Friday, April 23, 2010

The World's Worst Bodyguard

Yojimbo (Japanese for "Bodyguard"), directed by Akira Kurosawa, starring Toshiro Mifune (1961): Yojimbo has been remade twice -- once as Sergio Leone's A Fistful of Dollars, starring Clint Eastwood; once as Walter Hill's Last Man Standing, starring Bruce Willis. The original pits a sardonic wandering samurai in 19th century Japan against an entire town of criminals who, through guile and swordplay, the samurai attempts to wipe out. It's interesting how the movie balances slapstick comedy with often portentous drama (wind, rain and fire are occasionally apocalyptic elements) in a way that's peculiar to Kurosawa.

It helps that Mifune's samurai occasionally looks weirdly like Bugs Bunny in a cartoon with a really high bodycount, with a couple of the more comic bad guys filling in for Elmer Fudd. This is pretty much essential viewing, and a much shorter go than Kurosawa's epic masterpiece The Seven Samurai. The translation occasionally slips into hilarity. In response to a dying gangster's "The gates of hell...I'll be waiting for you there!", the samurai exclaims, "What a guy!" I'm not sure why that's so funny, but it really is. Kurosawa's compositional skills amaze throughout, as does his ability to rapidly shift tone from comedy to tragedy. Followed by a sequel, Sanjuro. Highly recommended.

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