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Action Drama / Japanese / 1961

For the Action Movie Countdown.

After Sword of the Stranger I decided to check out what may be the most classic iteration of the Ronin story and to my understanding that's Akira Kurosawa's Yojimbo. I wasn't especially compelled to see it until I realized it stars Toshiro Mifune who was the comedy relief in Seven Samurai, probably my favorite character in that movie.

The only familiarity I have with the name Yojimbo is that it's also the name of my favorite summon in Final Fantasy X. Yojimbo's particularly interesting because he has a unique control mechanic in which his moveset is entirely locked off to you and the degree to which he'll help you is based on a complex system of bribing him to improve his hidden Loyalty stat. He's the only summon in the game who explicitly requires payment to perform any of his moves, but the trade-off is that he's actually capable of INSTANTLY KILLING BOSSES.

"I'll get paid for killing, and this town is full of people who deserve to die."

A dog and a horse.

Interestingly, Yojimbo, as one of, if not THE, progenitors of the Ronin trope, doesn't actually feed into it very heavily beyond the fact that Sanjuro, our main character, is a capable samurai with no allegiances.

What I DIDN'T expect was that the Yojimbo in FFX is extraordinarily true to the concept presented in this film.

Rather than simply being the lone samurai who gets hired by the good guys to shuffle the bad guys outta town, Sanjuro wanders into town, sees a feudal stalemate between two factions and decides, "I can make money off of this". The majority of the movie has him sidling up to some... Restaurant Owner? who's pretty cynical in the face of his failing business while the coffin maker next door is making a killing. Sanjuro learns about the inner politics of the town and proceeds to manipulate his way into both sides of the conflict, trading information and taking up bodyguard services (because if we don't hire him, the other guys will and we don't want that).

It may seem grimy at first, but it's quickly revealed that the "good guys" are more than grimy themselves, secretly plotting to stab Sanjuro in the back after he's done his job, assuming him to be no less a ruthless mercenary than the gamblers they're fighting against.

Sanjuro puts on a convincing show of being tough and self-absorbed, but he also manages to show he can be a good guy when he goes out of his way to bring a family back together and urging them to run away with his entire commission.

This is perhaps the most irritating part of the movie for me though, because despite Sanjuro expressly impressing upon the family to "run away!", "take my ryo!", and "never come back!" they just stand their thanking him like idiots while Sanjuro's neck is on the line not to get caught.

And sure enough when he finally gets them to bail out of town, they come back and leave damning evidence that he's a traitor, which gets him found out and beaten to a pulp.

That's really frustrating especially since this is never resolved in any sort of lesson or general takeaway. It's just one instance in which Sanjuro stuck his neck out for somebody and the morons in their infinite stupidity ****ed him over for it. That's just a pretty sucky thing to see happen for no apparent narrative reason.

A couple other issues with the movie would be later swordfights which completely invert the typical Blood Geyser problem by not featuring any sound effects, stabbing, or really anything besides slashing motions. It's REALLY easy to fake that and it takes me out of it when it looks like the sort of mock fight I'd see children performing in their backyards.

The story occasionally drifts in horribly dry exposition about tertiary characters we don't know or care about and the soundtrack is also kinda cruddy with some extremely inappropriately upbeat music.

All in all I'd say it's a fine movie. Better than Ikiru, but not as good as Seven Samurai, and I like Yojimbo in FFX more for it.

Final Verdict:
[Pretty Good]