Monday, 20 March 2017

I've Just Seen: Yojimbo (1961); and, Sanjuro (1962)

Director: Akira Kurosawa

Toshiro Mifune is one of the most watchable actors ever to be committed to celluloid. When he is on screen, you can't keep yours eyes off him. It is not so much to do with physical beauty, though he certainly possesses a rugged appeal; instead, he has that 'it' quality, where the camera just loves him, and consequently so does the audience. No wonder Kurosawa cast Mifune in so many of his films.

In both Yojimbo and Sanjuro, Mifune plays Kuwabatake Sanjuro, a samurai who wanders around Japan, taking an interest in local concerns. In Yojimbo, it is a town divided by two waring gangs, who both try to use Sanjuro for their own side. Sanjuro, a sequel to the former, the ronin helps a group of samurai take down their corrupt master.

While neither is based on a Shakespearean play, unlike other Kurosawa films, the two films have that intricacy of plot driven by characters and their decisions. Sanjuro is more honourable than other Mifune characters in Kurosawa's films but he has an air of mystery to him. We are never quite sure how he is going to behave. There are strong similarities to the characters played by Clint Eastwood in Sergio Leone's films.

These are great films, telling engrossing stories, with some of the best action scenes you will see in any film; no surprise really, since they are directed by the great Kurosawa. Toshiro Mifune elevates Yojimbo and Sanjuro even further, with his impeccable acting and fantastic screen presense; I dare you to watch the opening of Sanjuro where Sanjuro goes out to fight the impossible battle, or the double-cross battle in Yojimbo, and not get shivers from Mifune's mere presence.


  1. Yojimbo is SO AWESOME! When I get it from Netflix, I always watch it twice before sending it back. I should probably just get my own copy. It's my #1 favorite Japanese movie and it's #8 on my Top Ten Movies list.

    1. Awesome is the perfect word for these films. If you get your own copy, get Sanjuro as well; it is a very good sequel.

    2. I like Sanjuro but I've only seen it once. The next time I feel like watching Yojimbo - AGAIN! - I'll try to repress the urge and watch Sanjuro instead.

      Kurosawa is my favorite director. Time after time, he seems to make one classic film after another. I love Fellini as well, but what Fellini did five or six times, Kurosawa seems to have done twenty times!

      I don't know how much Kurosawa you've seen, but I'd like to recommend a several of the less obvious Kurosawa masterpieces. Once you get past Seven Samurai, Rashomon and Throne of Blood, there's also a couple of amazing crime dramas that I don't think get enough attention - "Stray Dog" and "High and Low." (High and Low is my second favorite Kurosawa film.)

      And then there's Dersu Uzala! I am frankly kind of shocked at how seldom Dersu Uzala gets mentioned when Kurosawa's best films are discussed.

      There's still a few I haven't seen, but the two that really seem like glaring omissions are Dreams and I Live in Fear.