Tag Archives: Yojimbo

My Thoughts on: Kill! (1968)

I was recently able to add a few long-desired films to my Criterion collection, one of which was Kill!, a 1968 film directed by Kihachi Okamoto. The film stars Tatsuya Nakadai and Etsushi Takahashi as Genta and Hanji respectively, two swordsmen who quickly find themselves neck-deep in a clan conspiracy.

It should be noted that Kill! was adapted from the same novel that Akira Kurosawa used to create Sanjuro (1962), and if you’ve seen that film you might note a few loose similarities between the two. For example, in both films the conspirators are tricked into gathering in a supposedly safe place while they’re really being set up to be eliminated. For another there’s at least one good case in each film of a supposedly sympathetic character turning out to be on the side of the villains. These are just a few examples of the similarities, though it’s almost an unfair comparison since Sanjuro adapts Toshiro Mifune’s Yojimbo character into the story and Kill! features two characters in the lead role instead.

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The contrast between Genta and Hanji is interesting to say the least. I’ve seen Tatsuya Nakadai in several films now but I don’t remember seeing him play a character quite like this before, one who walked away from being a samurai and all that it entails for reasons that take a big chunk of the film to unravel. And Hanji is just funny most of the time. In contrast to Genta, who used to be a samurai, Hanji wants more than anything else to become one (which if I remember correctly would be a major step up the social ladder from being a farmer), despite everything Genta says to try and turn him off from the idea. I’ll just say the conclusion of Hanji’s story arc had me howling with laughter, it was so fitting given everything that happened throughout the story.

While I mostly enjoyed watching Kill!, I will say the plot involving the conspiracy is a little hard to follow at times. It’s mostly straightforward, but there are so many people involved that if you’re not paying close attention at all times it’s easy to lose track of who is who. I’m not sure if this is because I had to follow the subtitles to keep track of the story or if the story alone was the reason.

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I also need to mention Kill! has a lot of genuinely funny moments in it. There’s a funny early scene where Genta and Hanji both are stalking a scrawny chicken because they’re just that hungry (a moment that’s repeated in hilarious fashion later on). There is also a hysterically funny scene with Hanji, his sandal, and a wooden post. I honestly can’t explain the moment any better than that without spoiling what exactly happens, but it’s one of my favorite moments in the entire film. The comedy does a good job of brightening a story that otherwise has some extremely dark moments in it (it’s a black comedy for a reason).

All in all, I’m glad I finally got to watch Kill! It filled in another gap in my knowledge of Japanese cinema and minor issues aside it was a lot of fun to watch.

Let me know what you think about Kill! in the comments below and have a great day!

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My Thoughts on: A Fistful of Dollars (1964)

I’ve known about A Fistful of Dollars for years from its reputation as a shameless rip-off of Kurosawa’s film Yojimbo (1961). I thought I’d seen at least part of it before, but it turns out I was remembering The Good, The Bad and the Ugly instead. So as it turns out, this was my first viewing of the film.

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If you’ve ever seen Yojimbo, the similarities between that film and A Fistful of Dollars become obvious almost immediately. A lone gunslinger rides into a rural town that is being dominated by two rival gangs. The Man with No Name (Clint Eastwood) decides to eliminate both groups by playing them off against one another. Except for minor plot differences, this is the exact story presented in Yojimbo. One difference I couldn’t help but notice is that in A Fistful of Dollars, the gunslinger initially allies with the Rojo brothers (analogous to Ushitora and his brothers); in Yojimbo, Sanjuro initially joins Sebei’s side (analogous to the Baxter family).

Now excluding the fact that this film is a rip-off, A Fistful of Dollars is a really good film. It wasn’t the first spaghetti western ever made, but it was the first to become really big, which is why director Sergio Leone is often credited as the founder of the genre. Eastwood’s performance as the Man with No Name is really something to see: he doesn’t say much but his expressions say plenty. I’m still not quite sure if he enjoys what he’s doing or if he just sees it as something that needs to be done.

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Ennio Morricone’s score for the film provides a perfect complement to the action though, in atypical fashion, a large portion of the score was actually written before most of the film was created. I like how whenever the gunslinger does something like sits in a chair or shifts his cigar in his mouth, the music plays a little trill that comments on it.

If you’ve never seen a spaghetti western before, A Fistful of Dollars is a good place to start. One word of warning though: the film is obviously dubbed (it was filmed silent and the voices looped in after the fact) so yes you’re going to see mouths that don’t match up to the words. In fact the actors in this film spoke a plethora of languages: there were Germans, Austrians, Italians, Spaniards and Americans of course. And most if not all spoke their lines in their own languages (I can only imagine what filming a scene was like).

Let me know what you think about A Fistful of Dollars in the comments below and have a great day!

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My thoughts on: Yojimbo (1961)

Ever since I first saw Throne of Blood on Hulu (back when the Criterion Collection streamed their films on that site), there has been a special place in my heart for Kurosawa’s jidaigeki films (a jidaigeki film is literally a “period drama” usually set during the Edo period of Japan from 1603-1868, though some can be set earlier). And one of my favorite jidaigeki films is Yojimbo (1961), a film that may sound familiar to fans of Western films. Why would that be? Well, listen to the brief summary first:

A nameless samurai (Toshiro Mifune) comes to a small town that is the center of a feud between two families, both engaged in underworld crime. The nameless samurai plots to save the town by pitting the two families against one another by pretending to be a bodyguard (yojimbo) for each side until they destroy each other.

If that sounds like the plot of A Fistful of Dollars (1964) starring Clint Eastwood as The Man With No Name then you would be correct. What I never knew until I saw Yojimbo is that director Sergio Leone “borrowed” the plot of this film from Kurosawa’s work and repeated it wholesale for his spaghetti Western. Kurosawa filed a lawsuit when the film came to his attention, stating that while Leone had made “a fine movie, but it was my movie!” Ultimately the lawsuit was settled out of court for a certain percentage of the profits made from A Fistful of Dollars.

As stated in the brief summary, the nameless samurai comes to a rural town that is slowly being suffocated by two families. It was originally ruled (more or less) by Seibei    (Seizaburo Kawazu) and his gang. But when Seibei sought to retire and announced that he would be giving all of his territory to his inexperienced son, his right-hand man Ushitora (Kyū Sazanka) balked and started his own gang in retaliation. The two have been trying to eliminate each other for quite some time but remain locked in a stalemate. Seeing how the town is suffering from the two gangs, the nameless samurai (who later gives himself the name Sanjuro Kuwabatake) determines to eliminate them.

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Ushitora (left) and his brothers: Unosuke (center) and Inokichi (right)

Part of what makes Yojimbo such an excellent film is that it turns the traditional depiction of a samurai on its head. As a general rule, samurai were depicted as these noble beings, not a hair out of place and they wouldn’t dream of killing anyone for something as base as money. Sanjuro is the complete opposite of all of these ideals: he’s visibly scruffy; his clothes have seen better days; and his whole world apparently revolves around profit (though this is later tempered when he secretly gives his ill-gotten gains to a peasant family to help them start a new life). Toshiro Mifune completely owns this role for certain. In fact, this film did so well that Mifune reprised the role the following year in Sanjuro (1962).

My favorite part of this film is the middle act where Sanjuro plays each gang off of the other, with both sides completely oblivious to the manipulation. For example, Sanjuro overhears one of Ushitora’s men drunkenly spouting off to a friend about how they murdered a government official. After capturing them and taking the pair to Seibei, Sanjuro goes back to Ushitora and tells them that Seibei’s men captured the pair (leaving out the fact that he made the capture himself).

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Seibei (left) begs Sanjuro to work for him

The plan nearly goes off without a hitch but there are some complications: right in the middle of Sanjuro’s scheming, Ushitora’s younger brother Unosuke (Tatsuya Nakadai) returns after a trip abroad. And the semi-deranged Unosuke brought back a present: a pistol (that he knows how to use very well thank you very much). On top of this, Sanjuro’s good deed of helping a peasant family escape (including the wife who had been forcibly given to one of Ushitora’s associates as a concubine) is found out by Unosuke, who drags him back to his brother’s gang to be beaten unmercifully until he gives up where the family went. Sanjuro manages to escape, naturally, and he makes sure his only friend in the town, Gonji (Eijirō Tōno) the tavern owner, tells Ushitora’s men that the samurai went back to Seibei’s place to hide.

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This proves to be the final straw: Ushitora and his men set fire to the rival gang’s base (a brothel) and slaughter them all as they come running out to fight, though they do spare the brothel girls as they run for their lives. After killing Seibei’s son and his scheming wife, Unosuke shoots Seibei and the war for the town is seemingly over. Gonji sneaks Sanjuro out of town to help him recover, but is caught taking supplies to him and is captured. Sanjuro won’t stand to see his friend hurt, so he returns to town to dispatch Ushitora and his gang. In relatively short order he kills them all, only sparing a young farm boy that he saw at the beginning of the story running away from the family farm, ordering him to go back to his parents and enjoy “a long life sipping gruel.”

With the gangs eliminated, Sanjuro frees Gonji and with a simple “See you around!” heads off for the road.

The film is made even better by Masaru Sato’s excellent, almost jazz-like score for this film. It doesn’t seem like the kind of music you should hear in a period film like Yojimbo, but it absolutely works. One of my favorite musical moments is, when Sanjuro is stalking Ushitora’s gang for the last time, all you really hear for a minute is a soft tap on a high-hat cymbal.

Have you seen Yojimbo or Sanjuro the sequel? If so, what did you think about them? Let me know your thoughts in the comments below! Thank you so much for coming by and checking out the blog, your support means everything to me!

For more of my thoughts on Kurosawa, see also: My Thoughts on Throne of Blood (1957)

And also see: Live-Action Films/TV for the rest of my film reviews 🙂

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