Analysis of Yojimbo

Akira Kurosawa’s Yojimbo exemplifies a Japanese take on an American Western film.

The film relies heavily on natural lighting and fog machines to create the look of a dusty “Western” Japanese village. Nearly everything shown on-screen takes place in the village, however the setting is not very important; the same action could have occurred in any Japanese village. Typical of the Western genre, the village is constructed almost entirely out of wood, and the roads are made of dirt.

The use of costumes in Yojimbo distinguished the rich from the poor—the powerful from the powerless. The traveling samurai stood out from everyone else because of his costume—a solid navy or black robe with a white floral pattern. The women all wore kimonos and the men all wore either robes or some sort of working man’s getup. Everyone had long hair, and everyone tied his/her hair in a bun of some sort. Seibê (the brother operator)’s wife held great power in the film which reflected in her very intricate and expensive-looking kimono.

The film made great use of long shots. Nearly every shot in the film was a long shot; there were very few, if any, short shots, and montage was very sparingly used. I think the use of long shots in the film made the action in the film feel very slow and drawn-out rather than fast-paced. Much of the film’s plot consisted of the samurai waiting in the old man’s house while eating or the samurai waiting in some other location engaging in dialogue or eavesdropping on others’ dialogue. Long shots helped fill time, I suppose, but they made for a boring viewing experience (at least in my opinion).

The makeup on the men seemed very minimal or non-existent except for the obvious bloody and bruised make-up looks. The women wore very minimal makeup as well.

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4 thoughts on “Analysis of Yojimbo

  1. I found that long shots helped make more more dynamic images. The shots often feature multiple things going on at once that offers a contrast I greatly admired. Rather than watching small quarrels going on in the town, we watch Sanjuro view it and see his reactions. Not only does this give us an insight into what he feels, it also helps develop his character. His calm reactions show how confident and reserved he is. Other long shots have this same effect, including the famous scene of Sanjuro up on his perch viewing the chaos with a smile on his face. I agree that certain scenes can seem dragged out, but I’m not sure if that is due to the fact that they are often long shots. A well composed long shot can create a very interesting dynamic range.
    Also, when a director is heavy handed with his long shots, the less frequent close up holds a more dramatic effect. You’ll notice that close ups are used in more stressful scenes including just before a duel, during serious dialogue, or when a character is desperate. The more obvious use of this is when Sanjuro is badly beaten and trying to crawl away from his captors. Close ups, unlike the way Kurosawa filmed many other sequences, are quite plentiful in this scene. Because of this, we get a better sense of how desperate he is due to his facial expressions and makeup.
    All-in-all, I really admire the way Kurosawa builds suspense and makes his shots interesting. The staging is a good example of effective mise-en-scene.

  2. I agree in that the makeup was rather subtle. I am not sure as to whether there was little to no makeup used on many of the characters, but instead think that the makeup was so well done that it is almost unnoticeable. That being said, the makeup also seemed quite simple–when Sanjuro is badly beaten, there is only a few drops of blood and a bruise on his eye.

    As for the proliferation of long shots that you mentioned, I have to disagree with you and agree with the first commenter in some respects; the close-up is used rather frequently, especially in the scenes when Sanjuro is bloodied and trying to escape, as mentioned above. The subtlety of Mifune’s performance is enhanced by the close-up. Without the close-up, we would not have much access to much of Sanjuro’s feelings and thoughts, since Mifune’s acting is so reserved.

  3. You are absolutely right when you write about how the broadness of the story can allow for the film to take place in any town. The setting is not restrictive to a certain place; it could be anywhere. What this means is that the storyline is not restricted to just be used for this film. The story send one theme to the audience, and as long as that theme is the same, all of the elements of the mise en scene could be changed, and the story would stay the same. This is evident in A Fistful of Dollars as Leonne uses different aspects of mise en scene to create an entirely different movie. The two contrasting styles of each respective director work differently to tell the same story, even though the mise en scene disguises that.

  4. The setting definitely did play an important part in the story, as well as the relation to Western movies. Every western movie seems to have that town where the story takes place- especially during the stand offs at the end of the movies. The same holds true for Yojimbo; although the buildings look different because of the different part of the world, it still had the same idea of a central place for a fight scene. As you mention how the social statuses are distinguished through costumes, maintaining a high status is a central motif throughout the movie. Between the devastation of the silk factory and sake barrels and the recurring demand to kill men in order to be a ruler, one can see that status is very important in this Japanese film.

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