Yojimbo (1961) & A Fistful of Dollars (1964)
Sergio Leone, an Italian director known for his beautiful and vivid westerns, brings to life A Fistful of Dollars (1964). The films A Fistful of Dollars and Yojimbo (1961) are similar not only in the realm of cinematography, and extra- diegetic sound, but also in the domain of mise-en-scene and movement (a subdomain of mise-en-scene). Sergio Leone shot A Fistful of Dollars mimicking the shots and plot line of Akira Kurosawa’s Yojimbo.
The framing of the hero in both expositions are the same. Both heroes are adorned in their own specific cultural attire for the time period and setting. Eastwood’s character is dressed in a poncho, topped with a tilted cowboy hat while riding his horse in his nonchalant, taciturn manner and Mifune’s character is framed in the same central position with his back turned as Eastwood’s character in the exposition but with a Kimono and a luring pony-tail. Not only are the expositions similar in framing, but also they establish the setting in the same manner. In A Fistful of Dollars, Eastwood’s character (Joe) is riding into a desert mountainside with his back facing the 4th wall (the screen). In Yojimbo, Mifune’s character (Sanjuro) walks toward a field of tall grasses and the Japanese mountains. Both films introduce the characters and setting in the same way.
The similarities are even more apparent in terms of the props used. Both films have a westernized theme and the use of dust clouds bellowing from the left of the screen to the right of the screen adds to the cliché spaghetti western effect when introducing an essential character in a scene. The use of dust adds mystery and suspense to a shot because it raises suspicion for what lies behind the thick air. Also another similarity between the two films is the symbolism of death when both characters enter town. In Yojimbo the prop used to symbolize death is a severed human hand that a dog has firmly between his jaws. However, a clever spinoff of this symbolism manifests itself in A Fistful of Dollars by the use of a noose hanging from a tree.
Space and position are also similar in both films; whenever the hero of either film is threatened it is almost always because they are surrounded by the “bad guys”.
Another similarity between both films is lighting. In Kurosawa’s Yojimbo, low-key lighting and high-contrast lighting give the film a film noir feel. A shot that uses low- key lighting in Yojimbo, is when the inn owner and Sanjuro are indoors. The inn owner carries a deep shadow making his face darker and heavier while Sanjuro keeps a light and bright face. In A Fistful of Dollars, light and shadow are also heavily played with by the use of low-key and high-contrast lighting as well.
Despite the difference in genre (which could be debated even further), Sergio Leone’s A Fistful of Dollars drew upon many elements from Akira Kurosawa’s Yojimbo in the realm of mise-en-scene and beyond.