Yojimbo (1961), directed by Akira Kurosawa.
Another film that stumped nearly everyone at our film quiz last Monday was the samurai classic, Yojimbo. The question was in relation to the fact that Sergio Leone’s classic spaghetti western is an unofficial remake of this film – a fact that no-one seemed to know.
Wide and low-angle shots showing just the head and torso of the protagonist – the famous Man With No Name – is just the beginning of all the possible points of comparison, not least of all being the plot. The Man With No Name (so-called, not necessarily because he remains nameless, so much as because he enters the site of action as an outsider, unrecognised and mistrusted; his past and origins a mystery; his intentions unknown), a ronin called Sanjuro (in Dollars called Joe) enters a town divided by, and in the clutches of, two rival gangs.
He quickly assesses the situation and decides the town would be better off if both gangs were wiped out.
To this end he hires himself out as a master swordsman, first to the leader of one gang and then, later, to the other, all the while manipulating both and causing fatalities on both sides until, ultimately, he is the last one standing, leaving the town free.
Beautiful cinematography, music and mise-en-scene mark this as one of Kurosawa’s finest achievements and amongst his most influential films. But it is also not surprising that it led to the fantastic homage that is A Fistful of Dollars. In fact, Kurosawa himself was much influenced by American cinema and was particularly taken with westerns as a genre, a fact that is obvious in Yojimbo. So really, Sergio Leone just brings the whole thing full circle from western gunslinger to Japanese ronin to western gunslinger: Hamburger western to udon western to spaghetti western.
posted by Dixie Turner