This is one of a series of notes for A Chronological Biography of Akira Kurosawa.
Yojimbo tells the story of a ronin, Sanjuro, who comes across a little town that is terrorized by two warring gangs who inhabit the hamlet. The two opposing forces are constantly at war because both sides are too afraid to kill the other off. Sanjuro sees that the town is completely ravaged. Although they are afraid of each other, the gangs have no qualms in regard to abusing the residents of the town. Sanjuro's plan; bring peace to the town by killing off the gangs entirely.
Sanjuro shows the gang members his prowess with the sword by lopping off an arm or two, and then offers himself as a bodyguard to the highest bidder. Playing the two gangs against each other, Sanjuro forces the issue of a showdown, and this almost happens until a wild card is thrown into the game. One of the gang leaders' son returns from a long journey. He is wise, cunning, and he has a gun.
To accomplish what he has set out to do, Sanjuro has to go even further into the role of the bodyguard. Walking a razor's edge he becomes very deceitful, and in rescuing a woman held against her will by a gang boss, his motives are exposed. Sanjuro is severly beaten but escapes. While recuperating, he discovers the kind old man whom he trusted throughout the film is being beaten to give Sanjuro's whereabouts. Sanjuro returns to the town to finish off the rest of the gang members and rescue the old man.
This sequence is truly amazing. Toshiro Mifune, playing Sanjuro, performs the most extraordinary sequence of kenjutsu (sword arts) on film. I have not seen the movie in some time but as I remember it, he "kills" twelve opponents in 17 seconds. If the film is run at 1/4 speed and one examines the sequence, each cut (kiri) and transitions all make classical sense.
Upon seeing the last villain die, Sanjuro says: "Now this town can have some peace and quiet." And he walks aimlessly into the distance.
This film was so popular that it was remade into Sergio Leone's, "A Fistfull of Dollars" in 1966, the spaghetti western that was Clint Eastwood's star vehicle. And recently, Yojimbo has been remade by an American production company into, Last Man Standing, with Bruce Willis.
Title: Yojimbo (The Bodyguard)
Original Title in Japanese: Yojimbo
Running Time: 110 min
Company: Kurosawa Productions - Toho
Writer(s): Ryuzo Kikushima, Akira Kurosawa
Director of Photography: Kazuo Miyagawa
Production Designer: Yoshiro Muraki
Music: Masaru Sato
Toshiro Mifune (Sanjuro Kuwabatake), Tatsuya Nakagai (Unosuke), Eijiro Tohno (Gon-jii)