Week 5 Blog Assignment

Yojimbo, directed by famous Japanese director Kurasawa, takes elements of various film styles and weaves them together in a narrative that is both traditional yet distinctly influenced by American Westerns. This movie also inspired the American film A Fistful of Dollars, which starred Clint Eastwood and followed the original plot closely.

It is obvious when watching Yojimbo that there is much influence from the American Western genre of film. A mysterious stranger arrives in a lawless town, only to become entangled in their affairs. He seems to have a chip on his shoulder and has no qualms about killing anyone who gets in his way. The lighting is used to flatten the landscape, creating a feeling of desolation. Also, while the costumes, names, and language were completely Japanese, the dialogue was translated into the English generally used by those in the Texas/Mexico territory around the “Western era.” This was evidenced by the presence of casual words like “ain’t” and “guy.”

While Yojimbo and A Fistful of Dollars shared an almost identical storyline and screenplay (save for the costumes, setting, and implicit culture differences) there was one aspect that struck me when comparing the two films. The main character in Yojimbo, while not a bad guy, was not a good guy by any means. He didn’t even really fit into the mold of the reluctant anti-hero. He seemed all to eager to practically tear down an entire village, and had no real reason for staying and wreaking the havoc that he did. He was honestly the lesser of three evils. Even in his grand moment of heroism (saving the man’s wife) he seems not to do it out of compassion, but merely out of convenience. He doesn’t end up liberating the village, just practically demolishing it.

This seems to be less of the case in A Fistful of Dollars. This may be due to the American expectation of a redeemable main character that one can ultimately root for and tie to the greater good. The way the main character is presented, you feel more like he is intentionally doing good as opposed to doing it out of his own search for a good fight. As stated earlier, this may be due to the fact that the American audience responds well to heroes and selflessness.

One major character similarity, though, was the apparent disregard and unimportance of money to both main characters, which I believe speaks more deeply about both characters than much of their actions.

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4 thoughts on “Week 5 Blog Assignment

  1. Yojimbo and classic Spaghetti Westerns are highly similar, and in some instances, shot for shot similar, but the misconception we are all guilty of is that Yojimbo is influenced by Spaghetti Westerns. It took a good couple minutes of scouring Wikipedia (Am I allowed to admit to using that?) to find that Yojimbo actually predates most American/Italian Westerns, and everything by Sergio Leone, who was “inspired” by Akira Kurasawa. Which is actually weird to think about, that the “American Westerns” we know were made by Italians imitating the Japanese.

    That out of the way, the protagonist of Yojimbo was much more chaotic than Clint. He only really seems to desire destruction. When he saved the wife of that villager, I think he only did it so that he could use her freedom to pit the two gangs against each other even further, and cause more destruction. He didn’t even want anything material from it, just to watch the carnage. And leave before the cleanup. Some men just want to watch the world burn, I suppose.

  2. That is a very interesting analysis of the “lesser of three evils” and I completely agree. In American cinema, the audience always wants a good guy and someone to root for but maybe that is not the case in Japanese cinema. Somehow they were able to make you side with a bad person as a main character and that was somehow the person you wanted to come out on top. Maybe this is a testament to the culture themselves. Maybe in American culture we always want a flawless main character because American culture is a lot less disciplined than Japanese culture. Our lives are a lot more in limbo and less structured and maybe in Japanese culture they idolize the non-conformist that is okay with being a bad guy.

  3. I completely agree with the idea that the main protagonist of Yojimbo wasn’t even exactly a typical “hero”: rather, “the lesser of three evils”. He does basically ending up destroying the entire village; but simultaneously, I also find that he liberates it. This poses a question though – is the price of demolishing the village a worthy price to pay to purge it of its evils? Does the protagonist believe this to be true – and thus, does he act accordingly throughout the film? Or is he simply as reckless as the result of his actions present him to be, at face-value, simply living to raise hell?
    I also find that the reason for the main character’s rather ambiguously-portrayed sense of morality and identity stems from his symbolization as a very mysterious, abstract figure. His story has no pinpointed beginning and no certain end (as conveyed through his open-ended walking into the sunset at the end of the film); he is basically a free-floating entity, and his actions and purpose are all, gloriously, his own.

  4. It is interesting that you compared the main characters in both movies because it was something that I never thought of when looking at both Sanjuro and the cowboy. I agree that you couldn’t consider Sanjuro much of a hero. He acted like killing people wasn’t a big deal to him, and he would kill when it was convenient to him. As for saving the man and his family, I think there was some small act of compassion that he felt when he saw the wife being ripped away from her child. However, I think this would evoke some sort of sorrow from everyone, even if they are a criminal. As for A Fistful of Dollars, I think that most American films have a hero in them. Watching this movie was a good example of one, because he has a purpose his thoughts and actions, as opposed to Sanjuro who acts out of personal self-interest.

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