Movies to Watch With Your Dad: Yojimbo
A mysterious wanderer walks into a near ghost town divided by two rival gangs and decides to play them off one another because, well, he doesn’t seem to have anything better to do. That’s the premise of Akira Kurosawa’s fabulous 1961 film Yojimbo.
The main character, played perfectly by Toshiro Mifune, is a ronin, a masterless samurai, who is left to wander the countryside. He happens to stumble into a seemingly empty town and learns from the local innkeeper that the town is divided into two factions, save the innkeeper himself and the coffin maker. He then decides to stay, much to the shock of the innkeeper, and pit both sides against each other.
Toshiro Mifune is typically known for his contributions to the samurai genre, but that shouldn’t downplay his masterful performance.If this plot sounds familiar, it’s because it is. Yojimbo is a loose adaptation of detective novelist Dashiell Hammet’s 1929 work Red Harvest. Yojimbo was also adapted by Sergio Leone into the Clint Eastwood classic A Fistful of Dollars (In fact, A Fistful of Dollar‘s premier was delayed when Kurosawa sued for breach of copyright. Kurosawa would win, resulting in him receiving 15% of the worldwide gross). It was also remade in 1996 by Walter Hill for the Bruce Willis action flick Last Man Standing.
So what makes this a good movie to watch with your Dad? I’ll start with the obvious: Samurai are cool. They just are. The sword, the outfit, the code of honor, just all of it. Not only that, but this Kurosawa’s bread and butter was samurai flicks. There is nothing quite like seeing a master of his art at the top of his game.
Speaking of Kurosawa, what makes his films stand out, and Yojimbo, in particular? One of the reasons is atmosphere. The man knew how to stage a scene to really bring the viewer into it. In Yojimbo, the ever present wind is as much a part of the set as are the buildings and props. The dust blows in the actors’ faces, which adds to the tenseness of each scene. Fun piece of trivia: Kurosawa actually had dirt and dust brought in by the truckload to blow across the set via wind machines.
Another reason is the performers. Toshiro Mifune is typically known for his contributions to the samurai genre, but that shouldn’t downplay his masterful performance. He starred in a handful of Kurosawa’s samurai flicks, including Seven Samurai, Rashomon and The Hidden Fortress, but Mifune was always a strong, reliable performer regardless of the genre. Check out his performance as a hot-headed young gangster with tuberculosis in 1948‘s underseen Drunken Angel.
Not to be outdone, the main villain Unosuke is played by Tatsuya Nakadai. Watch him while he seems to channel a serpent in his performance. Nakadia seethes with intensity as his gunfighter Unosuke stands coiled, waiting for his chance to strike the hero in the final showdown.
This is a great movie to throw in on a lazy afternoon with your Dad. Hell, make a whole day of it and throw in its sequel, 1962‘s Sanjuro, in which both Mifune and Nakadai star opposite one another again (while Mifune plays his same character, Nakadai appears as someone completely different). After that, you can discuss for yourselves why samurai are the coolest.