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Yojimbo: Tough guys?

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    Jon Hooper

    I’ve been meaning to sit down and watch Yojimbo again carefully but time simply hasn’t allowed it. So, having now watched roughly half the film again (I hate having to split a film into two sittings but there you go) I thought I’d just go ahead and write some thoughts down, relying partly on memory. As usual, I haven’t been able to polish things so apologies if anything lacks clarity. Much of this, by the way, was suggested by some of the comments in Jeremy’s excellent post of a couple of weeks back, and that is why I quote Jeremy at length throughout.

    In The Warrior’s Camera, Stephen Prince writes:

    “The world of the film is so dangerous that one can only cower indoors and hope that the violence will not spill over inside” Violence, and the organized forces that maintain it for profit, is coextensive with space. Against all this, Sanjuro is largely helpless. He spends most of the film hiding indoors with Gon and must rely on trickery and guile for success rather than direct confrontation.”

    On the face of it, Prince is right: the world, as seen in Yojimbo, is violent and ruthless. There are victims and perpetrators, the good are seen hiding indoors, cruelty and waste are everywhere. But is the danger so real? Is Sanjuro, as Prince suggests, helpless against these forces, and is his prime weapon his guile? We need to ask ourselves, I think, whether the tough guys of Yojimbo (while undoubtedly immoral and cruel) really are that tough, just what sort of figure Sanjuro is, and whether Sanjuro avoids confrontation with them because he must rely on guile (as Prince asserts), or simply because it is easier and perhaps even more amusing for him to do so. Finally, after considering the sort of threat the gang members pose, we should also consider the extent to which Unosuke is set apart from them.

    In his excellent analysis of the audience’s relationship to Sanjuro, Jeremy argues the opposite to Prince. To him, the gang members are not to be taken seriously.

    Jeremy writes: “Here the gang members show off tattoos as a means to convince themselves and other that they are tough. Sanjuro is unlikely to have any tattoos, and he doesn’t not dress in the gang styling’s… we find that the tough guy look of the gang members is nothing but a look.”

    It is worth noting a few things about these men. First, as a way of introducing the upheaval of social order and the deterioration of values amongst the new generation, the farmer’s wife Sanjuro meets at the beginning has this to say: “The young ones have all gone mad”. When we finally meet some of the town’s thugs, they seem to match this description in several respects. The majority of them are young in appearance, despite their boasts about their crimes. They wear ill-fitting clothes, such as a child might wear when dressing up. They boast about their tattoos, and do little except boast. When they come spilling out of the inn and surround Sanjuro, the latter seems unfazed, despite what seem to be overwhelming odds. Hansuke, the town guard, emerging from hiding, tells him “They only act tough”. This would appear to be some free information from a character who otherwise tries to sell it. Is it true – are appearances everything?

    There is certainly a stark contrast between Mifune and the thugs. First, we note the way Mifune dresses, the way his broad shoulders (linked to the mountain in the opening shot) fit his kimono, the way he walks or strides, whereas (for the most part) the thugs seem to scuttle about (this is a word Prince uses, though he does not make much of the implications). That they are evil in intent is without doubt, but are they really threatening? Increasingly, as it seems to me, Kurosawa means them to come across as pretending to be tough. If they can cause harm by guile they will undoubtedly do so, but they do not seem to have the martial prowess to back up their threats. This then is the modern evil – childish, diminutive, duplicitous, boastful. Would it be going too far to suggest that Kurosawa means them to come across as a gang of unruly teenagers, the sort of would-be thugs who populated the movies of the 50s? The young ones have indeed gone mad, as it seems, from the perspective of the old, the conservative, the traditional. With a few exceptions, this is a population of small fry, of youths acting tough. Even Hansuke, the guard who tries to get money from Sanjuro, comes across as a kind of skulking street urchin, the equivalent of the urchins that would become a staple of Leone’s westerns like A Few Dollars More. During their first conversation, Hansuke is seen at the level of Sanjuro’s sword hilt – in other words, at a much lower level than the samurai, like child to man.

    Later, in the battle scene that never comes due to the inspector’s arrival, all the two gangs do is taunt and tease. It is a kind of foreplay; we never get the sense, I think, that these men really want to risk their lives. Again we are reminded of the young, of the sort of balletic fight scenes of West Side Story, very staged, very artificial, non-threatening. Sanjuro finds the whole thing amusing; he never once seems to take them seriously.

    In a later scene, the streets of the town are washed in the torrential rain. Even an apparently minor detail like this is telling. Where are these tough guys now but hiding indoors (where they seem to spend most of their time)? Compare Seven Samurai, when the battle is decided in the rain, and the true samurai face their enemies. Granted, this is also the time of the inspector’s visit, but I think that the way we see Ushi-Tora and his bodyguard cross the street under their umbrellas does not suggest men of the caliber of Kambei.

    Into this town of pretend warriors comes Sanjuro. He is, as Jeremy notes in his analysis, “the real deal”.

    Jeremy writes: “Sanjuro’s facial movements further reassure by showing his lack of concern upon hearing of the plot to kill him.”

    Throughout, Sanjuro responds to what might seem threatening with an apparent lack of interest. In truth, he has weighed up the danger and finds his opponents completely beneath him. Sanjuro is, as Jeremy writes in his analysis, “the real deal”. He is from another time, a true samurai, fully able to back up his words with deeds. Kurosawa, as we’ve noted, films him from below, he makes much of his stature, he portrays him as idle, bored, never as one who takes the threat seriously. When he first arrives in the town and sees the dog carrying a human hand, he does a double take – it is a brief adjustment of focus, but rarely from thereon does he seem surprised or worried (a similar adjustment comes when he is faced with Unosuke’s firearm, of which more later).

    Gon, the restaurant owner, stands for the mature side of society which is increasingly under threat, the traditional. He instantly invites Sanjuro in, proving that he can tell a real samurai. Sanjuro wants food, and like the true samurai he is he accepts cold rice. Having filled his stomach, Sanjuro asks for sake. This is a symbolic moment, for it is at this point that he chooses to use guile, to play the game the way the thugs would and thus make them destroy themselves. It is not that they are any match for him, as his initial appraisal of their strengths has asserted. It is simply easier this way, both because of the sheer numbers, and because Sanjuro is so obviously superior to them in intelligence that he will barely need to lift his sword.

    Sanjuro, as we’ve seen, is out of time. There is, therefore, something slightly absurd about him being there. Thus the music at the times when Sanjuro does go into action – the swaggering, bold music that seems too much, to cut through the scene, to be a sort of mock heroic chorus to martial skills. Kurosawa, though, is not criticizing the samurai ideal – he is merely underlining that Sanjuro is incongruous, that the heroic does not fit easily in this world of corruption and masks, that a true samurai does not belong. That said, there are times when Sanjuro departs from the image of a true samurai. He appears to be interested in money, for example, and makes the comment that sometimes a lord has reason to fear his bodyguard. But as Gon realizes, this is a kind of pretence. His compassion for the husband and wife, to whom he gives his money, reveals his true samurai spirit. We are to imagine Sanjuro as a super samurai who has somehow been deposited in the modern world, and who needs to survive, who needs to use his wits at times from a purely practical perspective. Ultimately, his function is to cleanse, and when he goes to work, his martial prowess is never in doubt. When this happens, the thugs are seen to be the pretenders they really are.

    Jeremy wrote: “So far Sanjuro has proved himself the best fighter, and the smartest person in the town, His ability to execute his plan will go on with little trouble.

    But before we can get bored we are presented with a great foe.”

    To what extent, however, is Unosuke a great foe? It is significant that when we first meet Unosuke, the gun is unveiled in the same scene, and we (along with Sanjuro) perceive him as a threat. Were we to be introduced to him minus the gun, would we fear him? In other words, Kurosawa is careful to introduce him and the thing that elevates him above the other thugs at the same time. He is not any sort of match for Sanjuro on his own merits: with the gun alone, he is deadly. If, as I have suggested, the other thugs are depicted in a way as children pretending to be grown-up samurai, Unosuke is a sort of sixth-former. Like them his clothes do not seem to quite fit, and indeed he almost seems to be falling out of them. He is taller than the others (giant excepted) and walks with a swagger of self-confidence. His confidence, however, comes from the tool he carries. In giving directions to his actors, Kurosawa aptly compared him to a serpent, a creature whose threat is in its bite or its poison. One might say, get hold of a snake in the right way and it’s harmless. A lion, on the other hand, has claws, has teeth, has strength. One wouldn’t want to wrestle a lion, and that is why Kurosawa chose a lion for Sanjuro – the most noble of beasts is an apt samurai symbol.

    It is interesting that Kurosawa asked Nakadai to walk like a samurai and (for a while, according to his own report) he could not do it. I wonder, though, whether Kurosawa wanted him to walk like a true samurai in the first place. Was he perhaps trying to get something else out of Nakadai – to come across as one who had learned, better than the others, to assume the samurai’s heroic stride, but who nevertheless cannot convince us that he is the real deal?

    Unosuke, then, represents the apotheosis of the thugs of the contemporary world – they would never make it as samurai, and they would not pose any real threat, were it not for the deadly tools that have become available in the modern age, and for the collapse of the traditional society. In the feudal way of things, matters were decided by might. Here, along with everything else, that is turned upside down. The point needn’t be that might made right – rather, might, married to an ideal, ensured that justice was done. Weapons like Unosuke’s pistol allow lesser men to prosper, or at least make sure that martial prowess does not decide things. Sanjuro’s downfall only comes about because Nakadai has a pistol pointing at him. He is beaten and tortured because his sword is taken away, and presumably (although we do not see it) much of it takes place at gunpoint. In the final duel, once Sanjuro has disarmed Nakadai with the use of the samurai equivalent of a gun – a missile weapon (a thrown knife) – he is effectively harmless. No one can match Mifune because he alone is powerful and deadly, and everyone else is simply acting the part. The world has diminished, and there is nothing, in the end, to stop Sanjuro (as wish-fulfillment figure) cleaning up the town for good.

    I’ll leave the last words with Jeremy:

    “We are finally certain that although Unosuke is above the typical gang member, he is still faking being tough. Where the other gang members used tattoos, rough looking clothing and attitude, Unosuke used a gun.”

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    cocoskyavitch

    Good call, Jon, on questioning Stephen Prince’s assertion that Sanjuro is hiding.

    Is Sanjuro, as Prince suggests, helpless against these forces, and is his prime weapon his guile?

    Well, yes and no. Sanjuro is not helpless, but, yes, his prime weapon is guile, ‘cuz, well, he is outnumbered. He needs to be smarter and to create a situation where he can sleep without fear, right? I mean, tip his hand and his safety is gone. It’s not that he is helpless. Prince is not careful enough in his language, there. It’s that Sanjuro really is one against a couple of “armies”-and, a pistol! So, Unosuke is indeed a threat.

    Would it be going too far to suggest that Kurosawa means them to come across as a gang of unruly teenagers, the sort of would-be thugs who populated the movies of the 50s?

    Kurosawa called it himself: he wanted to make a film that directed itself to the yakuza element and wiped them out. C’mon, dontch think Nakadai is Elvis-ish?

    I dig the whole mashup.

    …and sees the dog carrying a human hand, he does a double take – it is a brief adjustment of focus, but rarely from thereon does he seem surprised or worried

    I think, Jon, that Sanjuro’s look when he first gets a gander of the giant is one of the funniest moments in the film! I wouldn’t say he is exactly scared…but he does acknowledge that this is one big guy-with the potential to do some damage!

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    Jon Hooper

    C’mon, dontch think Nakadai is Elvis-ish?

    Of course, now that you mention it – there is a definite resemblance. Could this be the real reason Vili dislikes him? Perhaps our webmaster is a hardcore Little Richard fan.

    Sanjuro’s look when he first gets a gander of the giant is one of the funniest moments in the film!

    Yes, I neglected that one. It’s more a look of disbelief than fear. Wouldn’t want to be on the receiving end of that mallet.

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    Jeremy

    I dont have much to say, what I thought was a easy movie, has turned out for me to be rather tough. Where in Rashomon, I was confident, Yojimbo, I’m just lost. 😆

    I never thought about 50’s movie gangsters, the whole West Side Story thing, but it’s a near perfect example. I dont know if Yojimbo should be viewed in this way, but I completely follow your thinking.

    That they are evil in intent is without doubt, but are they really threatening? Increasingly, as it seems to me, Kurosawa means them to come across as pretending to be tough. If they can cause harm by guile they will undoubtedly do so, but they do not seem to have the martial prowess to back up their threats. This then is the modern evil – childish, diminutive, duplicitous, boastful. Would it be going too far to suggest that Kurosawa means them to come across as a gang of unruly teenagers, the sort of would-be thugs who populated the movies of the 50s? The young ones have indeed gone mad, as it seems, from the perspective of the old, the conservative, the traditional.

    That’s great stuff, especially the last line. Perhaps, I wrongly labeled the thugs as true evil, rather then childishness. When it was time to fight, they certainly scared, and didnt want to,nor even know how to. Sanjuro does laugh, and find it all amusing.

    The problem now lays, in that if these thugs where simply crazy miss-guided teens, then Sanjuro is simply a murder. He didnt kill evil, he killed a nuisance, a nuisance that wasnt even his.

    Very interesting stuff Jon.

    GREAT FOE?

    I do agree,Unosuke is never presented to us as a great foe.

    Only having to look at the difference between Unosuke and the common thug, and seeing his difference is nearly as great as Sanjuro’s. And if Unosuke has been established as a bad guy, so then I thought certainly he most be the great foe. The problem is that Sanjuro doesnt offer much to solidify that idea. Other then a few movements, that appear nothing more then a bit of concern, there is nothing to show a feeling of fear or worry and even less to label him as a great foe.

    Certainly calling Unosuke a great foe, is not a strong argument, he is still a thug faking being tough. I would ultimately however still label as the great foe, simply for story’s sake. There appears to me, a need to have a possible problem for Sanjuro. Although again, there is not a whole lot to give proof to this. This was large factor in me, cutting down my write up, I simply couldnt decide what is going on.

    I’ll just have to come back to this one, Jon. Good stuff.

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    Jon Hooper

    “Perhaps, I wrongly labeled the thugs as true evil, rather then childishness.”

    I don’t think you were wrong at all, Jeremy. I’ve just presented one way of looking at things, but it’s by no means the only one. In one sense, this is the modern evil – pathetic more than truly terrible.

    The problem now lays, in that if these thugs where simply crazy miss-guided teens, then Sanjuro is simply a murder. He didnt kill evil, he killed a nuisance, a nuisance that wasnt even his.

    This is a very perceptive point. Perhaps we should say that at times, Kurosawa wants them to come across thus. But, having given it some thought, it is not just the young generation, it is the whole modern world. Again, I’ve just put forward one way of seeing things, but of course it is not all encompassing. I don’t think we are expected to really dwell on the moral ramifications of what Sanjuro does – that is why Kurosawa for the most part presents them as caricatures, as less than human. We never really think of their lives as being worth anything.

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    Vili Maunula

    Thank you for all the excellent points that you make in your post, Jon. There is much to which I felt like commenting, but after typing for a while I realised that I was simply just repeating in agreement what you had written. So, instead of all that, here are just some of my main responses.

    “The young ones have all gone mad”

    From all the bits in your post that I agreed with, this was the one where I found the rate of my nods reaching anatomically most dangerous levels.

    Indeed, there is that notion of “a gang of unruly teenagers” that you refer to, perhaps even “the sort of would-be thugs who populated the movies of the 50s”, although my personal recollection of the 50s is rather hazy for reasons of personal chronology. I haven’t even seen many of those movies, so I can’t say how valid the comparison is, but certainly the idea of the gang members as children is very true.

    Kurosawa often stressed that the intended primary audience for his films was the young generation of Japanese, the ones that he perhaps felt were going to rebuild the society. In Yojimbo, we seem to have an example of where they should not go.

    It is significant that when we first meet Unosuke, the gun is unveiled in the same scene, and we (along with Sanjuro) perceive him as a threat. Were we to be introduced to him minus the gun, would we fear him?

    Perhaps here in the initial scene we wouldn’t, but would you agree with me in that if there is an overall sense of danger associated with Unosuke, instead of the gun it is rather ultimately created by the almost unnatural way that he has of reading Sanjuro like an open book? He seems to know what is going on with the hero, while everyone else is completely oblivious to his goals. In contrast, we as the audience — and, by extension, Sanjuro — never really manage to figure out Unosuke.

    Yet, the point about Unosuke being rendered totally harmless when the gun (or, indeed, the poison) is removed still stands very true. I might suggest that if the real danger that Unosuke poses to Sanjuro is Unosuke’s excellent reading of Sanjuro’s character (or the fact that he simply has brains, unlike the other villains), the gun serves as something that protects Unosuke, and therefore prevents Sanjuro from directly dealing with that threat in the way he can deal with the others.

    It is interesting that Kurosawa asked Nakadai to walk like a samurai and (for a while, according to his own report) he could not do it.

    I may be mixing things up here, but wasn’t this actually for Nakadai’s walk-in part in Seven Samurai?

    Of course, now that you mention it – there is a definite resemblance. Could this be the real reason Vili dislikes him? Perhaps our webmaster is a hardcore Little Richard fan.

    Heh. No, I’ve got nothing against Elvis. And I’m actually more of a Little Stevie fan, to be honest.

    But there is, indeed something of a resemblance there.

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    cocoskyavitch

    The Trouble with Killing is it’s so darn permanent.

    John and Jeremy-you’re both right, and your insights bring to the forefront those nuances that are part of why viewing Kurosawa films can be so rewarding! The yakuza represent the voracious, morally-bankrupt youth of Post-War Japan in Kurosawa’s self-described conceptual basis for the film. He was sick of it and wanted to wipe them out. Not so easy, though, is it? Killing…it’s problematic. No matter how emphatically Kurosawa tells us that such cleansing is necessary, we have some doubts. That’s a good thing. Means we’re still human.

    It is tragic and disturbing that some choose evil. Clearly Kurosawa wants to impart a message: a long life eating mush is best….er, I mean, don’t choose evil! We know that because he introduces that kid and his dad and weaving mum right away then concludes the film with the kid. Faced with death the kid is screaming for his mum, and Sanjuro gives the moral to the kid, and the kid runs off. The coda is the unrepentent death of Unosuke. Is Unosuke a great foe? Well, he has the best technology of all the bad guys (reminds me of drug dealers with the best communications technology..funny how contemporary this all seems!) and has the glam appeal that separates him from all the rest-a yakuza to be looked up to by the other bad guys, unlike his brother (who is hilarious). That it all goes poof as his blood pools into the dirt-the scene with his last shot that goes off ineffectually into the ground is like a metaphor for sexual dysfunction of some sort-I’m always a bit embarrassed at that moment-but in a larger sense it is the generations lost…his children, his blood line literally shot off into the dirt by the choices of the Nakadai/Elvis/yakuza character Unosuke. The message is clear that this is a bad choice.

    But what we-the audience members- are drawn to isn’t the kid and his life of eating mush, though. “Screw that” we think. Instead, we are bewitched by Sanjuro-the man who is able to breeze into town, effect change, to control not everything (or he wouldn’t be a ronin) in his environment-but enough to be able to say, “this town is clean” at the end of the film, and to leave when he feels like it. I suggest that we all want to have some control over our environment and our lives. Ya know-we look for opportunities to make a change, to contribute, don’t we? Maybe we can’t help it if we are masterless samurai.

    Samurai are professional killers, let’s not fool ourselves. It’s their freaking job to fight. So, it is not unnatural for Sanjuro to kill the bad guys. It’s just that we are uncomfortable with killing. I don’t want to get all moral about it, but for many of us killing is the ultimate taboo. Maybe the only taboo, I dunno.

    Like, just because the one guy yelled for his mum and Sanjuro remembered him doesn’t mean that he was the only good guy in the bad, or that others of those “bad guys” are beyond redemption. This is an unaddressed problem in all of Kurosawa films. The “Mantis” in Red Beard-we’re told she is “just born that way”-and in Stray Dog the criminal…Shimura writes him off at the end. But, it’s hard to do that, isn’t it? Hell, even that last scene in High and Low with the criminal’s breakdown makes him more sympathetic…at least to me. He’s clearly screwed-up major big time.

    Yeah, so Kurosawa’s desire to eradicate evil is always complicated by even the evil guys seeming complex, (even in Yojimbo where the bad guys are hilarious cartoons-(my friend laughed outright and shot diet Coke through her nose when she first saw the giant) still, as Vili notes-there’s something kinda appealing about Unosuke’s younger brother…he’s funny! “Many who died deserved to live…but can you give it to them, Frodo?” Yeah, dealing out death would be very hard for me.

    Kurosawa is Sanjuro, of course. He is a masterless samurai, literally, from samurai stock, literally, he is his own master as he makes a film. Sanjuro is like a god in the film because he decides who lives and dies. The tavern owner and coffin-maker and the mush-eating kid as well as the now-insane character with the prayer drum are spared death, but it is Sanjuro’s call.

    It’s like making a film: you have a premise-a set-characters and then, it starts stirring up-but the director is the Sanjuro-the god who oversees everything and decides who lives and dies. Of course, in some ways, Sanjuro is a wish-fulfilment fantasy, but in other ways it is simply a description of Kurosawa’s life as a director.

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    Jon Hooper

    I may be mixing things up here, but wasn’t this actually for Nakadai’s walk-in part in Seven Samurai

    No, it’s me who’s mixing things up. I was going on one listen to the Nakadai interview linked to this site and of course didn’t take notes. Oh dear. Well, I’d still argue that he still doesn’t seem the real samurai. By the way, I agree with you about Nakadai standing out for two reasons – because he has a gun, and because of his intelligence.

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    cocoskyavitch

    Ah, and, I just thought of this, Jon… how Unosuke’s brother looks up to Sanjuro-

    How maddening it would be for your own brother to think someone else was the cat’s pyjamas, when you clearly have the coolest technology! Another little layer to the complexity of Unosuke’s status as “great adversary”-he is really just a loser kid-but one who would kill at the drop of a hat. Dangerous.

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    Jon Hooper

    Ah, and, I just thought of this, Jon… how Unosuke’s brother looks up to Sanjuro-

    How maddening it would be for your own brother to think someone else was the cat’s pyjamas, when you clearly have the coolest technology!

    Just the sort of playground rivalries that the film sometimes reminds me of. I agree that Unosuke is dangerous, though, no matter how much he resembles a loser kid.

    It’s just that we are uncomfortable with killing. I don’t want to get all moral about it, but for many of us killing is the ultimate taboo. Maybe the only taboo, I dunno.

    Well, when it comes to cinema, it’s become difficult to be disturbed by depictions of murder. We’re numbed to it. Of course, killing is still a taboo in society, but from the way it’s portrayed in entertainment you’d be forgiven for thinking that human life is valueless. Obviously it’s not all like that. Kurosawa is not like that – Yojimbo is a comedy, it’s the exception in his canon. If you take something like Kagemusha by way of contrast, which builds up to this remarkable battle, but shows its aftermath. Can you imagine any Hollywood director being allowed to get away with that, saying to the studio, “I don’t want to depict the actual battle. I want to keep the focus on the cost to human lives.”

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    cocoskyavitch

    Jon, the overkill (pun intended) of cinema-murder can have a numbing effect-your point is taken! (Sorry, it was a bit self-indulgent of me to go on and on about Kurosawa and the depiction of violence/murder/evil. I have so many questions, sorry to yabble on.)

    Strange, isn’t it, that Kurosawa is able to completely change the cinematic landscape by giving us the hithero unexperienced blend of violence and comedy that kick-starts a new genre and then turn around and show us the horrors of war? It’s such a breathtaking range!

    I was wondering, do you think that each film had a sort-of residual effect of Kurosawa’s psyche, and that he reacted to it in different ways in successive films? For example, he was a bit shocked at what he had done in Yojimbo but was still in love with the Sanjuro character, so he corrects the ultra-violence, and re-tells the story of corruption and correction a bit more gently in Sanjuro?

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    Jon Hooper

    It’s a fascinating question, coco. Sanjuro does seem a bit more soft at the centre than its predecessor, despite the bloodthirsty final duel. I’m not sure, though, if he would have been shocked at what he’d done, or even if he would have been in love with the character. I don’t think he was the sort of person to feel too close of a bond with any one character, maybe because there were so many different stories to tell. But you are on to something here – the same social problems nag him, he perhaps never feels quite satisfied with any single way of working through the problems and so he attempts another. There’s a definite residual effect there, of a kind.

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    cocoskyavitch

    Hi Jon,

    It seems to me the point of Sanjuro is that one should keep one’s sword sheathed-use non-violent means to solve problems-

    And that seems almost like an apology or contrition, or just a re-working for a solution to evil without Yojimbo‘s violence. You wrote:

    …he perhaps never feels quite satisfied with any single way of working through the problems and so he attempts another

    It would be interesting to view of Kurosawa’s ouvre in the light of problem-solving, and illuminate those relationships film-to-film. I often feel that the continuity and relationship of each film to other films is not explored. For example, it is often noted that Red Beard is the end of an era for Kurosawa. Perhaps he found, in the good doctor and his young apprentice-his own best solution to addressing social ills (and, who knows? Maybe he was disappointed that this was the best he could find? I don’t know, I only know that in my experience it is a magnificent film, powerful, terrifying, painful, transcendent. I purchased the DVD and kept it a long time before watching it. I knew it was Mifune’s last work with Kurosawa, and I wasn’t yet ready to let him go. To tell the truth, it really isn’t even Mifune’s film, despite the title. You may disagree, but in my opinion, the supporting cast is stronger than the center, here.) After all, in Ikiru his protagonist died. How does one live and continue to do good, and what is that like? It seems that Red Beard may have provided the best solution to the problem that Kurosawa was able to find.

    But, anyway, creating a matrix that compares the issues that Kurosawa grapples with…corruption, how to live a good life, how to live a good life in the face of evil-wouldn’t it be fascinating to see such a compare-contrast matrix?

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    cocoskyavitch

    Oh, sorry, and it occurs to me that Kurosawa was also trying to find some sort of relevance for a ronin-and perhaps felt that he was himself a “masterless samurai”. You know, all those with family samurai class standing in the modern era were exactly that, right?

    This may be self-indulgent musing, but I do think one works out one’s concerns in art. I may be on the wrong tack in the particulars, but I think not in the principle, here.

    Maybe it isn’t the Emperor and the Wolf. Maybe it’s the Ronin and his apprentice? Or something like that.

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    Vili Maunula

    Coco: It seems to me the point of Sanjuro is that one should keep one’s sword sheathed-use non-violent means to solve problems

    You may or may not know this, but Kurosawa originally adapted Sanjuro (from Shugoro Yamamoto’s Peaceful Days) with the idea that someone else would direct the film. Then Yojimbo happened and was an enormous financial success for Toho and the young Kurosawa Productions, so Kurosawa decided to take his script and rework it with Sanjuro in mind.

    In any case, in the original script the hero was fairly different from Sanjuro. He was really unskilled with the sword and therefore solved the issues with his quick thinking. When the decision was made to use Sanjuro as a starting point for the hero (I don’t think they are entirely the same character in the two movies), the script obviously had to be changed. This is probably at least one of the reasons why Sanjuro is so much less violent than Yojimbo.

    And maybe, indeed, Sanjuro’s message of non-violence at the end of Sanjuro is a direct note to those Japanese film makers who saw the violence in Yojimbo and thought that by making their own films extra violent they, too, would be able to make films like Yojimbo. Kurosawa was, after all, apparently rather surprised and disappointed that so many only saw the violence in Yojimbo. Maybe Kurosawa is noting there at the end of Sanjuro that all those young directors have completely missed the point, just like the young samurai have completely missed what Sanjuro has been trying to teach them.

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    cocoskyavitch

    Thanks, Vili for shedding some light on the development of Sanjuro. It’s good not to assume a cause and effect relationship in the generation of the film if one is not there.

    Although, it does appear that there is some possibilitiy of a reaction to the reception of Yojimbo. Interesting. Where would one find out more?

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    Vili Maunula

    Oh, but I actually think that your perceived cause-and-effect relationship in fact may well have been present in the making of the movie.

    Yet, I’m afraid that I cannot really give any particular source regarding the reception of Yojimbo and its influence on Kurosawa.

    In any case, the film’s depiction of realistic and violent sword fighting strongly influenced the Japanese genre of samurai films, and many directors copied Kurosawa and took the violence to new extremes. (Yoshimoto, for example, discusses this quite a bit.)

    Kurosawa was not impressed that, in his view, these directors had missed the point — he insisted that it was not the violence that made Yojimbo good and enjoyable, but the character of Sanjuro and what he stands for.

    It could, therefore, be possible to suggest that Sanjuro is something of a response to the response received by Yojimbo.

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    cocoskyavitch

    Well, Kurosawa himself is a little vague about the relationship of one film to the next. I suppose we’ve all read everything we can get our hands on from the great man himself, and, clearly he is more interested in creating than picking apart his creative process. So, I think I am only guessing at how the process works-depth of involvement with a character and a story could produce a kind of psychic energy field that continues to reverberate…and in some cases leads into another set of questions, or conditions to be explored.

    Kurosawa says,”My method of screenwriting is not to begin with some kind of set structure or message that I want to convey. I have no idea of setting up a certain progression to create suspense, for example.”

    He continues, …”I begin with a blank piece of paper and I have the idea who the characters are; later, their personalities take over anything I might want to do. I end up writing not from my own will, but from theirs-they come alive as I write and make me do things that I couldn’t have planned.”

    p.71 Akira Kurosawa Interviews edited by Bert Cardullo. Excerpt from the 1980 Dan Yakir interview.

    I mentioned earlier that I wrote a fan letter to Yoshimoto after reading his book. It’s funny-there was one passage I read out loud to a colleague-and we burst out laughing, the language was so dense, we were thrown to the dictionary five times in one sentence! But, I was very impressed, because Yoshimoto considers the place of Japanese film in Academe, and struggles with concepts that others ignore. He also has some brilliant insights into the relationship of the diagetic and extra-diagetic.

    Here’s the quote that substantiates the point you were making-that Kurosawa didn’t really think people got the fact that the character was the thing-

    (In reference to Yojimbo and Sanjuro):

    …”I feel that other Japanese filmmakers who have looked at these two films and perceived that they were interesting have totally misunderstood what was interesting about them: it wasn’t the blood in the scene. It was the character of Sanjuro.”

    p. 73 Akira Kurosawa Interviews edited by Bert Cardullo. Excerpt from the 1980 Dan Yakir interview.

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