Ever since I was introduced to the world of Akira Kurosawa via the sublime masterpiece, Seven Samurai, I have yet to see a single film from the late Japanese director that has failed to inspire and entertain, and of course Yojimbo (The Bodyguard) is no different. In 1860's Japan we see a wandering samurai (portrayed by the seminal Toshiro Mifune) who comes across a village that is divided in two where both sides are fighting against each other for supremacy. After learning that both sides are equally despicable Mifune's character hatches a plot to play both sides against one another (primarily by offering his services as a Bodyguard to each side) so as to earn himself a tidy sum, and of course to eventually rid the town of both sides.
Mifune puts in another terrific performance as our lead character Sanjuro and is totally believable as the master Samurai he portrays, but the key to his performance is the delightful charm he emits, literally lighting up the screen in the quieter moments of the film. Yojimbo is essentially an action film, so there are of course several showdowns between Mifune and various opponents to keep the film flowing, but what really sets this film apart from the traditional Hollywood action movies is the superb pacing and of course the story. You see, Sanjuro is not only a master swordsman, but also a great strategist who is constantly studying his opponents so as to understand how to use their deficiencies to his own benefit, he also delights in gaining much amusement out of the ridiculous displays of cowardess from the opposing sides and this in turn leads to plenty of genuinely funny moments. His own compassion for human life gets him into a spot of bother but leads to the outstanding finale that is an absolute joy to behold with Mifune demanding attention due to his assertiveness and great charisma.
As ever Kurosawa delivered a unique film, this time offering an interesting approach to what is at its most basic level an action movie. But please do not misinterpret that description, this is a 'Japanese' action movie, so everything is completely understated, the action sequences are short but graceful, the comedy is clever and will keep a smile on your face throughout the films running time, and of course the direction and acting (from Mifune) is worthy of Oscar nomination (how many Hollywood action movies can make that claim?).
Unfortunately this DVD was issued back in the days when Criterion were adamant Non-Anamorphic transfers were what the public wanted, so that is exactly how Yojimbo has been presented, in Non-Anamorphic Widescreen (preserving the films original 2:35:1 Aspect Ratio). As far as non-anamorphic releases go this one is actually pretty good. Apart from the obvious print damage for a 40 year old film (which ranges from white specs to what I class the 'tornado' effect where a white line jitters around the centre of the screen) the actual picture is very clear, showing off a high level of detail with minimal compression faults. Even when zoomed in on a widescreen TV the picture quality holds up very well, but I cannot help but wonder how Yojimbo would look if Criterion released it now after their fantastic 'Hidden Fortress' release.
Framing Issue - Both the Yojimbo and Sanjuro Criterion DVDs have a problem with how the widescreen image has been framed. I am no expert on the situation but here is my take on it. The only time that the framing of the image is a problem is with the films titles/credit sequence at the very start where the left and right of the image appears to be cut off. What is however quite strange is that when played via a PC there is no problem at all with the framing of the image so it is very possibly down to the overscan settings of our televisions (it is still a fault with how Criterion produced the DVD though as the majority of DVDs do not require you to change your TV settings).
Rather than bother with (what many would call pointless) various Stereo Surround remixes Criterion have opted to simply provide us with the original Mono Japanese Language track. Dialogue is crisp, the music a little harsh (but this somehow enhances the score) and for those who like to crank up the volume there is a constant audible hiss, fortunately it tends to merely act as background noise and never really grates. The English subtitles are generally very good although the odd line of dialogue appears to go un-translated. Most importantly the choice of font is easy on the eyes and there are no spelling or grammatical errors present. Unfortunately for widescreen owners the subtitles are placed entirely within the films borders, meaning when the picture is zoomed in (due to the Non-Anamorphic picture) the subtitles disappear off the screen requiring you to adjust your television settings.
Another bare bones release from Criterion the only extra present here is the Original Theatrical Trailer.
Yojimbo is another classic from Kurosawa that has been imitated (well, copied in Sergio Leone's A Fistful of Dollars) and even spawned a sequel (Sanjuro) - make sure you see them all! This Criterion edition is a little disappointing due to the lack of extras and the unfortunate omission of an anamorphic transfer but is still an acceptable release (for now) that is worthy of a purchase, at least until a better alternative is available.
Last updated: 19/04/2018 18:59:39