Ten years of after Rashomon, the great Akira Kurosawa was still at the top of his game when he made Yojimbo, the darkly comical ‘samurai western’ that inspired Sergio Leone’s A Fistful of Dollars. Toshiro Mifune stars here and he was obviously the model after which Clint Eastwood fashioned his own legendary performance.
The picture’s storyline is simple, but it is so well done that the audience might not notice. It tells of a wandering samurai (Mifune) who stumbles on a town split in half. Each side despises the other and hires men to fight against its enemy. The samurai, named Sanjuro, soon upon arrival exhibits his skills with a sword and is begged by both sides to join the fight with them.
But Sanjuro is a clever scoundrel and decides to wait for the best offer. It is only a matter of time before he has to make a choice and become part of the battle. With his entrance into the battle comes a bloody massacre that eventually eliminates both sides.
The brutal ending finishes the film with a dark tone, but Kurosawa has sprinkled around just enough witty humor to balance it all out. The memorable score plays a major role, making the action more excitable and the emotion more palpable.
Kurosawa’s techniques in storytelling and camera work look as masterful as they ever have. I enjoyed this picture as much as I did Rashomon, and I highly recommend it. Whether or not you have seen a Japanese film is irrelevant, for Yojimbo would be a great introduction.