Yojimbo (1961)

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“A movie that is both a wow of a show and a masterpiece of misanthropy”

Time Magazine

Once again, Kurosawa demonstrated his love for the Hollywood Western with this archetypical story of a lonely warrior who arrives in a lawless township. In hundreds of Westerns, this character would be ‘the fastest gun’, but Sanjuro, the character Toshiro Mifune so engagingly plays here, would be better described as ‘the swiftest swordsman’. The people in this particular town are far from law-abiding. They consist of two rival gangs, each one as bad as the other, and a few honest citizens simply trying to get along. When Sanjuro arrives he quickly demonstrates his expertise with the sword so that each side is eager to hire him. The main difference between Mifune’s character and that of Western heroes like Gary Cooper or Alan Ladd is that Yojimbo is a mercenary – he’s in it for the money.

If the plot sounds familiar it’s because, just three years later in 1964, Sergio Leone ‘borrowed’ it (without acknowledgment) for the first of his celebrated Clint Eastwood Westerns, Per un pugno de dollari (A Fistful of Dollars). A comparison of key scenes from the two films will show that Leone followed Kurosawa pretty faithfully, including inserting some of the smaller details. Yojimbo was so successful that Kurosawa made a sequel, Sanjuro, the following year.

Supported by The Japan Foundation