Akira Kurosawa (Japan, 1961)
In one of his best-known roles, Toshiro Mifune plays the boisterous, bullying, amoral ronin (masterless samurai) who calls himself simply Sanjuro (“Thirty Years Old”). When Sanjuro wanders into a town terrorized by an ongoing war between two factions, he decides to make a fistful of ryo—and have a little fun—by cleaning up the place. Hiring himself first to one group, then the other, he eventually encourages them to kill each other off. Alluding to Japan’s own “gold rush” in the passing from feudal to capitalist society, Yojimbo was inspired by the American Western and combines its best elements—a remarkable authenticity, finely drawn characters, brilliant comedy, superb editing, and exquisite widescreen cinematography (by Kazuo Miyagawa). Akira Kurosawa makes extensive and surprising use of the telephoto lens, so that the most violent swordfights take on a rare intimacy, and the heroic/antiheroic figure of Sanjuro seems to expand absurdly to epic proportions.
• Written by Ryuzo Kikushima, Kurosawa. Photographed by Kazuo Miyagawa. With Toshiro Mifune, Eijiro Tono, Kamatari Fujiwara, Takashi Shimura. (110 mins, In Japanese with English subtitles, B&W, ’Scope, 35mm, From Janus/Criterion Collection)