Fire where really only the last part of City on Fire is used in that film). I think here is another one. After reading Red Harvest I can easily state that Yojimbo is nowhere near a remake of the book and I seriously doubt it is an adaptation as well. Is there influence? Quite possible, but to state that this movie is anywhere near Red Harvest as A Fistful of Dollars is to Yojimbo is just plain wrong.

There are definitely similarities to the book but even those are not that exact. We have a no-named stranger come into town (hired in the book; random choice in the movie) and is caught in-between different sides and tries to play them against each other. The book actually has more than two main sides (it gets more and more complicated toward the end) while Yojimbo focused on a split in town. Other than that the protagonist drinks in both films and there is a sheriff type figure in both films there isn't that much more similar.

Some other thoughts:
Sanjuro in the movie is much more stronger than the Continental Op character.
There is no female fatale in the film like Dinah Brand in the book.
The film feels like a western translated into a chambara movie while the book feels completely like a hard-boiled detective story.
I really do not recognize any of the situations that take place in the book in the film.
The same goes for the characters.
The Continental Op detective has help from associates and fears his boss. He is also much more talkative than Sanjuro.
The amount of betrayals and different sides in the book is almost overdone.
There is no serious injury or serious workover to the Continental Op character like what happens to Sanjuro.
There is no showdown(s) in the book like what happens in the movie (of course this gives the movie a western feeling while the book is very much ambush oriented in dealing with the opposite sides).

Now I am not knocking the book. It is a fun read that is easily worthwhile for any fans of pulp fiction. The dialog is awesome and will easily remind you of the film adaptations of other Hammett's novels like The Maltese Falcon and The Thin Man. It does overdo the "aha" situation where almost all murders are performed by people you do not expect and he even has false suspects several times throughout the book.
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#8 clydefro

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Posted 07 September 2010 - 08:49 PM

^ I think what it must be is that people repeat the idea that Red Harvest was Kurosawa's basis and they do so as if it were a fact rather than an opinion, most likely without having read the Hammett book. I guess there's also some discussion of The Glass Key (a Hammett adaptation that became a Ladd-Lake film noir) having influenced Yojimbo. I've only read The Maltese Falcon but Hammett's influence does seem to loom large across a lot of cinema. That said, there's never been an official English language film adaptation of Red Harvest. Miller's Crossing is apparently close (and I can't say I've ever thought of it as being similar to the Kurosawa film).

#9 Duke Togo

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Posted 07 September 2010 - 09:11 PM

This is very interesting Master, and a pretty big deal. It both gives Kurosawa points for originality while making Leone's film seem a more clear copy of Kurosawa's. I too have been known to parrot off this bit about Red Harvest, for both films, and just assumed there was a lot in the book that was found in both Yojimbo and Fistful of Dollars. I absolutely must read Red Harvest now, for clarity's sake. Thanks Master for looking so far into this, the questions to this controversy are all over the place.

#10 masterofoneinchpunch

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Posted 09 September 2010 - 01:12 PM

Here is an interesting link discussing both The Glass Key and Red Harvest in relation to Yojimbo: Yojimbo: All Things Dashiell Hammett Make sure you read the comments which has more info dealing with Red Harvest. One scene in Yojimbo that is similar to Red Harvest I forgot that is mentioned in the comments is mentioned here (the first one the last comment mentions I feel is not really similar enough; this scene is almost mentioned by another commentator in that thread as well):

The other is when Reno cuts down the four remaining men of Pete the Finn’s gang, including Pete, after implicitly promising them safe passage in return for coming out of the building where they’re holed up. (Chapter XXV, Whiskeytown.) (See NoelCT's earlier post for a quote.) This is reminiscent of the scene near the end of the movie when Seibei, Orin, and their son surrender only to be cut down by Ushitora’s gang.


Though I have to mention that being familiar with a book and having your film being a remake or adaptation is two completely different things (this is response to one of the posters in that thread). This movie, to me, is clearly not an adaptation of the book, but as I said before it could have some inspiration from the book. Coincidences in both literature and cinema is nothing new. Proving them to be an influence is still a bit difficult unless we have proof.

Clyde, one thing I think you might find interesting is that in Red Harvest the term "Blood Simple" is used a few times by the lead detective. It, of course, reminds me of the first film of the Coen Brothers. I completely agree on Hammett's influence on cinema. While I still need to read more of his books, I sense his others like Red Harvest seem to easily translate to the screen. I'm going to try to watch Miller's Crossing soon while both Yojimbo and Red Harvest are still in my mind.
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#11 masterofoneinchpunch

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Posted 15 October 2014 - 04:06 PM

Yojimbo Criterion Commentary Stephen Prince 2006 (Notes I took):

Historial fable about the destruction of Capitalism. [really?; he repeats this motif throughout the commentary]
After Yojimbo, Kurosawa treated Mifune as a monument.
Takes place and end of Tokugawa period (1860s); only second of Kurosawa film to be set in this period.
Perpendicular axis of movement is common throughout film.
un-pious ronin different than clean samurai
Says it is wrong to call this a Japanese Western [really?]
Most celebrated scene (hand in dog’s mouth)
Wasn’t until Bonnie and Clyde that American film mined violence for this kind of comedy.
Significant influences have always gone from Kurosawa to Hollywood
Often multiple cameras were in action
Coffin maker hammering from High Noon (reference).
Influence from Emakimono picture scrolls (12th, 13th Century)
Miyagawa Kazuo previously worked with AK on Rashomon.
Nothing moves without Sanjuro (he later gives one major exception to this); compares character to director.
MA Instructor; describes moves.
ryo = unit of weight; goes over koban (coin)
5 basic relations -> Confucius (link)
Telephoto lens for close ups.
A Fistful of Dollars ripped this film off.
Sanjuro is abstract, blankness, anti-samurai.
Mifune has replaced Fujita [Susumu who starred in Sanshiro Sugata] similar to real life.
Probable influence of music for Sergie Leone.
Class hierarchy during period; samurai over merchants
In the year 1588 disarmed farmers (Hideyoshi's national “sword hunt” (katanagari) decree)
First major Kurosawa role for Tatsuya Nakadai
symbolism of pistol [no not a penile symbol; westernization just like the scarf]
Kurosawa never romanticizes Yakuza (states the nam comes from 893 – worst hand you can hold in oichokabu)
Surprised by boat in film.
He always explains that type of sword cut or motion in the film [which I like].
Talks about musical performance of Masaru Sato’s mickey mousing.
First arterial spurt in background [you would see a much bigger on in Sanjuro at the end]
His favorite shot in film using a telephoto lens
Film mirrors contemporary Japan.
Gives examples of Yakuza as muscle (Sōkaiya) [I do wonder if he puts the cart before the horse on these examples; it may have started as corporate using these figures, but soon they would be in control]
Mention of Minamata disease.
Now sets in motion events he cannot control; shows frames within frames
Is not using hand-held; would use it in High and Low.
Trailer shows alternate take of this scene.
Only scenes where Sanjuro presence is not explicit.
Yojimbo is apocalyptic film.
Going over his philosophy again -> anti materialism
Beating scene influenced by The Glass Key movie [I do wonder if the book was an influence on Kurosawa first].
Talks about Red Harvest not being an influence. [I have written on this; though I have found at least one scene I believe influenced from [i]Red Harvest[/i]]
Speculates that The Glass Key influence is also seen in the hand in dog’s mouth early in the film.
Takashi Shimura plays bad guy here and in Sanjuro (only time bad guy in Kurosawa’s films; [this is somewhat debatable].)
Kurosawa’s heroes never needed to hide before.
Loyal 47 Ronin reference he is parodying.
Great Ordeal -> Revenge archetype
I like the mention of Sword of Doom where Nakadai’s character not fighting with Mifune’s.
Another Kurosawa innovation: sound of slashes into people.
Apocalypse statement again (when one side finally consumes the other). Kurosawa turns away from future and aligns himself with the past. [I don’t quite agree with Prince on this; Kurosawa is very much stating in this film that he is not in complete agreement with Samurai principles either]
Last time Kato would appear in a Kurosawa film.
minute and a half is one of the greatest 90 seconds you are ever going to see in the movies (practicing knife throws; some shots done in reverse)
Director Walter Hill pays homage to knife in hand shot in The Warriors.
Prince makes interesting remark about faster editing and that Kurosawa stayed away from that, putting more emphasis on the choreography.
[He keeps talking about Sanjuro’s traditional world, though his world has already been displaced since he is a ronin.]
Many merchants received permission to wear one or two swords.


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#12 Duke Togo

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Posted 16 October 2014 - 10:56 AM

That is a lot of discuss there. What were some of his arguments when saying there was no Red Harvest influence?



#13 masterofoneinchpunch

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Posted 16 October 2014 - 11:38 AM

That is a lot of discuss there. What were some of his arguments when saying there was no Red Harvest influence?


A very basic statement about the story archetype is similar (stranger coming into town against a couple of sides), and very little else is. I go into much more detail with my past couple of posts on Red Harvest and Yojimbo including the one scene that seems quite familiar to both film and story. But I agree with him that The Glass Key is much more of an influence (though at this point until I find more information I am not sure if Kurosawa read the book or watched the movie first; Prince states the movie, but somewhere along the line I had read about this -- unfortunately I have gone over several books the past few days and have found nothing to my liking aka I'm looking for primary sources; NOTE: this is the same issue that another link I posted earlier in this thread had: "The problem, however, is that I cannot actually find a first-hand source where Kurosawa would mention the film as a source.".)

 

On a side note: I just bought the Stephen Prince book on Kurosawa off of Amazon.  The book I want most that is unonfortunately OOP is the book of Interviews of Kurosawa (the same series that I recently wrote about on John Woo.)


Under Construction:
My Criterion Collection (408; I Own and Have Watched):
1-16, 18, 19, 20, 21(2nd), 22, 23, 24, 25, 26, 27, 28, 29, 30, 31, 32, 33, 34, 35, 36, 37, 38, 39, 40, 41, 43, 44, 45, 46, 47, 48, 49, 50, 51(1st & 2nd), 52, 52, 53, 53, 55, 56, 57, 58, 61, 62, 64, 65, 66, 67, 68, 69, 70, 71, 72, 73, 74, 75, 76, 77, 78, 79, 81, 82, 83, 84, 85, 86. 87, 88, 90, 91, 93, 94, 95, 96, 97, 98, 99, 100, 101, 102, 103, 105, 108, 109, 110, 111, 112, 113, 114, 115, 116, 117, 118, 119, 121, 124, 125, 126, 127, 128, 129, 130, 131, 133, 134, 135, 136, 137, 138, 139, 140, 141, 143, 145, 146, 147, 148, 149, 150, 151(1st), 157, 158, 159, 160, 161, 164, 165, 167, 168, 169, 170, 171, 172, 173, 174, 175, 177, 180, 182, 183, 184, 185, 186, 187, 188, 189, 190, 193, 194, 195, 196, 197, 198, 199, 201, 202, 204, 205, 206, 208, 209, 210, 211, 212, 213, 214, 216, 217, 218, 219, 220, 221, 222, 224, 226, 227, 231, 232, 233, 234, 235, 237, 239, 239, 240, 241, 242, 243, 244, 245, 246, 247, 248, 249, 250, 251, 252, 253, 254, 255, 256, 260, 263, 266, 267, 268, 271, 273, 274, 275, 276, 277, 280, 281, 282, 283, 284, 285, 286, 288, 289, 290, 291, 292, 293, 294, 297, 298, 300(2D), 301, 302, 304, 305, 306, 308, 309, 310, 311, 312, 313, 314, 315, 316, 317, 318, 319, 320, 321, 322, 323, 324, 325, 326, 327, 328, 329, 330, 331, 332, 335, 336, 338, 339, 340, 341, 342, 343, 344, 345, 346, 347, 348, 349, 351, 352, 353, 354, 357, 358, 359, 362, 363, 364, 365, 366, 367, 368, 369, 370, 371, 372, 373, 374, 375, 376, 378, 379, 380, 383, 385, 386, 387, 388, 391, 392, 393, 394, 395, 396, 397, 398, 399, 402, 404, 405, 408, 409, 410, 412, 413, 414, 415, 416, 417, 418, 419, 420, 421, 422, 424, 425, 427, 428, 429, 430, 431, 432, 433, 434, 435, 437, 439, 441, 445, 446, 447, 448, 451, 453, 455, 456, 457, 459, 460, 461, 462, 465, 470, 475, 476, 478, 481, 482, 487, 490, 497, 498, 499, 500, 501, 503, 505, 512, 524, 525, 526, 528, 529, 530, 531, 539, 540, 543, 556, 565, 572, 578, 579, 580, 586, 596, 650, 664, 677

Previous Editions: 2,
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#14 Duke Togo

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Posted 16 October 2014 - 11:50 AM

On a side note: I just bought the Stephen Prince book on Kurosawa off of Amazon.  The book I want most that is unonfortunately OOP is the book of Interviews of Kurosawa (the same series that I recently wrote about on John Woo.)

 

I will probably end up getting that, so I will await your terse comments. I wasn't entirely satisfied with the Richie book, it felt like he panned a few films here and there. 



#15 masterofoneinchpunch

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Posted 16 October 2014 - 12:10 PM

 

I will probably end up getting that, so I will await your terse comments. I wasn't entirely satisfied with the Richie book, it felt like he panned a few films here and there. 

 

Still the Donald Richie book on Kurosawa is a must have (along with Kurosawa's autobiography) even if he tends to dislike the later Kurosawa films.  I'm not sure the Kurosawa: Film Studies and Japanese Cinema (2000/2005) by Mitsuhiro Yoshimoto is a must have for Kurosawa studies (at minimum a secondary tier; I certainly refer to it enough), but it certainly is nice to have and you can learn quite a bit about Japanese cinema in general from it.  Unfortunately the chapter on Yojimbo is quite small and technically I will only use a little of it in my future essay on this movie (I used the book for my second Sanshiro Sugata review/essay -- which I hope everyone has read.)

 

The main issue I have been pondering about from the Prince commentary is that if he is overstating the underlying "anti-captialist" meanings from the movie (not to say they are not there.)  I tend to agree with Mitsuhiro where "Yojimbo is first and foremost an entertainment film..."  While Kurosawa had Marxist sympathies (well known; this is mentioned in the Kurosawa interviews book), to me he always took the position of critizing all sides (like the government in Ikiru.)  His anti-yakuza stance is well known and Yojimbo was originally an idea as an attack on the yakuza.  Now does this correspond to an anti-captialist tale or just an anti-yakuza tale?


Under Construction:
My Criterion Collection (408; I Own and Have Watched):
1-16, 18, 19, 20, 21(2nd), 22, 23, 24, 25, 26, 27, 28, 29, 30, 31, 32, 33, 34, 35, 36, 37, 38, 39, 40, 41, 43, 44, 45, 46, 47, 48, 49, 50, 51(1st & 2nd), 52, 52, 53, 53, 55, 56, 57, 58, 61, 62, 64, 65, 66, 67, 68, 69, 70, 71, 72, 73, 74, 75, 76, 77, 78, 79, 81, 82, 83, 84, 85, 86. 87, 88, 90, 91, 93, 94, 95, 96, 97, 98, 99, 100, 101, 102, 103, 105, 108, 109, 110, 111, 112, 113, 114, 115, 116, 117, 118, 119, 121, 124, 125, 126, 127, 128, 129, 130, 131, 133, 134, 135, 136, 137, 138, 139, 140, 141, 143, 145, 146, 147, 148, 149, 150, 151(1st), 157, 158, 159, 160, 161, 164, 165, 167, 168, 169, 170, 171, 172, 173, 174, 175, 177, 180, 182, 183, 184, 185, 186, 187, 188, 189, 190, 193, 194, 195, 196, 197, 198, 199, 201, 202, 204, 205, 206, 208, 209, 210, 211, 212, 213, 214, 216, 217, 218, 219, 220, 221, 222, 224, 226, 227, 231, 232, 233, 234, 235, 237, 239, 239, 240, 241, 242, 243, 244, 245, 246, 247, 248, 249, 250, 251, 252, 253, 254, 255, 256, 260, 263, 266, 267, 268, 271, 273, 274, 275, 276, 277, 280, 281, 282, 283, 284, 285, 286, 288, 289, 290, 291, 292, 293, 294, 297, 298, 300(2D), 301, 302, 304, 305, 306, 308, 309, 310, 311, 312, 313, 314, 315, 316, 317, 318, 319, 320, 321, 322, 323, 324, 325, 326, 327, 328, 329, 330, 331, 332, 335, 336, 338, 339, 340, 341, 342, 343, 344, 345, 346, 347, 348, 349, 351, 352, 353, 354, 357, 358, 359, 362, 363, 364, 365, 366, 367, 368, 369, 370, 371, 372, 373, 374, 375, 376, 378, 379, 380, 383, 385, 386, 387, 388, 391, 392, 393, 394, 395, 396, 397, 398, 399, 402, 404, 405, 408, 409, 410, 412, 413, 414, 415, 416, 417, 418, 419, 420, 421, 422, 424, 425, 427, 428, 429, 430, 431, 432, 433, 434, 435, 437, 439, 441, 445, 446, 447, 448, 451, 453, 455, 456, 457, 459, 460, 461, 462, 465, 470, 475, 476, 478, 481, 482, 487, 490, 497, 498, 499, 500, 501, 503, 505, 512, 524, 525, 526, 528, 529, 530, 531, 539, 540, 543, 556, 565, 572, 578, 579, 580, 586, 596, 650, 664, 677

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#16 Duke Togo

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Posted 16 October 2014 - 12:31 PM

 

Still the Donald Richie book on Kurosawa is a must have (along with Kurosawa's autobiography) even if he tends to dislike the later Kurosawa films.  I'm not sure the Kurosawa: Film Studies and Japanese Cinema (2000/2005) by Mitsuhiro Yoshimoto is a must have for Kurosawa studies (at minimum a secondary tier; I certainly refer to it enough), but it certainly is nice to have and you can learn quite a bit about Japanese cinema in general from it.  Unfortunately the chapter on Yojimbo is quite small and technically I will only use a little of it in my future essay on this movie (I used the book for my second Sanshiro Sugata review/essay -- which I hope everyone has read.)

 

The main issue I have been pondering about from the Prince commentary is that if he is overstating the underlying "anti-captialist" meanings from the movie (not to say they are not there.)  I tend to agree with Mitsuhiro where "Yojimbo is first and foremost an entertainment film..."  While Kurosawa had Marxist sympathies (well known; this is mentioned in the Kurosawa interviews book), to me he always took the position of critizing all sides (like the government in Ikiru.)  His anti-yakuza stance is well known and Yojimbo was originally an idea as an attack on the yakuza.  Now does this correspond to an anti-captialist tale or just an anti-yakuza tale?

 

I do agree that the Richie book is loaded with meat, and I value it greatly, but I was hoping it would address those later films with the same level of care. I still want to know more about those films, so I will keep searching.

 

I actually always wondered it Yojimbo was in any way commenting on the same political strife that helped spark the new wave, particularly the outcry over the 1960 US security pact. A middle-man playing two sides against each other seems a great candidate for some subverted political cynicism, but only if you don't interpret Mifune's character's payoff as literal riches.

 

I guess I would have to say that any instance where the hero (antihero) plays two sides against each other for profit, even more so in this case where the goal is for them to kill each other off, is in some core way anti-capitalistic, much in the same way that robbing a bank/banker contains a touch of pro-socialism. I don't believe that is all there is to Yojimbo, because I would hope any film that goes for an anti-capitalist message would try and be a little more ambitious, and I think Kurosawa was quite ambitious.



#17 masterofoneinchpunch

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Posted 17 October 2014 - 01:12 PM

"Mifune's Sanjuro and your Unosuke are like a stray dog and a snake." -- Akira Kurosawa to Tatsuya Nakadai
 
Akira Kurosawa is one of my favorite directors and Yojimbo (means bodyguard in Japanese) is one of my favorite films.  I would consider this canon for any budding cinephile along with several other of Kurosawas oeuvre like Seven Samurai and Rashomon.  It is fascinating and a testament to the universality of movies that Yojimbo which would be influenced by westerns would later have copious influences on films worldwide.  It arguably helped create the Spaghetti Western craze become worldwide when Sergio Leone made an uncredited remake named A Fistful of Dollars* with a taciturn Clint Eastwood.  Kurosawa would later sue for copyright infringement and win.**  It was remade by Walter Hill as Last Man Standing and has had homages in countless films including Hills The Warriors and John Woos Hard-Boiled.  But beyond just its influence on directors and critics it is quite a fun movie. 
 
Sanjuro (means 30 years old in Japanese) is a pseudonym for this surly and drifting ronin (a masterless samurai) who literally leaves his wandering path to random chance.  He drifts upon a windy town (similar to Shane a film that was quite popular in Japan; one could easily imagine a tumbleweed being blown through the streets; High Noon was another influence on this movie) and comes upon a foreboding scene of a dog carrying a decapitated hand one of the most iconic scenes from Kurosawa.  Two warring factions have decimated the population and put in hiding or exodus the good members of the town.  It reminds me of the Jack Napier quote in Batman (1989) -- Decent people shouldn't live here. They'd be happier someplace else.  This town is a fabulous functional set that certain auteurs like to use like Anthony Mann in The Fall of the Roman Empire.  Kurosawa learned from Kenji Mizoguchi to use real props and authentic sets.
 
The dirty anti-samurai and atypical harbinger of righteousness is a man without a real name or an identified past but with unmatched skills with the sword, played with panache by Toshirô Mifune.  Almost all of the movie is seen with his presence.  He is looking to rid the town of the two sides run by the sake merchant (Takashi Shimura) and the silk merchant (Kamatair Fujiwara) and their grotesque gallery of rogues apparently either just for fun, a little bored and/or maybe for a little money.  This character was the creation of Kurosawa who originally wrote it as somebody who would stand up against the world of the yakuza which had infiltrated business and other aspects of life.  This character would not only be appropriated by Clint Eastwood but would be the main influence of John Belushis SNL character Samurai Futaba.  There is a certain je ne sais quoi about this character that has him as one of my favorites along with Alain Delons performance in Le Samourai.
 
His initial plan is to play both sides until they exterminate each other.  His plan was succeeding until Sazankas younger brother Unosuke (Tatsuya Nakadai; I feel he is a seriously underrated actor) comes into town with a scarf (a western oriented clothing), a pistol and a nasty disposition.  This would be the first starring performance for Nakadai in a Kurosawa film and he would go on to be another antagonist in Sanjuro and have starring roles in later Kurosawa films Kagemusha and Ran. Unosuke would tilt the side heavily to the sake merchant.  But when Sanjuro saves a farmers wife from captivity his good deed goes punished as it leads to his getting captured without his sword.  How will he get out of this?  
 
This film was important for Japanese film because it was one of the earliest films to combine violence and comedy.  It used realistic sound for sword effects so the slashes sounded like flesh being cut.  As Stephen Prince points out in his commentary on the film you can see a geyser of blood in the background during one battle.  This arterial spurt would be taken further at the end of the sequel Sanjuro and the jidei geki (period film) would never be the same much to Kurosawas chagrin.  It was a big hit for Toho. Also it is important to note how important the performance from Mifune was.  You have this anti-samurai whose values do not fit within the existing Bushido code (which was on its way out during this time period), but helps push the idea of the antihero in Japanese chambara (swordplay) films.
 
I find so many positive aspects to the film that it is hard for me not to wax poetic with an abuse of hyperbole. It is one of the most exquisitely filmed movies.  The use of chiaroscuro and composition, especially with the multiple frames, deep focus, multiple camera setup, perpendicular axis of movement, the right angle dominated cinematography and telephoto lens is so vast that there is a wealth of literature just on this aspect of production.  This is in big thanks to the camera work of Kazuo Miyagawa (Ugetsu) who previously worked with him on Rashomon.  The musical score by Masaru Satô is also quite influential (another aspect that was copied in A Fistful of Dollars) and is an integral part of the enjoyment of the film.  The combination of artistic elements, comedy, critic significance, memorable performances, storyline, importance on world cinema and general coolness makes this a must own for your cinematic library.  It is a film I have rewatched many times and even imitate the shoulder shrug now and then.   
 
Criterion has a very good release of this in both DVD (technically a rerelease) and BD.  It comes with an outstanding and informative commentary from Stephen Prince a 45 minute documentary from the Toho Masterworks series Akira Kurosawa: It Is Wonderful to Create, trailer, teaser and insert essays always worth reading.  Be warned that there are some issues with the Yojimbo BD becoming possibly bronzed and/or peeling preventing playback.  You can send these affected discs back to Criterion for replacements.
 
* A Fistful of Dollars was by no means the first western made in Italy or Spain.  The film was of seminal importance in creating a popular trend.
 
** Contrary to what many people have wrote, and why you should always question sites even established ones like IMDB, this movie is not a remake of Dashiell Hammetts Red Harvest.  There are a couple of scenes influenced by Hammett, including the beating scene which is clearly from The Glass Key and there is possibly one or two scenes influenced by Red Harvest.
 
Sources:
The Films of Akira Kurosawa 3rd Edition (1996/1998) by Donald Richie
Something of an Autobiography (1982/1983) by Akira Kurosawa
Kurosawa: Film Studies and Japanese Cinema (2000/2005) by Mitsuhiro Yoshimoto
Akira Kurosawa Interviews (2008) Edited by Peter Brunette
Criterion Insert Essays
Stephen Prince Commentary (2006): a fascinating and worthy commentary to listen to.  I do not always agree with him on the political aspects where he goes too far into anti-capitalism rhetoric where he loses the fact that Kurosawa is criticizing yakuza first in this film not business first.  He also misses at least one possibly place where Red Harvest seems to be an influence on a scene. He also tends to downplay the western influence on this film.  
CriterionForums.com Thread: I argue about the differences between Red Harvest and Yojimbo, plus a variety of other posts including notes on the Criterion commentary.
Fistful of Dollars Lawsuit (and pictures)
Roger Eberts Great Movie Review: Unfortunately states that this movie was inspired by Red Harvest.  
 
Other Akira Kurosawa Reviews of Mine:
Sanshiro Sugata
The Most Beautiful (1944)
Sanshiro Sugata Part II

Edited by masterofoneinchpunch, 17 October 2014 - 03:34 PM.

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#18 masterofoneinchpunch

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Posted 17 October 2014 - 03:28 PM

YojimboHand_zps5a73b67d.jpg
 


Under Construction:
My Criterion Collection (408; I Own and Have Watched):
1-16, 18, 19, 20, 21(2nd), 22, 23, 24, 25, 26, 27, 28, 29, 30, 31, 32, 33, 34, 35, 36, 37, 38, 39, 40, 41, 43, 44, 45, 46, 47, 48, 49, 50, 51(1st & 2nd), 52, 52, 53, 53, 55, 56, 57, 58, 61, 62, 64, 65, 66, 67, 68, 69, 70, 71, 72, 73, 74, 75, 76, 77, 78, 79, 81, 82, 83, 84, 85, 86. 87, 88, 90, 91, 93, 94, 95, 96, 97, 98, 99, 100, 101, 102, 103, 105, 108, 109, 110, 111, 112, 113, 114, 115, 116, 117, 118, 119, 121, 124, 125, 126, 127, 128, 129, 130, 131, 133, 134, 135, 136, 137, 138, 139, 140, 141, 143, 145, 146, 147, 148, 149, 150, 151(1st), 157, 158, 159, 160, 161, 164, 165, 167, 168, 169, 170, 171, 172, 173, 174, 175, 177, 180, 182, 183, 184, 185, 186, 187, 188, 189, 190, 193, 194, 195, 196, 197, 198, 199, 201, 202, 204, 205, 206, 208, 209, 210, 211, 212, 213, 214, 216, 217, 218, 219, 220, 221, 222, 224, 226, 227, 231, 232, 233, 234, 235, 237, 239, 239, 240, 241, 242, 243, 244, 245, 246, 247, 248, 249, 250, 251, 252, 253, 254, 255, 256, 260, 263, 266, 267, 268, 271, 273, 274, 275, 276, 277, 280, 281, 282, 283, 284, 285, 286, 288, 289, 290, 291, 292, 293, 294, 297, 298, 300(2D), 301, 302, 304, 305, 306, 308, 309, 310, 311, 312, 313, 314, 315, 316, 317, 318, 319, 320, 321, 322, 323, 324, 325, 326, 327, 328, 329, 330, 331, 332, 335, 336, 338, 339, 340, 341, 342, 343, 344, 345, 346, 347, 348, 349, 351, 352, 353, 354, 357, 358, 359, 362, 363, 364, 365, 366, 367, 368, 369, 370, 371, 372, 373, 374, 375, 376, 378, 379, 380, 383, 385, 386, 387, 388, 391, 392, 393, 394, 395, 396, 397, 398, 399, 402, 404, 405, 408, 409, 410, 412, 413, 414, 415, 416, 417, 418, 419, 420, 421, 422, 424, 425, 427, 428, 429, 430, 431, 432, 433, 434, 435, 437, 439, 441, 445, 446, 447, 448, 451, 453, 455, 456, 457, 459, 460, 461, 462, 465, 470, 475, 476, 478, 481, 482, 487, 490, 497, 498, 499, 500, 501, 503, 505, 512, 524, 525, 526, 528, 529, 530, 531, 539, 540, 543, 556, 565, 572, 578, 579, 580, 586, 596, 650, 664, 677

Previous Editions: 2,
Eclipse: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 10, 12, 13, 15, 16, 23, 26, 33

“Empty your bladder of that bitter black urine you call coffee.” – The Tick

My HK movie reviews
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#19 Izo

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Posted 24 October 2014 - 01:05 AM

Good review, master.  I really need to get the Ritchie or Prince books for some more in depth looks at Kurosawa's films.  My favorites remain Ran, High and Low, and Seven Samurai, in that order so it bums me out to hear that Ritchie wasn't so hot on late-era Kurosawa.



#20 masterofoneinchpunch

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Posted 24 October 2014 - 12:02 PM

Good review, master.  I really need to get the Ritchie or Prince books for some more in depth looks at Kurosawa's films.  My favorites remain Ran, High and Low, and Seven Samurai, in that order so it bums me out to hear that Ritchie wasn't so hot on late-era Kurosawa.


Thanks Izo. I'm looking forward to reading the Prince book. I feel the Richie one is a must have for Kurosawa fans. That fact that Richie is not as favorable to the late Kurosawa has upset quite a few people. But Richie in other books like his (its a good read): A Hundred Years of Japanese Film: A Concise History, with a Selective Guide to DVDs and Videos is very lacking on anime and you can tell that he does not like a lot of later Japanese films (technically I have more issues with later films, but there are some that I still like quite a bit including anime.)

 

I'm a fan of all three that you mentioned.  I do need to rewatch High and Low as it is the film I have seen the least amount out of those three.  What should the next Kurosawa film I review (it won't be soon, but I'll put some thought into it)?


Under Construction:
My Criterion Collection (408; I Own and Have Watched):
1-16, 18, 19, 20, 21(2nd), 22, 23, 24, 25, 26, 27, 28, 29, 30, 31, 32, 33, 34, 35, 36, 37, 38, 39, 40, 41, 43, 44, 45, 46, 47, 48, 49, 50, 51(1st & 2nd), 52, 52, 53, 53, 55, 56, 57, 58, 61, 62, 64, 65, 66, 67, 68, 69, 70, 71, 72, 73, 74, 75, 76, 77, 78, 79, 81, 82, 83, 84, 85, 86. 87, 88, 90, 91, 93, 94, 95, 96, 97, 98, 99, 100, 101, 102, 103, 105, 108, 109, 110, 111, 112, 113, 114, 115, 116, 117, 118, 119, 121, 124, 125, 126, 127, 128, 129, 130, 131, 133, 134, 135, 136, 137, 138, 139, 140, 141, 143, 145, 146, 147, 148, 149, 150, 151(1st), 157, 158, 159, 160, 161, 164, 165, 167, 168, 169, 170, 171, 172, 173, 174, 175, 177, 180, 182, 183, 184, 185, 186, 187, 188, 189, 190, 193, 194, 195, 196, 197, 198, 199, 201, 202, 204, 205, 206, 208, 209, 210, 211, 212, 213, 214, 216, 217, 218, 219, 220, 221, 222, 224, 226, 227, 231, 232, 233, 234, 235, 237, 239, 239, 240, 241, 242, 243, 244, 245, 246, 247, 248, 249, 250, 251, 252, 253, 254, 255, 256, 260, 263, 266, 267, 268, 271, 273, 274, 275, 276, 277, 280, 281, 282, 283, 284, 285, 286, 288, 289, 290, 291, 292, 293, 294, 297, 298, 300(2D), 301, 302, 304, 305, 306, 308, 309, 310, 311, 312, 313, 314, 315, 316, 317, 318, 319, 320, 321, 322, 323, 324, 325, 326, 327, 328, 329, 330, 331, 332, 335, 336, 338, 339, 340, 341, 342, 343, 344, 345, 346, 347, 348, 349, 351, 352, 353, 354, 357, 358, 359, 362, 363, 364, 365, 366, 367, 368, 369, 370, 371, 372, 373, 374, 375, 376, 378, 379, 380, 383, 385, 386, 387, 388, 391, 392, 393, 394, 395, 396, 397, 398, 399, 402, 404, 405, 408, 409, 410, 412, 413, 414, 415, 416, 417, 418, 419, 420, 421, 422, 424, 425, 427, 428, 429, 430, 431, 432, 433, 434, 435, 437, 439, 441, 445, 446, 447, 448, 451, 453, 455, 456, 457, 459, 460, 461, 462, 465, 470, 475, 476, 478, 481, 482, 487, 490, 497, 498, 499, 500, 501, 503, 505, 512, 524, 525, 526, 528, 529, 530, 531, 539, 540, 543, 556, 565, 572, 578, 579, 580, 586, 596, 650, 664, 677

Previous Editions: 2,
Eclipse: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 10, 12, 13, 15, 16, 23, 26, 33

“Empty your bladder of that bitter black urine you call coffee.” – The Tick

My HK movie reviews
My Amazon Reviews




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