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Yojimbo (film)

Theatrical release poster
Directed by Akira Kurosawa
Produced by Ryuzo Kikushima
Akira Kurosawa
Tomoyuki Tanaka
Written by Ryuzo Kikushima
Akira Kurosawa
Starring Toshiro Mifune
Tatsuya Nakadai
Yoko Tsukasa
Isuzu Yamada
Music by Masaru Sato
Cinematography Kazuo Miyagawa
Takao Saito
Edited by Akira Kurosawa
Distributed by Toho
Release dates
April 25, 1961 (1961-04-25)
Running time
110 minutes
Country Japan
Language Japanese

Yojimbo (用心棒 Yōjinbō) is a 1961 jidaigeki film directed by Akira Kurosawa. It tells the story of a rōnin, portrayed by Toshiro Mifune, who arrives in a small town where competing crime lords vie for supremacy. The two bosses each try to hire the newcomer as a bodyguard.

Based on the success of Yojimbo, Kurosawa's next film, Sanjuro (1962), was altered to incorporate the lead character of this film.[1][2] In both films, the character wears a rather dilapidated dark kimono bearing the same family mon (likely the emblem of his former samurai clan, before he became a rōnin).


  • Plot 1
  • Cast 2
  • Production 3
    • Writing 3.1
    • Casting 3.2
    • Filming 3.3
  • Reception 4
  • Sequel 5
  • Legacy 6
  • Notes 7
  • External links 8


It is 1860, and the era of the Tokugawa shogunate is coming to a close.[3] A rōnin, or masterless samurai, wanders into a small town divided by a gang war between two gangsters, Seibei and Ushitora. Ushitora used to be Seibei's right-hand man, until Seibei decided that his son Yoichiro would succeed him. Tazaemon, the silk merchant and mayor, backs Seibei, while Tokuemon the sake brewer is allied with Ushitora. Gonji, the owner of an inn, advises the stranger to leave while he can, but after sizing up the situation, the rōnin tells Gonji that the town would be better off with both sides dead, and that he intends to stay.

Upon being asked his name, the rōnin looks out a window and sees a mulberry field (which in Japanese is 桑畑 Kuwabatake), and replies that his name is Kuwabatake Sanjuro (桑畑三十郎). Although 三十郎 Sanjuro is a proper given name (and therefore could very well be the rōnin's true name), when spoken out loud it can also be interpreted as 三十老 Sanjuro (note the different last kanji 老), which means "thirty years old" (三十 sanju = thirty, 老 ro = years-old). Keenly aware of this double meaning (and that those he's speaking to know that he used Kuwabatake as a pseudo-surname), he slyly quips: "Though I'm closer to forty, actually". He first convinces the weaker Seibei to hire him as a swordsman by demonstrating his skill, killing three of Ushitora's men. He then eavesdrops on Seibei's wife Orin ordering their son to stab him in the back after the upcoming raid so that they will not have to pay him. Sanjuro then leads his faction to attack the other, but "resigns" and decides to watch the two groups fight it out from the belltower. The untimely arrival of an official spoils the plan before any blood is shed, and an uneasy peace ensues to avoid attracting government notice.

When the official is called away, Sanjuro stirs things up again. Learning that Ushitora hired two assassins to kill an officer 24 miles away to get the official to leave, Sanjuro captures and sells the pair to Seibei. Then he tells Ushitora that Seibei's men have caught them. Alarmed, Ushitora rewards him for his help. Ushitora then has Yoichiro kidnapped and offers an exchange of prisoners at 3:00 a.m., but double crosses Seibei when his brother Unosuke shoots the pair with the only firearm in town, his beloved pistol. The wily Seibei is unfazed, however, since he has taken a beautiful woman that Tokuemon is infatuated with. The woman is swapped for Yoichiro in the morning.

Gonji informs Sanjuro that the woman is the wife of a farmer named Kohei. Ushitora seized her and Kohei's home as payment for a gambling debt. He then gave her to Tokuemon to gain his support. Sanjuro, under the guise of securing the woman from Seibei, kills all six guards assigned to her and reunites her with her husband and young son. He gives them the 30 ryo Ushitora paid him, tells them to leave town, and ransacks the building. However, Unosuke becomes suspicious of the claim that Seibei's men were responsible and uncovers Sanjuro's double dealing. Sanjuro is then beaten in an attempt to find out where the woman is hiding.

When Sanjuro manages to escape, Ushitora decides to eliminate Seibei once and for all, and succeeds in wiping out the opposing gang. With the help of Gonji, Sanjuro recuperates while hiding near the cemetery. However, when he learns that Gonji has been caught while bringing food and medicine, he returns to confront the remainder of Ushitora's men. Sanjuro manages to kill them all, including Unosuke and Ushitora, sparing only one terrified young man he encountered on his way into town. Sanjuro then departs, knowing that his task has been accomplished.




Kurosawa stated that a major source for the plot was the 1942 film noir classic The Glass Key, an adaptation of Dashiell Hammett's 1931 novel. It has been noted that the overall plot of Yojimbo is closer to that of another Hammett novel, Red Harvest (1929).[4] Kurosawa scholar David Desser, and film critic Manny Farber claim that Red Harvest was the inspiration for the film; however, Donald Richie and other scholars believe the similarities are coincidental.[5]

When asked his name, the samurai calls himself "Kuwabatake Sanjuro" (meaning "mulberry field thirty-year-old"), which he seems to make up while looking at a mulberry field by the town. Thus, the character can be viewed as an early example of the "Man with No Name" (other examples of which appear in a number of earlier novels, including Dashiell Hammett's Red Harvest).[6]


Many of the actors in Yojimbo worked with Kurosawa before and after, especially Toshiro Mifune, Takashi Shimura and Tatsuya Nakadai.


After Kurosawa scolded Mifune for arriving late to the set one morning, Mifune made it a point to be ready on set at 6:00 AM every day in full makeup and costume for the rest of the film's shooting schedule.[7]

This was the second film where director Akira Kurosawa worked with cinematographer Kazuo Miyagawa.

The sword instruction and choreography for the film were done by Yoshio Sugino of the Tenshin Shōden Katori Shintō-ryū and Ryū Kuze.


Yojimbo ranked at #95 in Empire magazine's list of the 500 Greatest Films of All Time.[8] A 1968 screening in the planned community of Columbia, Maryland was considered too violent for viewers causing the hosts to hide in the bathroom to avoid the audience.[9]


In 1962, Kurosawa directed Sanjuro, in which Mifune returns as the ronin Sanjuro, but takes a different "surname". In both films, he takes his surname from the plants he happens to be looking at when asked his name.


Western-influencing cinematography; Toshiro Mifune as a lone hero in wide framing

Both in Japan and the West, Yojimbo has had a considerable influence on various forms of entertainment.

In 1964, Yojimbo was remade as A Fistful of Dollars, a Spaghetti Western directed by Sergio Leone and starring Clint Eastwood in his first appearance as the Man with No Name. Leone and his production company failed to secure the remake rights to Kurosawa's film, resulting in a lawsuit that delayed Fistful‍ '​s release in North America for three years. It would be settled out of court for an undisclosed agreement before the U.S. release. In Yojimbo, the protagonist defeats a man who carries a gun, while he carries only a knife and a sword; in the equivalent scene in Fistful, Eastwood's pistol-wielding character survives being shot by a rifle by hiding an iron plate under his clothes to serve as a shield against bullets.

A second, looser Spaghetti Western, Django, was directed by Sergio Corbucci in 1966 and featured Franco Nero in the title role. Known for its high level (at the time of its release) of graphic violence, the film's character and title were referenced in over thirty unofficial "sequels".[10][11][12]

The 1970 film Zatoichi Meets Yojimbo features Mifune as a somewhat similar character. It is the twentieth of a series of movies featuring the blind swordsman Zatoichi. Although Mifune is clearly not playing the same man as he did in the two Kurosawa films (his name is 佐々大作 Sasa Daisaku, and his personality and background are different in many key respects), the movie's title and some of its content do intend to suggest the image of the two iconic jidaigeki characters confronting each other.

Incident at Blood Pass, also made in 1970, also stars Mifune in a role even more similar to that of Sanjuro. Although never spoken aloud in the film, the character's name is 鎬刀三郎 Shinogi Tosaburō. As was the case with Sanjuro, this character's surname of 鎬 Shinogi is not an actual proper family name, but rather a term that means "ridges on a blade".

Mifune's character became the model for John Belushi's Samurai Futaba character on Saturday Night Live.[13]

In The Warrior and the Sorceress (1984), the mercenary warrior Kain (David Carradine) sets rival warlords Zeg and Balcaz against each other in a battle over a town's only well. The action is set on Ura, a desert planet with two suns.

Last Man Standing (1996), a Prohibition-era gangster thriller directed by Walter Hill and starring Bruce Willis, is an officially authorized remake of Yojimbo.

At the closing of Episode XXIII of the animated series Samurai Jack, a triumphant Jack walks off alone in a scene (and accompanied by music) influenced by the closing scene and music of Yojimbo. In Episode XXVI, Jack confronts a gang who destroyed his sandals, using Clint Eastwood's lines from A Fistful of Dollars, but substituting "footwear" for "mule". The influence of Yojimbo in particular (and Kurosawa films in general) on the animated series has been noted by Matthew Millheiser at DVDtalk.[14]


  1. ^  
  2. ^ Yoshinari Okamoto (director) (2002). Kurosawa Akira: Tsukuru to iu koto wa subarashii [Akira Kurosawa: It is Wonderful to Create] (in Japanese). 
  3. ^ On screen text at about 0:2:15
  4. ^ Desser, David (1983). "Towards a Structural Analysis of the Postwar Samurai Film". Quarterly Review of Film Studies (Print) (Redgrave Publishing Company) 8.1: 33.  
  5. ^ Barra, Allen (2005). "From Red Harvest to Deadwood". Salon. 
  6. ^ Dashiell Hammett. Red Harvest.  
  7. ^  
  8. ^ "The 500 Greatest Movies Of All Time". Empire. Bauer Media Group. Archived from the original on August 17, 2011. Retrieved August 17, 2011. 
  9. ^ Joseph Rocco Mitchell, David L. Stebenne. New City Upon a Hill. p. 116. 
  10. ^ Marco Giusti, Dizionario del western all'italiana, 1st ed. Milan, Mondadori, August 2007. ISBN 978-88-04-57277-0.
  11. ^ Django (Django: The One and Only) (DVD). Los Angeles, California:  
  12. ^ Alex Cox, 10,000 Ways to Die: A Director's Take on the Spaghetti Western, Oldcastle Books, September 1, 2009. ISBN 978-1842433041.
  13. ^ Barra, Allen (17 August 2010). "That Nameless Stranger, Half a Century Later". Wall Street Journal. Retrieved 10 January 2012. 
  14. ^ "Samurai Jack: Season 1 : DVD Talk Review of the DVD Video". Retrieved 2014-04-08. 

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