This semi-comic 1961 film by legendary director Akira Kurosawa (Rashomon, Ran) was inspired by the American Western genre. Kurosawa mainstay Toshirô Mifune (The Seven Samurai) plays a drifting samurai for hire who plays both ends against the middle with two warring factions, surviving on his wits and his ability to outrun his own bad luck. Eventually the samurai seeks to eliminate both sides for his own gain and to define his own sense of honor. Yojimbo is striking for its unorthodox treatment of violence and morality, reserving judgment on the actions of its main character and instead presenting an entertaining tale with humor and much visual excitement. One of the inspirations for the "spaghetti Westerns" of director Sergio Leone and later surfacing as a remake as Last Man Standing with Bruce Willis, this film offers insight into a director who influenced American films even as he was influenced by them. —Robert Lane
January 23, 2007
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My name is Marissa Persinger, I teach 5th grade at Eastbrook Elementary, and I teach the following: language arts, math, science, writing, health and art. I chose the movie Yojimbo based on the cover of the movie. The main character looked like one I had seen before in a Tom Cruise movie therefore I was interested. However, this movie is not appropriate for students below a high school level in my opinion.
The movie is one with a similar story line of a Clint Eastwood movie. However, in the Clint Eastwood version it is about gangs in Mexico. Yojimbo is a movie based off of gangs who are tormenting the town as they fight one another. If I were in a high school, I would use these two movies as a compare and contrast assignment. I would focus on the differences in cultures, language, appearances, towns, and weapons.
The movie shows how guns were not a main tool for the Asian gangs to use in their fights. Only one character has a gun showing how they rule the town the most with their quick ability to shoot anyone at a close range. The acting is not the best but for a film from 1971, what do you expect. Student’s will definitely get a laugh at some of the characters and their over exaggeration of the Asian characteristics.
I would use this movie to show the introduction as a way for students to see Asian credits and writing compared to an English movie. Before watching the movie, one should know you do have to turn the subtitles on to understand what is happening in the movie. The movie does not have a lot of blood. However, there is mention of prostitution, some cussing, and alcohol. Because of all of this you do need a mature audience who can handle the content of the video.
Film Review: Yojimbo Written and directed by Akira Kurosawa, copyright 1961 for Toho Studios
My name is Matthew Williams. This past fall (2015) I watched Akira Kurosawa’s Yojimbo for my NCTA seminar class at the University of Pittsburgh.
Before I get into my review I should provide a little background about me so that the perspective from which I am reviewing this movie is fully apparent - I am a ninth-grade World History I teacher at an all-girls Catholic high school in western Pennsylvania. At my school, World History I covers the contributions of global mankind from the Stone Age to approximately 1000 CE, with a major focus on the original river valley civilizations and some of the civilizations that sprang up near these origins, including Greece and Japan. Teaching at a single-ed private institution I am fully aware that my review and my ideas for how to utilize this material are somewhat different from many other educators. That said, hopefully my recommendations are still useful.
The easiest way to think about Kurosawa’s Yojimbo is to a) imagine any spaghetti western with Clint Eastwood and then, b) replace Clint Eastwood’s classic cowboy and the 1800s lawless ‘western’ backdrop with that of a samurai in a 1800s lawless Japanese village. The explanation for this is simple – director Sergio Leone’s 1964 film A Fistful of Dollars, starring Eastwood, is almost scene-for-scene a remake of Yojimbo.
Kurosawa’s film opens on the protagonist, a lone Samurai played by Toshiro Mifune, scratching himself with an almost comedic scowl across his face (while this is a film with deep meaning, clearly Kurosawa intends for the viewer to have some fun too). The lone samurai enters a town riddled with violence and instability resulting from a feud between two warring gangs. After initially wishing to keep traveling, the samurai decides to stay and hatches a plan to eliminate both gangs. The rest of the film follows the samurai as he puts his plan into action, which mainly involves getting both gangs to believe that he is actually on their side. Throughout, the characters are almost ridiculously one-dimensional – there is no gray area between good and bad – but the acting, storyline and soundtrack are superb. I found this movie to be really entertaining. It also provides an interesting explanation for the origin of plots and characters dreamt up by Westerners such as Leone and Tarantino.
As a potential resource in the ancient history classroom, Yojimbo strikes me as possibly useful but more easily disregarded. It is a movie that takes place in a different Japan than the one covered in early World History and as an example of Bushido or samurai culture it is spotty at best (the story involves the very non-Confucian, non-Bushido plot of a samurai deceiving his masters). There are simply too many other, far better resources for covering Japan. Yes, one can possibly get a sense of the functionality and strength of Japanese governance in the 1800s, but this is highly diffuse within the narrative and cannot be easily represented in one or even a few clips from the film.
Where this film would best fit is in a class on 20th century art or filmmaking, or even a class on global culture and the impacts of globalization. As stated above, the film has been highly influential of Western directors and screenwriters and therefore could provide a great example of the dialogue between Western and East Asian art/culture in the post-WWII era. Such a discussion could be especially impactful if a scene or scenes from Yojimbo were paired with related scenes in A Fistful of Dollars.
Film: Yojimbo. 4 stars for students 16+
Director: Akira Kurosawa
Veronica Kennedy, Middle School teacher, Winchester Thurston School.
Yojimbo was a film screened for my World Mythology class of 7th and 8th graders.
The film is part of the Samurai Trilogy of Director Kurosawa that is a wonderful example of cross cultural cross pollination. The film is heavily influenced by John Ford’s westerns, and was in turn the inspiration for the Spaghetti Westerns starring Clint Eastwood.
The movie was not a success with most of my students. While it has stood the test of time as a movie depicting the fate of the samurai who no longer has a lord to serve and is holding on to a vanishing way of life. The hero, whose name we actually never know, is the quintessential anti-hero who manages to have the “bad guys” destroy each other. An interesting interlude is the visit of an official who stays and consumes the community’s scarce resources, while contributing nothing.
The movie is suitable for college or high school, but fails to grab the 13 to 14 year old students. I believe that the pacing is slow for kids used to action sequences of great speed and lots of blood and gore. The movie also depicts a business with ladies of the night. There is no sex in the movie, and my students seemed oblivious as to what was being talked about, since the same family has a sake business. The interest in a way of life in a distant time and place is not strong and the movie elicits the “that is weird” comment frequently. We had interesting conversations about the difference in dress, food, social structure and political organization in Tokugawa Japan and how it changed in the Meiji Period.
The film is suitable for older high school and college students, and is a concrete example of samurai values in action. Yojimbo is of course great for adults