Yôjinbô (1961)

<strong class="MovieTitle">Yôjinbô</strong> (1961)

(Kanopy streaming, October 2018) If you really want to know where Clint Eastwood’s screen persona comes from, then have a look at Akira Kurosawa’s Yôjinbô, the classic “man comes to town” western story … except for being set in medieval Japan. And being adapted from a hard-boiled Raymond Chandler novel. As the film begins, a Ronin played by none other than Toshiro Mifune strolls into town, asking for nothing more than a place to stay for the night. But the small town he just walked into is divided between two warring gangs. Many would like to see the gangs gone except … who will take them on? If that feels like an overly familiar premise, keep in mind that it was done here first, with many of the traditional action movie tropes (such as the introduction of the protagonist through some unrelated heroic business) being codified here for the first time. The link between Yôjinbô and Sergio Leone’s films is well documented, but it’s also blindingly obvious from even a casual watch, as you nearly don’t even need the subtitles to tell where we are in a familiar story. Mifune is nothing short of amazing here, a force of nature transcending cultural and temporal borders. While the film definitely feels too long, it also definitely feels like a western despite not being at all in the same time or place. Action movie fans should enjoy a look at this, the progenitor of an entire subgenre.

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