Week 5 Blog Assignment

Through mise-en-scene, Yojimbo utilizes different techniques and aspects that enhance the film’s plot and characters.

Despite the feudal Japan style of clothing and costumes, Yojimbo is very much a Japanese presentation of western films, which is easily seen through from the beginning shots: A lone samurai(gunslinger) walking into a town that’s a brewing with trouble. In fact several scenes exemplify this. Before the onset of trouble and conflict, a very visible wind that throws up dust is reminiscent of the western tumbleweed that almost always is present in conflict. Also, the silent standoff between foes is another aspect that is seen in the battles in the film.

Lighting in film accentuates the mood. As seen in Sanjuro’s escape sequence, the lighting is very dim and sidelights are used to emphasize his mangled face and worn clothing. Low key lights can be seen in how the shadows highly contrast with the characters in order to portray the feel of tension and suspense, especially in Sanjuro’s case. The scene in the beginning where Sanjuro first meets and converses with the barkeeper in the tavern used lighting extensively and skillfully. Here lighting is rather dim to give a dreary and dreadful first feeling of the town, even more so when the camera pans to the weary looking villagers and their confines. Lighting is also in the form of backlights that feature Sanjuro’s and the Barkeeper’s silhouettes with the key light source the light that peers in from the cracks between boards. In fact, lighting is used in general through the entirety of the film to play off the dreadful crooked nature of the town.

Makeup also plays of the dreadful nature, as the common villagers would often have dark bags under their eyes in order to emphasize their pitiful situation, whereas the gang members had a more clean look to show their power and status that would get sullied only when major conflict arose.

The setting clearly showed the dreary nature and heightening of conflict through its desolate and empty look that only got worse and decorated by debris and the dead later in the film.

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7 thoughts on “Week 5 Blog Assignment

  1. That is a very interesting comparison you made with the American Western. I too saw so many similarities, especially in the opening sequence. I cannot even count the amount of Westerns that begin with a mysterious, roaming character. His back to the camera only enhances this effect. Another aspect is how the setting creates this desert-like feel. The town seems in the middle of nowhere. We get this sense that there is no other civilization for miles on all sides (which may not be the case in terms of the actual location of where this was shot). This is common in the Western. Towns often seem small, while landscapes seem grand and massive. This can be used to portray a sense of no escape from wherever the action is taking place.
    Another thing you mentioned was the silent standoffs. The tension between the characters before the fight is long and drawn out. This type of suspense is classic and is followed followed by an extremely short duel. The suspense lies among the moments leading up to the action, not with the action itself. Sergio Leone takes this to even greater extents in all three films of his “Man With No Name” trilogy. The only thing missing from these duels are actual guns, which are easily replaced with Sanjuro’s sword. With quick editing, the action can seem as fast as a gun fight. Kurosawa shows that a Western is a style more than a genre. It can be accomplished in any format.

  2. I definitely agree with what you’re saying about makeup and lighting in Sanjuro’s escape sequence. His makeup really did accentuate his current situation and emotions and effectively dramatized the scene. The lighting was also very crucial here and the use of sidelights was extremely important in terms of shadows and drama added to his expressions. The part when he is hiding and the light is only on half of his face did a fantastic job of emphasizing that half of his face looked somewhat okay and the other half was completely mangled! The lighting also did a good job of making the town appear dreary and rundown with low key lighting and lots of play on shadows. Overall, especially because the film is black and white, I think that the lighting and shadows played a huge part in the mise-en-scene of this film and were very important to the emotions that were conveyed to the viewers.

  3. I agree with you when you are talking about the lighting from the film. One thing I noticed especially about the lighting is that it is used to somewhat deliver hope and positivity while the darkness is, well, dark. On the scene where the Samurai escapes from being held captive, the climbs into a chest with a lock. That lock had a bright reflection of light which serves as sort of a beacon of hope for the Samurai. The rest of the room was dark except for the flashing of the metallic lock. You can see the hope in his eyes and the idea appear on his face. Light seems to serve as a symbol in Yojimbo as well as to emphasize the points being made in the film. It is definitely interesting to see how the effect of something you can take for granted be on such a scale when you analyze these films.

  4. I too saw the connection between Yojimbo and Western American films, especially with the tumbleweed reference but one large difference is that some of the scenes in Yojimbo were almost comical. A good example would be in the scene where Sanjuro is sitting on top of the building watching the ensuing battle develop. The music along with Sanjuro’s facial expression makes a mockery out of the battle and both sides cowardliness. He just sits on top of the stand and laughs about how both sides are unable to advance and face each other. I guess I would say that this may be one of the things that separates American Westerns and Japanese westerns. I also was waiting for a ball of tumbleweed to roll by in all of the standoff situations because it was the same music as an american Western.

  5. I agree on the undeniable importance of the role of lighting on the mood and tone of the overall cinematic picture. I also believe that the use of lighting was clever and effective as it was as much a product of necessity as it was implemented for the sake of thematic/symbolic artistry. As the film was filmed in black and white, the various shades of gray in the spectrum between black and white had to be utilized in order to give depth to the picture, emphasize certain points of the scene, add detail to facial expressions and costumes, etc. The lighting also intensified the expressions of emotion on the main character’s face (which were, for the most part, left largely ambiguous due to his inherently mysterious nature, but illuminated regardless through the elements of the lighting used).

  6. The lighting definitely plays a huge role in both the movies. I never realized how much the lighting could influence the setting of the scene. But now that you mentioned the shadows and backlights, it is clear that without proper lighting, the scenes would look so much more different. I liked how you pointed out that the sidelights emphasize Sanjuro’s face. To me, this scene stood out more to me than all the others. One side of his face was light and emphasized his excessive injuries, while the other side of his face was in total darkness. It’s interesting how you said that the makeup of the gang members had a clean look, because it was something that I had never noticed. The makeups and costumes were important in distinguishing the common folk and the gang members. I often thought that their costumes were so similar you couldn’t really distinguish one person from another, especially the women.

  7. I agree that lighting really plays up the bruised make up, especially during Sanjuro’s escape. Side lighting signifies a way out for Sanjuro, while also contrasting half of his face, which is okay, with the other half of his face, which is bloody and bruised up. As he escapes light creeps in through the floor boards above, offering him guidance as he crawls away. The director also uses the shadows to give Sanjuro safe places to hide, as opposed to the danger of light which is accompanied with anxious music to as he tries to get away. The contrast between the lightness and the darkness makes the light more artificial, however, if we look at shots when people are holding candles, for example. Perhaps it is the black and white aspect that brings about this observance, but I thought the candles looked especially bright for such dark rooms in the movie. As seen through the examples of lighting techniques, the mis-en-scene is just as important as the actual plot and characters.

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