Friday, August 12, 2005

"Yojimbo" by Akira Kurosawa

Kurosawa made so many heavyweight groundbreakers that some might relegate "Yojimbo" to the "lightweight" division, but that would be in gross error. The depth of this picture never ceases to amaze me every time I view it.

"Yojimbo" is an enormously entertaining samurai movie, in which rivaling swordsmen (thugs, basically) chop each other away just to survive. But within this amoral Western-frontier-in-Asia setting, serious moral stitches keep all the fabrics together to produce a magnificent cinematic tapestry.

Toshiro Mifune plays a nameless (he literally invents his own name halfway through the film) master samurai who originally starts out simply wanting to con a couple of small-time gang bosses into paying him to kill their enemies. Rest assured that Kurosawa would not serve us a simple dish; in fact, several intricately-woven delicious side tales are told along with the main samurai yarn, which I won't reveal here. There are plenty of supporting characters in "Yojimbo", all of whom are given full portraiture by Kurosawa. Kurosawa did not put a face on screen just to have him say a few lines and disappear. In "Yojimbo", even a coffin maker, a prostitute, and a village fool play pivotal dramatic functions to advance the complex plot.

I watched this movie with my parents whose first language is Japanese (they grew up in Japanese-occupied Taiwan and had a Japanese education); every day, both of them watch numerous hours of Japanese TV shows aired on a local station here in Orange County, California, and yet I was surprised when they told me because the script was written in an archaic Japanese language they only managed to understand less than 80% of the dialogs.

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