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Yojimbo

Akira Kurosawa was, and always will be, one of the most influential filmmakers that cinema has ever known. Creating legendary films like Seven Samurai, Kurosawa had a cinematic mind-frame and vision that even the greatest of directors would likely envy. In fact, famed director Francis Ford Coppola once stated that Kurosawa "didn't make a masterpiece or two masterpieces, he made, you know, EIGHT masterpieces." Coming from the director of The Godfather, that's got to say something about Kurosawa.

As for this film, Yojimbo (which literally means "bodyguard"), we follow the plight of nameless samurai who, after the crumbling of the current dynasty, must find work amongst the many villages of Japan. Here, our nameless and honorable warrior comes to a village that's been torn apart by two opposing gangs, both of which seek to completely control the village and its growing silk business. So, the nameless samurai schemes to destroy both gangs from the inside out.

Firstly, let me say how amazing this film looks. Though this may be the age-old tale of the morally ambiguous samurai warrior, the film's shot very much like a Western. From its wide shots of the village's pathways to the scrambled look of the houses as frightened villagers peek out of their windows, the film feels just as much like a Western as it does a tale of the samurai. Also, though Yojimbo is in B&W, the film feels like it has a very vibrant sense of color. For instance, the jet blackness of the samurai's hair stands out a lot in this picture, and the use of this B&W coloring really sets the mood for the film.

In terms of character, the film's rich in this aspect as well. Its characters aren't necessarily deep, but they don't have to be - the samurai is the samurai, the two gang lords are gang lords, that's who these characters are to begin with. They don't change or develop, but that's because of their backgrounds. It's these backgrounds that have helped define who they are, hence why the samurai behaves the way he does, the townspeople behave the way they do, etc. and so forth. It's the old light-vs.-dark way of storytelling and Yojimbo makes it work well.

The pacing's pretty good as well, though the film tended to drag a bit before the climatic ending. Other than that, I can't say I have any qualms with the pacing. It could be slow, fast, and anywhere in-between and still work. However, if I could make one more complaint, it would be that the violence in the film is too toned down for its own good. I understand that this isn't supposed to be a bloody or stylized violent movies, but there are moments in the film where you can tell that our nameless samurai isn't really killing his opponents. For instance, near the ending, there's a scene where the samurai kills several different men, but it looks like he's literally just tapping them with his sword to make them go down. It still looks good, but it's painfully obvious how fake it is.

Other than a few rough edges, Yojimbo is a cinematic gem. Fantastic visuals, great characters, and an intelligent script make the film a classic example of the samurai movie and a classic example of Akira Kurosawa's work.





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