Release Date: 25 April 1961
Director: Akira Kurosawa
Production Company: Kurosawa Production | Toho
In 1860, a rōnin (Toshiro Mifune) travels through rural Japan, dropping a stick to decide his fate (much like Abraham Lincoln). His path carries him to a town dominated by two rival gangs of criminals. He gets the lay of the land from an elderly tavernkeeper, Gonji (Eijirō Tōno), who tells him that the only the only profitable business in the town is the coffin maker. The rōnin, who makes up the name Kuwabatake Sanjuro for himself, determines that all the criminals deserve death. He offers his services as a bodyguard (“yojimbo” in Japanese) to both gangs and uses the bidding war to initiate a long con for the two gangs to destroy one another.
The movie starts as a comedy but slowly evolves into a grim spectacle. I was surprised by the level of graphic violence for a movie from 1961, although I supposed today’s audiences would find it tame. Kurosawa’s direction is one again excellent with spectacular framing of the various set pieces and the views of the townfolk peeking through the cracks in their shutters. Kurosawa drew on American Westerns for influence and in turn inspired more Westerns, specifically Sergio Leone’s “A Man With No Name” movies with Clint Eastwood. Mifune’s samurai may be the iconic representation of the antihero that remains a popular character – for good or for ill – in Hollywood movies to this day.