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cast: Toshiro Mifune, Eijiro Tono, Seizaburo Kawazu, Isuzu Yamada, and Hiroshi Tachikawa

director: Akira Kurosawa

106 mins (PG) 1961 widescreen ratio 2.35:1
BFI DVD Region 2 retail

RATING: 8/10
reviewed by Steven Hampton
"Kurosawa emerges as a bone-cracking satirist who, with red-toothed glee,
chews out his century as no dramatist since Bertold Brecht" - Time
This inspirational Japanese black comedy drama starring Toshiro Mifune was remade by Sergio Leone as a western, A Fistful Of Dollars (1964), and later by Walter Hill, as gangster movie, Last Man Standing (1996) yet, allegedly, the whole sequence began with Dashiell Hammett's book, Red Harvest.
   Even if you've not seen the films cited above, you should know the basic story. There's a stranger in town, and he gets mixed up in a bloody feud between local gangs (silk and saké are the trading commodities at risk in a gambling dispute), changing his loyalties in true mercenary fashion, and playing one side off against the other with escalating degrees of violence until a final slice 'n' dice showdown.
   Yojimbo (trans: 'The Bodyguard') is an outstanding classic of the samurai genre, and Mifune plays the heroic 'ronin' of the title with such deadpan chutzpah he could probably have liposuction on his balls - and not lose an ounce of his character's arrogant machismo. With every shrug of his shoulders, he defies the logic of his precarious situation. He strides up to the assembled thugs (keen to drum up new business for the coffin-making cooper) and responds to such smug provocation as: "Go on, try to kill me." With the brilliantly timed comic line:
   "It'll hurt..." And yet the brutality and carnage of Yojimbo is never disturbing, because the script's macabre sense of humour, and Akira Kurosawa's highly proficient direction, are constantly surprising us with amusingly original twists on the long established conventions of America's wild westerns.
   DVD extras: high karate. Digitally mastered by BFI from a new print, featuring a commentary by Philip Kemp, text biographies of director and star, plus (helpful for those without widescreen TV) an option to put English subtitles outside frame of the picture - so the film's magnificent black and white cinematography can be enjoyed to the full.
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