Here we are with the final post in my week (and a bit) focus on the cinema of Japan. I hope you guys have enjoyed these posts and thanks to the guest bloggers that have helped me along the way. Don’t forget that you have a shot at winning three Japanese films from Madman and entries will close a week from this post going up.
It is a little surprising that Akira Kurosawa’s iconic Yojimbo (1961) does not feature on the 1001. I have seen a few of the great man’s films, but this is the first from what I guess you would call his really classic, samurai focused phase that I have managed to catch.
Apparently this film had a particular influence on (or even just supplied the entire plot for) a whole bunch of Western films. Even if you did not know that fact going in, it is pretty plain to see. A lone, violent man called Sanjuro saunters into town. He attracts the attention of the locals who are transfixed by this stranger. The town that Sanjuro wanders into is in the midst of a bloody and closely fought gang war. After showing his prowess by slicing and dicing a couple of hapless minions, he is courted by both sides looking to buy themselves some muscle. It is these really well scripted negotiations with both sides that take up a majority of the film’s running time. These elongated sequences of both sides bidding for his services are really interesting. They are quite detailed and multilayered, but the script is good enough not to need to get unnecessarily (or even at all) dense. Not get too concerned though. This isn’t Margin Call (2011) with everyone sitting around the boardroom table talking shop. There is plenty of quality sword fighting action to go around as well.
Sanjuro is actually a really interesting central character. He is I guess an anti-hero. For much of the film he is pretty unlikeable as he plays a bunch of (all admittedly unlikeable) people off against one another. Not exactly noble, he is content to sell himself to the highest paying crew, or preferably just rip them all off repeatedly, causing chaos in the town in the process. As such, it is a bit of an abrupt change where toward the end of the film, we as the audience are meant to now sympathise with this character, because up to that point he has done nothing in the slightest bit heroic. I kind of respected him as a dude who walked to the beat of his own drum the whole way through, but there is a definite jump from that to out and out sympathy. In the end though, after a fair dose of humility is beaten into him, it is hard not to feel the exact things for Sanjuro that Kurosawa was angling for the whole time. It just takes him to be literally beaten down so badly that it is borderline impossible not to feel sympathy for the man for this to happen. The character is played really well by Toshiro Mifune, one of Kurosawa’s creative muses throughout his career. He brings a searing, yet quiet intensity to the character of Sanjuro, keeping his motives hidden from the rest of the characters, but letting them know he definitely always means business.
I am not sure if there is folk source material behind Yojimbo that I don’t know about, but this pretty cool tale definitely did feel like an old fashioned fable to me. Bound by a single town and for much of it consisting of negotiations, it is lucky the script is so good. It is also refreshing in an age of ultra-seriousness in serious film, that this particular flick is not afraid to add in a rich sense of humour to the action. I am not sure if the soundtrack was influenced by classical Westerns or influenced them. But there is clearly some cross-pollination one way or the other which that just feeds into the notion that this is an Eastern Western of top class.
I can definitely see why Yojimbo is not just one of Kurosawa’s most famous films, but also a highly influential one in world cinema. As possibly the best samurai film I have ever seen, a distinctly Japanese genre if one exists, this is a highly apt way to finish off this look at the Japanese cinema.
Verdict: Pint of Kilkenny
This week thanks to Madman Entertainment, you have the chance to win a copy of AceAttorney, Black Belt and Yojimbo on DVD. Head here for all the details on how to enter.
When you think about world cinema and more specifically Asian cinema, Japan was the first country to really burst onto the scene internationally. A major part of this was down to Akira Kurosawa and his adoration in Europe, but a number of other directors such as Yasujiro Ozu also helped cement the reputation of the nation as one of the great filmmaking countries on earth. More contemporary names such as Takeshi Kitano and Takashi Miike as well as the phenomenal popularity of anime have both continued and evolved this heritage.
This week the blog will be focused on the cinema of Japan and will take a look at some of the great names and films, as well as some more obscure entries into the cinematic canon. Helping me out will be a couple of awesome guest bloggers who have written great articles (fire me an email to email@example.com if you want to be involved in future weeks such as this one).
Of course with this kind of week I like to have a prize to give away and this week is no different. I asked the kind folk at Madman Entertainment for a copy of one of the films I was going to review to give away as a prize. Instead of sending one, they sent three. So this week you have the chance to win a prize pack of three Madman films. I will reveal what they are as I review the films in question.
Entry is open to readers worldwide and in order to enter, all you need to do is the following:
- Like the post on Facebook for one entry
- Comment on the post on Facebook for two entries
- Share the post on Facebook for two entries
- Retweet the post on Twitter for two entries
- Like the post on this site for one entry
- Comment on the post on this site for two entries
If you want to earn yourself some more entries, check out old reviews of mine for Akira (1988) which was actually the first film to ever receive a Longneck of Melbourne Bitter rating on the site, Princess Mononoke (1997), Dead Sushi (2012) and Dersu Uzala (1974). Any likes or comments on those posts over this time will score you some additional entries.