Film Review: Yojimbo

Reviewer: Julie Lynn Hayes


A wandering ronin (a samurai without a master) who calls himself Sanjuro (Toshire Mifune) allows Fate to lead him where it will and ends up in a small town where two rival criminal gangs are fighting each other for dominance. Sanjuro has a distinct distaste for injustice, and feels for the plight of the poor townspeople, whose very livelihood as well as their existence, is threatened by these hooligans.  The only person who is making any money is the coffinmaker. So Sanjuro decides he will help the town out by pitting the gangs against one another.

Sanjuro takes up residence at the tavern, despite having no money. The tavern keeper, Gonji (Elijiro Tono) thinks he is crazy to attempt to take on both gangs. One side is as corrupt as the other. Sanjuro goes to the head of Seibe (Seizaburo Kawazu) , who owns the brothel, and contracts with him to take care of the opposition for 50 ryo, half in advance. Having struck a bargain, he overhears a conversation between Seibe and his wife in which they reveal they will kill him when the job is done and take all their money back. Sanjuro returns the money and heads to the other side, to bargain with Ushitora.


Sanjuro’s plan is about to work, with both sides taking out each other, when the unexpected appearance 

by a government official in a fancy palanquin brings a halt to everything. The rivals have no wish to be perceived as having trouble in their town, not wishing to bring any scrutiny on themselves, so they decide to play nice. For now.

It doesn’t take long for Tanjuro to figure out why this minor official has such a fancy ride, so decides to

take care of him himself.  Then he learns about the abduction of a woman in the town. Her poor husband, unable to help her, builds a hovel next to the mansion where her captor lives, and can do nothing but witness her nightly ravishment at his hands. Sanjuro maneuvers her escape and gives the couple and their child money with which to leave town. He is caught and beaten up, then held captive.

He manages to escape. In the meantime, a new player has entered the scene, Unosuke (Tatsuya Nakadai). He is a gunfighter, and Ushitora’s brother. It’s inevitable that the two face off as Sanjuro cleans house once and for all.

Yojimbo means bodyguard, which is basically what a ronin is, being a samurai who has no master and thus available to be employed by anyone willing to pay his price. I really enjoyed this film. First off, it’s Akiro Kurosawa, so you know it has to be good. Secondly, it stars Toshiro Mifune, the finest actor to ever come out of Japan. The cinematography is great, and the use of the music in the soundtrack is genius.  Besides the obvious drama, there is an element of humor, especially on the part of the bemused samurai whom Unosuke nicknames the Two Bit Samurai. 


While putting on a tough front, Sanjuro reveals his tender side through his actions, first of all because he feels bad for this town and the hell they are being put through because of other people’s greed. He doesn’t do anything for his own gain. Even when he took money from one side, he ended up giving it to the family he reunited. And when all was said and done, he went on his way.

I will give this film 5 Stars. You can find it at Amazon

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