"Yojinbo", which hit the screens in 1961, is a period action movie directed by Akira KUOSAWA,. "TSUBAKI Sanjuro" is seen as its sequel.
A desolate post station in Joshu, where a strong, dry wind is blowing down from the snow-capped Mt. Akagi under a blue winter sky,
A wandering masterless samurai appears in a town disputed by two different yakuza (Japanese mafia) gangs.
He calls himself Sanjuro KUWABATAKE (Toshiro MIFUNE) and hires himself out as a bodyguard to both groups, but actually he is carefully plotting to set them against each other
However SHINDEN no Unosuke returns to the village with the air of a dandy.
KUROSAWA claims that "the greatest appeal of this movie (and the movie that is regarded as its sequel, TSUBAKI Sanjuro) is the unique personality of the main character Sanjuro, rather than the swordfight scenes". However, its innovative swordfight scenes (there are only around three important swordfight scenes in the movie) express a charm which should not be missed.
Swordfight plays in period dramas before this movie were an extension of conventional stage sword plays, such as those symbolized in Toei Company's movies. They were so called 'chanbara eiga' (the samurai film). KUROSAWA had been searching for a more realistic way to express swordfights (as seen in 'Rashomon', 'Seven Samurai', and 'Ketto Kagiya no Tsuji' (The Duel at the Key-Maker's Corner) for which he wrote the script), eliminating the element of dance performance which is impossible in a real fight. These pursuits of KUROSAWA came to fruition with "Yojinbo", a film which surprised people at the time..
In this film, using the effect of a telescopic lens, which KUROSAWA had used frequently since "Seven Samurai", effectively succeeds in highlighting the swordfight. The film beautifully embodies KUROSAWA's expressive technique while he is in his prime. Needless to say, Kazuo MIYAGAWA played a very important role in cinematography. However, the contribution of Takao SAITO cannot be overlooked even though his name was not included in the credit titles of the multicam method version of the film.
(The scenes shot by SAITO are used more in the completed piece.)
"Yojinbo" is largely influenced by hard-boiled action novels by Samuel Dashiell HAMMETT. When KUROSAWA was once asked, " Isn't Yojinbo actually Red Harvest?" he admitted, "Not only is it Red Harvest but I use HAMMETT's ideas so much that I should have really put his name in the credits."
(from the book, "Akira KUROSAWA talks")
The plot of this film involves a hero who happens to come into town, approaches two groups in conflict with each other to deceive and finally annihilates both of them and walks away, and this kind of plot is seen in other Toho films, although each with varying details to some degree. Examples of these include a gang action film 'Ankokugai no Taiketsu' (The Last Gunfight), directed by Kihachi OKAMOTO in 1960) which was released one year before "Yojinbo", and a gangster parody film 'Nippon-ichi no Yakuzaotoko' (1970, directed by Kengo FURUSAWA) which was released nine years after "Yojinbo" are other examples.
Although it is common practice nowadays, this was the first film to feature a fight sequence in which two samurai swung their swords down as they passed each other and then suddenly stopped moving as one of them collapsed to the ground and died, and the film also used sound effects to accompany the action in swordfights.
However, as this was the first trial, the volume of these sound effects was lower than in 'TSUBAKI Sanjuro'.
The Venice International Film Festival (1961) Best Actor Award: Toshiro MIFUNE
Blue Ribbon Awards (1961) Best Actor Award: Toshiro MIFUNE
Blue Ribbon Awards (1961) Best Music Award: Masaru SATO
Blue Ribbon Awards (1961) Special Award: Toshiro MIFUNE (for his international success)
Yojinbo' by other directors
Daiei Motion Pictures produced a movie, "Zatoichi to Yojinbo"(Zatoichi and a Bodyguard, directed by Kihachi OKAMOTO in 1970) in which Shintaro KATSU played the lead and Toshiro MIFUNE appeared in it as a bodyguard dressed in a similar way as he was in "Yojinbo." It was a project designed to set up a confrontation between two popular characters of the time, Zatoichi and Yojinbo. However the name of the character Toshiro MIFUNE played, Daisaku SASA, was different to the one he played in "Yojinbo", and their personalities were also very different. Fukuzo KOIZUMI and Takao SAITO were the cameramen for "TSUBAKI Sanjuro", whereas for "Zatoichi to Yojinbo" the camerawork was done by Kazuo MIYAGAWA, as it was in "Yojinbo." In the same year as "Zatoichi to Yojinbo", the film "Machibuse" (Ambush) was released (1970, produced by Mifune Production, distributed by Toho and directed by Hiroshi INAGAKI), co-starring the five big-stars Toshiro MIFUNE, Shintaro KATSU, Yujiro ISHIHARA, Kinnosuke NAKAMURA and Ruriko ASAOKA. In this film MIFUNE plays a nameless bodyguard (in the film he says he forgot his name while wandering around various countries). In addition, Ryu KUZE, Masaru SATO and Hideo OGUNI (who wrote the screenplay for "TSUBAKI Sanjuro") worked on this film. SATO composed the film's theme song, which is very reminiscent of the music used in "Yojinbo."
MIFUNE played a member of a Japanese mission in the French film "Red Sun" directed by Terence YOUNG in 1971. The plot revolves around how thieves on a train steal a treasured sword that was to be presented to the president and the subsequent attempt to track the thieves down. Throughout the film there are scenes reminiscent of KUROSAWA's "Yojinbo".
Later "Yojinbo" was remade in Italy as "A Fistful of Dollars " (directed by Sergio LEONE in 1964). The movie received a favorable reception from KUROSAWA and raised Clint Eastwood's profile. However, it was adapted without permission so Toho filed suit against LEONE and others, and won the case.
In the US, Walter HILL adapted and remade "Yojinbo" as "Last Man Standing" in 1996. As in "Red Harvest" by HAMMETT, there are monologs by the main character throughout the movie. Bruce WILLIS plays as a character called John SMITH, which suggests it was a false name as Sanjuro was. The adversary corresponding to Unosuke was played by Christopher WALKEN. On November 15, 1998, two months after KUROSAWA's death, "Last Man Standing " was broadcast terrestrially for the first time on "Nichiyo Yoga Gekijo" (Sunday Western Film Theater) of TV Asahi. Nagaharu YODOGAWA, who was a good friend of KUROSAWA, made his final commentary during this broadcast.
The American movie "The Bodyguard" is not a remake of "Yojinbo." However, in the movie the hero and heroine watch "Yojinbo" in a cinema, and a scene from "Yojinbo" is directly employed in the movie. The title of the movie, "The Bodyguard" was also the English title for "Yojinbo" when it was released in the US. Homage to KUROSAWA films including "Yojinbo" can be seen throughout this film.