The magic of Yojimbo (Bodyguard) can be summed up in one
word: character. A wandering samurai, a ronin adrift in a new world of
shifting loyalties, a former warrior of unparalleled skill, drifts with
the wind into a town in the midst of a power struggle. An upstart rival
gang led by a former fellow member and his scheming wife is challenging
one gang’s dominance of the small village. The village is a desolate,
austere place. It appears few people live there. A silk merchant and a
sake brewer are the businessmen, but an inn owner and the neighbor coffin
maker dominate the scene. The samurai, who flippantly calls himself
Sanjuro Kuwabatake (This roughly translates to thirty year-old field of
mulberry trees.), sees an opportunity to play one side against the other
as they vie for the services of his magnificent sword as bodyguard.
A samurai asserts himself.
On the surface Yojimbo is nothing more than an engaging
entertainment from Kurosawa, a director with a well-defined social
conscience. Though the film includes graphic depictions of violence,
Kurosawa has great fun with the humor of the situation. Sanjuro is clearly
a character with a unique sense of the changing world. His world-weary
demeanor and cynical wisdom are often played for laughs. But the theme of
the changing world and the need to accept and understand without giving up
the values of the past is explored as the subtext of Yojimbo , as
often in the themes of all of Kurosawa’s films.
Toshiro Mifune arms the wandering samurai with
arsenal of physical quirks that perfectly capture the moods and karma of
the character. Whether rolling his shoulder as he walks or scratching
compulsively at the back of his neck, Mifune finds the physical language
to define Sanjuro. Kurosawa gives a prominent role to magnetic Tatsuya
Nakadai as the devious youngest brother of the gang leaders.
Yojimbo has been remade twice with
varying success. Sergio Leone’s Fistful of Dollars made Clint Eastwood a
star. On can see many of the qualities of Mifune in Eastwood playing the
gunslinger in the Italian remake of Yojimbo . The most recent
attempt to capture the spirit of Yojimbo was Last Man Standing, a
lamentable attempt by director Walter Hill starring Bruce Willis in the
samurai-like role. No more remakes please. The original is good
enough for me!
While the source material for this
transfer of Yojimbo is okay, there are many minor blemishes that
detract from the presentation and some significant element damage that is
happily of relatively short duration. Still many of the scenes look
fresh. While the contrast ratios are not as strong as the Sanjuro DVD,
they are still quite good. The dark mood of the film is maintained with
skill. The sound has persistent hiss and the dynamic range is limited. The
English subtitles appear below the image in the black letterbox area and
can be switched off. I measured the aspect ratio at 2.15:1. It’s listed
on the box as 2.35, which is the aspect ratio at which the film was shot.