Yojimbo (Day 33)


My Opinion: 6.3 || A Japanese “western” directed with all the skill you’d expect from Kurosawa. Toshirô Mifune carries the movie as the samurai Sanjuro, and he needs to because several of the other performances are less strong. It’s a great, archetypal set-up, but the warring parties that Sanjuro stands between are not very well differentiated, which occasionally deprives the movie of narrative tension. It’s a good movie, but not nearly as strong as Kurosowa’s best.

TITLE: Yojimbo
DIRECTOR:  Akira Kurosawa
LANGUAGE: Japanese | COUNTRY:  Japan
YEAR: 1961
PROFILE: Action, Drama | 110 minutes | IMDb (8.4)

SYNOPSIS (Courtesy of IMDb): A crafty ronin comes to a town divided by two criminal gangs and decides to play them against each other to free the town.


Strengths: The story concept is very good, and Kurosawa creates a nice frontier-town atmosphere. Great framing and composition in many shots. The best thing he does, though, is just aim the camera at Toshirô Mifune, who gamely charismas his way through every scene.

Weaknesses: It’s a premise that feels timeless: wandering samurai frees a town from the grip of warring gangsters by expertly setting them against each other. But the story never goes very far beyond that strong premise and remains pretty pulpy throughout. The bad guys are largely interchangeable, and the conflict between the warring gambling houses is fairly boring, with twists and turns that carry little weight.


We want Sanjuro to free the town of their grip, but Kurosowa is not really committed to depicting the townspeople, so there’s not a lot at stake emotionally. And of course the gambling dens don’t exist without gamblers (in other words, presumably, the townspeople themselves).

At the mid-point, we get the story of a woman who has become an innocent victim of the gamblers. But the story appears out of nowhere, which makes it come off as a plot contrivance — and then once they’ve served their narrative purpose, Kurosawa abandons them.

Characters/Performances: Aside from Mifune, no one does anything much to rise above the material.

File Under: samurai, western, crime