Yojimbo ★★★★½

Yojimbo was the first production made by Akira Kurosawa's own film company, Kurosawa Production, and it appeared as a purposeful statement of intent. The film occurs after the decline of the Tokugawa Shogunate, where many samurai came to be masterless. One of them, calling himself Kuwabatake Sanjuro (Toshiro Mifune), wanders through a desolate countryside where he eventually arrives at a small town that is the battleground between two rival gangs. 

It features undoubtedly one of Toshiro Mifune's all-time most fantastic performances, and he gained numerous international awards for his achievement as the wandering ronin and master swordsman. While Kurosawa had sown the seeds with Seven Samurai, the central protagonist, a scruffy, unpolished and explicit antihero, reflected a revolutionary break for Mifune. Especially from the Musashi Miyamoto character—the far more honourable samurai he had portrayed in Hiroshi Inagaki's Samurai Trilogy of films. 

There's a pronounced influence of Western cinema, notably the films of John Ford, that's more evident than in Kurosawa's preceding works; accordingly, it's perhaps best to approach the film from an entertainment perspective rather than a further investigation of the director's style. Still, imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, and it didn't take long for other filmmakers to take note and for the film to assert its influence. Sergio Leone launched promptly into working on the remake that he named A Fistful of Dollars, which initiated the Spaghetti Western genre's popularity and set Clint Eastwood on the path to international stardom. 

The storyline itself has been done countless times, from Sergio Corbucci's directed Django to Walter Hill's Last Man Standing, starring Bruce Willis; it stands as a testament to the power it exerts in the minds and approaches of other filmmakers. Yojimbo deftly balances a dynamic and visceral filmmaking style with a profoundly humanistic outlook, and it's this perspective that essentially separates Kurosawa from the many action film imitators who followed in his wake.

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