Blog Post Week 5

I think that using Yojimbo and A Fistful of Dollars parallel to one another to talk about mise-en-scene is perfect. Both movies tell the exact same story and yet they are two different, standalone films, each with a different feel.
Yojimbo was obviously directed and acted in by people of Japanese descent, but this heritage was also reflected in hairstyle, clothing, makeup, architecture and stylization of fight scenes. A Fistful of Dollars, a work done by many people of different ethnic backgrounds, didn’t have such a clear-cut nation in which it was rooted. Though the buildings and layout of the town were indicative of Western America, the actors, names and some of the costuming also had very Hispanic or Mexican tones as well.
Kurosawa really made use of light to create contrasts and shadows in different areas of his film. Two of the most important uses were really in the same scene: when the Samurai sees the unlocked chest and when he crawls under the staircase a minute or two later. Light shines from his face to the broken lock and when we follow his gaze, it gives a perfect line showing both the audience and the character what is going to happen next. This is an example of props creating cause for something to occur, which drives the plot of the film. Also, when he is under the stairs, low-key lighting is used to allow us to barely see the Samurai; we can see the outline/shadow of his body, but we can’t get a clear image of him. This also contributes to the mood of the moment, because as he is running around in the dark (and we can barely see him), it heightens our sense of confusion and urgency.
Something I did note, though it’s more a point about narrative than anything else, is that in both films, neither of the lead males ever have or ever get a love interest. It’s so rare to see a movie like that now that I wonder if love-related subplots are something we’ve been conditioned to expect in film as a whole.
For some reason, I had a lot of trouble connecting with Yojimbo. Though I found that I could pick out elements of mise-en-scene, it was hard to emotionally and logically follow the story. What were the Samurai’s motives? Who was he actually loyal to? I just found the storytelling to be lacking a little in Yojimbo, whereas I was more easily able to follow A Fistful of Dollars.

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4 thoughts on “Blog Post Week 5

  1. I agree, but I also find it ironic that you found A Fistful of Dollars easier to follow. We saw the entire movie of Yojimbo and only clips of A Fistful of Dollars. This further proves how much more of a narrative film A Fistful of Dollars is. I also agree with your idea that these two movies are perfect to compare. The story is almost identical but using mise-en-scene elements – such as lighting, costume, and dialogue – they are two completely different films. The culture of each movie was clearly illustrated through the setting and the costumes. I found that once I learned about the roles that lighting and sound play in a movie it was easier to notice such devices. The lighting you pointed out in Yojimbo when the Samurai sees the chest was the most memorable for me as well and the director did a great job with this scene.

  2. While the movies were extremely similar (some would argue almost completely identical) there was definite difference in the way the lead characters were portrayed. One such example is the scene you touched on when the lead is being held captive after being badly beaten. In Yojimbo, he can barely stand, and is pretty much helpless throughout his entire escape. In A Fistful of Dollars, you can see the influence that the American ideal of a hero has on the characters actions and capabilities. Even though he was badly beaten, Joe still seems to be in control of his situation, pushing down the barrel and setting a fire to aid in his escape. It seem that the actual Western version was more conventional whereas Yojimbo played more with the idea of not having a completely in-control protagonist.

  3. Although the two movies tell a story in different ways, one could argue that they get the very same points across. Although Yojimbo is Japanese, it presents some elements of the Western identically and maybe even better than does A Fistful of Dollars. The battles in Yojimbo, although fought by swordsmen, are staged like Western standoffs (the epic stare-down in the beginning, one team on one side, the other on the other side, never displayed in the same shot, etc.) In my opinion, I think the setting of either film is of little importance, because the story is timeless. If it wasn’t, it would not be able to be portrayed across countries, cultures, and eras as it is.

    As for the trouble you had connecting with Yojimbo, I agree with you. Maybe it is because we are not entirely used to films of the era, AND the fact that the film is Japanese, so we have trouble pinpointing the theme of the story and the motives of characters, but nevertheless, it was a tough story to connect with for the most part.

  4. I agree with all of this: “For some reason, I had a lot of trouble connecting with Yojimbo. Though I found that I could pick out elements of mise-en-scene, it was hard to emotionally and logically follow the story. What were the Samurai’s motives? Who was he actually loyal to? I just found the storytelling to be lacking a little in Yojimbo.”

    I agree 100%. Why was the samurai even in that town in the first place? What was he doing? Was he supposed to represent a hero figure? But no one regarded him as such, and this isn’t a superhero movie, so what gives? Why was he helping those people whom he has never met before? Did he have nothing more important to do? Was he just a drifter? Why did he feel the need to mindlessly kill three men right when he arrived? He’s clearly no hero.. just some random dude doing random things in a random town. Are the main characters in Westerns supposed to have no back story? (I’m not familiar with Westerns much because I dislike the genre).

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