Wednesday, May 15, 2024

Kurosawa Watch: Yojimbo (1961)

Watched: 05/14/2023
Format:  Criterion
Viewing:  First
Director:  Akira Kurosawa

So, I've decided to finally watch (a) some Kurosawa and (b) some samurai movies.  

I'm always a little embarrassed by certain gaps in my film-watching, and this is certainly one of them.  I've only seen, I think, three Kurosawa movies, and none of them in this millennium.  It's been a while.   And I just never get around to any samurai movies in my every day life.  Which is bananas.  Samurai movies have more or less paved the way for a huge portion of modern pop culture, in dozens of ways - from Star Wars and the warrior priest Jedi to anime to the various codes even our antiheroes live by (see:  Le Samourai).  Heck, even Samurai Jack was clearly supposed to be a particular flavor of movie samurai dumped into the future.  I have thoughts of whether all of Cowboy Bebop exists because for some reason this Japanese Western has a jazz score.  

They're socially acceptable action movies amongst film snobs, which... I will have comment upon.  

Yojimbo, in particular, was of interest as I was well aware it was Leone's inspiration for For a Fistful of Dollars, released just three years later.  And I've loved me some Spaghetti Westerns since at least college (when Jamie and I started dating, I had a Man With No Name poster on my apartment wall).  But, of course, the similarities between Yojimbo and, at minimum, Dashiell Hammett's Red Harvest, are impossible to ignore.  There may be some Glass Key in there as well.  Which - go watch Miller's Crossing sometime and come back to me for your "compare and contrast" writing prompt.

It should be noted that learned people have disputed the Red Harvest claim, focusing on The Glass Key, to which I say "you're clearly wrong, my guy."

But credit where it's due:  Hammett may have created the (frankly, very good, very readable) books upon which Yojimbo is based, but I think Kurosawa was the one who wound up influencing film and made the concept part of the zeitgeist.

Let's just be super clear up front:  I loved this movie.  

I'm mad I put it off for so long.  I think I've watched every Godzilla movie at least once, and most of them twice, so subtitles and Toho are not a problem for me.  There is just not a good goddamn reason I put this off for so long, and now I'm going to drive everyone nuts by just watching samurai movies for a while, and you can all deal.

Sometimes you just come to a movie, and you say "every choice here is exactly right.  This is the way this story should be told.  This is the perfect way to shoot this.  The dialog is great.  The beats are dead on.  The score is nuts and *perfect*.  And the lead is the most charismatic SOB I've ever seen."  

By the way, for some reason in high school, I rented Kurosawa's Dreams even though I had no idea what it was, what it was about, who Akira Kurosawa was, etc...  It was in, and I judged a book by its cover.  I really need to see that again.  But what I recall is that the movie's visuals were almost overwhelming.  And I can't say enough for the work here.  Young film-makers go watch this.  Take note.  Watch how Kurosawa frames shots, uses levels, deploys the wind, shoots through obstacles.  How he doesn't linger on violence for violence's sake - when it happens its sudden, and brutal and - from our lead - lightning fast.  And then compare that to the first face-off we see between the rival factions.  

Ie:  Try to appreciate visual storytelling in film.

So what do you say about a movie that's more or less already universally loved?  

I dunno.  I'm kind of glad Jamie didn't watch it or I'd be competing with Toshiro Mifune now, and I am not winning that battle.  

Go watch this movie.  

Next up:  Sanjuro

1 comment:

RHPT said...

I can't believe they made a movie from a piece of software: