Monday, November 7, 2011
Regardless of how much I actually learned in college, Yojimbo is pretty great. Samurai movies and Western films have always had a lot in common, but here, Kurosawa went out of his way to add in Western elements. Later, Sergio Leone would make Fistful of Dollars, which is, I've heard, extremely similar. I only point this out. I guess, to underline how much this movie is like a Western, since I think that's a neat aspect of the movie.
So, I've relocated my to my bed to finish this post, and am now locked in an exciting race to see if I can finish my post before my dose of liquid Nyquil kicks in. Yay for good motivation! Ok, the plot: Sanjuro (who's full name he gives himself means "thirty-year-old mulberry field", aka "The Man with no Name") arrives at a small rural town. When he learns that two rival gangs are fighting over the town, he s hired by both of them to defeat the other gang. Instead, he decides to pit them against each other to free the town.
The cinematography is really great. I love that Kurosawa has this calm, straight style. It's reminiscent of other Westerns, but the huge wide shots that unflinching face the action head-on are amazing. I love the scenes where you can see the entire gang spread out in front of the buildings. I think I just like really wide shots, especially when everything around the characters is sort of flat and desolate. It has a cool effect, and it really draws your attention to what matters. The editing in his films is always clean and sharp, too, and it's easy to follow all of his action scenes without feeling lost. It's not often that I feel like action-y scenes can be beautiful, but when Kurosawa does them, they really are.
The plot, for me, is comfortable and easy to watch. It reminds me of a lot of other things, and it even has some of my favorite things like "characters who no longer fit into the current trends/time period" (like in The Wild Bunch) kind of stuff. I don't want to make assumptions, but I think by the time people my age see this movie, the story, the character of the Man with No Name seem sort of "classic". Even if we haven't read books or seen movies involving them, we sort of know about it. I think a lot of this is because there are so many popular American movies influenced by Kurosawa, but it goes both ways. There are a lot of great Westerns (not all of them American, but all of them famous) based on his films, but he also based his movies on great Westerns. I guess I'm just bringing this up because I was thinking about how effortless this movie was to watch. I know that foregin movies can be daunting to some people (I still hear a lot of people declare that they can't stand subtitles, which I admit I don't think I can begin to understand), but this one doesn't feel obscure or difficult. The plot feels familiar, the characters, too. There's dark humor and exciting action, and a lot of the scenes mimic thing we are used to seeing in cinema. Hmm, I guess what I'm trying to say is that movies like this can maybe remind us that no matter what language we speak, we all enjoy the same kind of entertainment. I don't know, there are a lot of movies I've watched for this project that have made me think things along these lines, and just generally wonder why people often look at foreign movie as being so "different' when they really so very similar.
Ramble ramble. It's obviously time for sleep. For me, this is a really great, easy movie to watch, full of masterfully filmed action, amazing cinematography, and a really cool combination of genres. It has a lot of sophistication and style and a lot of fun, as well. No matter how many films exist that are based on Kurosawa films like this one or are inspired by them, his films always feel fresh and exciting to me, even when I've seen similar things already. Maybe it's the style that keeps it interesting, the clean lines of his shots and editing, but regardless, they're great works. They're not complicated to watch or think about, but you can make them be if you analyze them enough. I like movies like that, and I think they end up being really enjoyable for a lot of different people with different tastes in film. Or something. :)
Have any thoughts about Yojimbo? Share them in the comments!
Ebert's Great Movie Essay on Yojimbo
Buy it on Amazon