Sunday, October 07, 2007

Akira’s Yojimbo

Two henchmen of a village mob boss guarding a badly roughed-up Ronin (that's a Samurai with no master), Sanjuro, watch him stir. One of them is worried while the other placates him saying “Don’t bother about him - he doesn’t have his sword”. That exemplified Sanjuro in Yojimbo for me. A consummate swordsman, he might not be physically powerful, but hand him a sword - the dexterity with which his slices and slashes it, makes him deadlist of opponents. Add to it his devious nature and you have a veritable trouble at hand, as the mobs in a Japanese town realize.

Yojimbo is set in an unnamed town torn apart by two factions. A Ronin rendered master-less by the fall of Togukawa dynasty comes there. As he walks an empty main street, he sees a dog running away with a severed hand and figures death visits the town very often. He later learns from the inn-keeper about the rivalry between Seibei and Ushitora for control over the town. This rivalry has kept his neighbor, the coffin-maker very busy. Ignoring inn-keeper’s exhortations to leave, Sanjuro decides to stay on and clean up the place. And his motive? Not money or power definitely; It might just be a desire to get into the thick of some action. Not knowing his motive doesn’t diminish an iota of entertainment value of the tautly-edited, quick paced story, so I didn't care.

Sanjuro soon starts his game, deftly playing one warring group against the other and succeeds in bringing them to an internecine ending. Toshiro Mifune as Sanjuro has a commanding screen presence, and it is a delight to watch him go about the clean-up. Like his Kikochiyo in Seven Samurai, Sanjuro too he has his own set of weird and often funny mannerisms - the scratching, shrugging and hiding his hands in the kimono - but then he isn’t as complicated as the former. And of course, he has an aura of heroism further accentuated by the kind of grudging admiration (and fearful loathing) he inspires from both mobs in the town.

Tatsuya Nakadai plays Unosuke, the brother of Ushitora and the only one who can match Sanjuro’s wits. True to his name (as one character says in the movie) he is a wolf in a hare’s garb; his handsome face belies the savagery of character lurking beneath that shows occasionally through his cold-blooded actions, crooked smile and cold eyes. His feline gait underlines that menacing streak a tad more. Nakadai's role here looked to me like a pre-cursor to the ultra-savagery he personifies as Ryunosuke in The Sword of Doom.

A big asset of this film is its background score. It heightens the mood of the film considerably during all the battle scenes. I loved the music piece that plays during titles too.

For all its battle scenes and fights, the movie doesn’t come across as a serious one. It is not just the light-hearted moments interspersed in the narrative, but also Sanjuro's supreme confidence bordering on fatalism that gives you a reason to just sit back and enjoy his systematic demolition of the baddies. So, what are you waiting for? Get the DVD, popcorn and let the show begin.

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