Week 5 Blog Post

Yojimbo and A Fistful of Dollars  

In terms of mise-en-scene, Kurosawa’s Yojimbo and Leone’s A Fistful of Dollars have unique aspects that further enhance each film. Particularly, they both put great significance onto certain props used by the characters. In the beginning of each film, the protagonist of Yojimbo uses a toothpick while the protagonist of A Fistful of Dollars uses a cigar. Essentially, both props carry the same meaning in which they represent each character’s calm demeanor and confidence in the face of danger and chaos.

Both films also gave deep significance and theme to weapons.  In Yojimbo, the theme resided in blade versus pistol and in a Fistful of Dollars, it resided over pistol versus rifle. In either case, the antagonist carried the more powerful weapon while the protagonist carried the considerably weaker one. Similar to the cigar and toothpick, both movies gave the same motif; although the antagonist’s weapon was more powerful, it was the hero’s skill that prevailed in the end as the true strength. In terms of the audience, these props gave the effect that the hero was at a disadvantage and therefore added more suspense to the scenes, especially the western showdowns that each director conveyed.

An interesting observation I made was the effects that using a natural setting entailed. In both films, the wind is a noticeable factor due to the fact that most of the action takes place outside. Whether it was the leaves dancing in the wind (Yojimbo) or the sand creating a blurry storm (Fistful of Dollars), it gave the scenes depth and even a sense of mystery such as in the case of Clint Eastwood’s character appearing from the sand storm in one shot.

Focusing solely on Yojimbo, another observation I made was that as the plot heightened, the set became more chaotic. By the showdown, the town of Yojimbo was in ruins due to the conflict between the gangs. A great technique by Kurosawa, it unified the setting with the story of the film. The most interesting shot in either film for me, however, was a shot in Yojimbo immediately after the gangs’ first encounter. In the shot, we see the two mob bosses face to face and Sanjuro is between them high above standing on a ladder. I found this to be one of the most powerful shots in the whole movie, especially in regards to mise-en-scene, because it showed Sanjuro’s power and manipulation over the two mod bosses at that moment. He was the one that manipulated them into fighting (or at least attempting to fight) in the first place. In this particular shot, I viewed Sanjuro as the puppeteer and the bosses as his puppets. Ultimately, through admiration for mise-en-scene, both directors were able to make visually brilliant movie experiences.

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2 thoughts on “Week 5 Blog Post

  1. You have lots of awesome observations about these films! I also noticed the heavy influence of the weapon theme in both films. Specifically in Yojimbo, the contrast of the gun with all of the samurai swords really stood out to me. In some ways, it seemed very out of place; on the contrary though, it was obviously a way of paying homage to the American Western, so it made sense, but you make a good point about it being an antagonist advantage/protagonist disadvantage element as well.
    I also really agree with your observation of the unity Kurosawa created by making the set look less controlled as we got closer to the big fight scene. It really emphasizes how all of the things we are learning, such as elements of narrative and mise-en-scene all tie together to create a film experience for an audience that we can connect with both emotionally and logically.

  2. I never really thought about the whole toothpick versus cigar thing, but you are absolutely right when you say how it shows the calm personality of each of the main characters. But beyond that, it establishes each main character from the start as one with a dark past, as someone who is extremely mysterious. But beyond the props that parallel each other, like the guns versus swords, there were other aspects of the mise en scene in each film that both paralleled and contrasted the other film. For example, the set design was much more over the top in A Fistful of Dollars, being a spaghetti western. Also being a black and white film, Yojimbo seemed to me to play with shadows and fog and other film noir-esque aspects of mise en scene, while A Fistful of Dollars was less about that, and more about its action sequences.

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