Director Akira Kurosawa could always bring mystifyingly grand tales of samurai and the great art behind that branch of swordsmanship. He does so in a number of his movies, especially during this period of, arguably, his most inspired and influential work. These early moments of the 50s brought us Ikiru and Seven Samurai, his work a decade after this was to the same standard of quality. A masterclass in consistency, Kurosawa’s work in Yojimbo is a clear sign that the man was on the top of his game for a career studded with gems of foreign cinema that elicit such joy and mesmerising detail.
The effects of Yojimbo are still being felt today, as directors consistently try (and often fail) to adapt this superb story of a weary and worn traveller fixing the problems plaguing a small village. It’s a resolutely ambiguous story, with plenty of room for growth. A multitude of moments and pathways to follow, Kurosawa prefers to take the road less travelled here, offering up some tremendous moments of memorable film. Yojimbo will likely rely on the frequent strengths of collaboration between Kurosawa and leading man Toshirō Mifune. The two have such dazzling chemistry with one another, and Yojimbo provides, by far, their best encounter with one another.
A tale so simple should offer up themes and ideas the director wishes to represent and offer his or her audience, and Yojimbo does this well. There’s plenty to unpack with this one, and how Mifune brings energy and grace to his role as an innocuous traveller, roped into events he cares little for, is mesmerising. He convincingly takes charge of the plot, guiding us toward a satisfying conclusion filled with smart tension, exceptional cinematography, and an overall feeling of gallant characters, pooling their resources in the face of an uphill struggle.
It’s likely that to prefer A Fistful of Dollars over Yojimbo is a spit in the face of Kurosawa, but so be it. He has crafted the inferior product, what with his aversion to using revolvers or ponchos, and his lack of Clint Eastwood. Yojimbo is a thoroughly enjoyable product, though, one that should be looked upon as an amazingly strong piece of film, and a highlight of an impressive filmography. Only marginally worse off than Sergio Leone’s western, Yojimbo is a frankly grand spectacle, a tightly wound story that places a lonely stranger wielding a blade of respect and justice in the midst of a town falling apart at the seams. It doesn’t question the rights or wrongs, but it does question those in power, a strong message that Kurosawa crafts with limitless brilliance.