With this post, the film meme on this blog is coming to an end. I once again thank Dev from the bottom of my heart for urging me to take this up. I am also deeply grateful to all of you who have appreciated my writing, provided numerous recommendations, and shared your experiences to make this such a wonderfully entertaining series!
Kurosawa literally provided the curriculum and textbook for Sergio Leone and Clint Eastwood. He made Yojimbo paying homage to the earlier John Ford westerns, and in turn provided the script for remaking it into A Fistful of Dollars and further, the forgettable Last Man Standing. And Toshiro Mifune was to Kurosawa what De Niro was to Scorsese. Mifune shines brilliantly in this highly entertaining, easily accessible, most popular Kurosawa film.
A samurai mercenary (Sanjuro, played by Mifune) drifts into a town to find two gang lords at war with each other. Ordinary citizens meekly watch the proceedings from their window shutters. To earn his livelihood, Sanjuro gets hired as the bodyguard at both ends double-crossing both his bosses. His strategy is like an intricate chess game, where he supports neither side, and his goal is instead to upset the game.
Sanjuro is amoral and cynical. His look has that calm fatality of the professional sword-slinger. There is almost no one worthy of being saved in this town. Everyone is bad and evil, so that the whole drama becomes grotesque and turns into a comedy. However, Sanjuro shows his human side when he is not able to maintain his amoral detachment and helps a poor farmer couple escape. He eventually overcomes the consequences of his tryst with good, and that helps us empathize with him as the hero.
There is a geometric strategy to the camera perspectives utilizing strictly right-angle camera views and deep focus on the widescreen. A long empty street lined by houses is shown with the camera viewing one end or the other. The houses are shown directly looking inside the windows at right-angles to the street. From inside the houses, the street is shown at right angles, or when showing the scene inside, our back is towards the street. The strategy is to provide a simple polarity to the situation, turning the hero into a diagonal who upsets the balance.
The settings, production design, and music (the most for any Kurosawa movie) are all wonderful. The samurai costumes with empty sleeves flapping at the sides gave rise to the Eastwood poncho. Mifune’s Sanjuro, who essentially replies ‘30-something with no name’ when asked his name became Eastwood’s “Man with No Name”, a character influencing movies for four decades.
If you’ve exhausted all other options and are still looking for a passable feel-good romantic comedy, You’ve Got Mail may fit the bill. It’s not officially my runner-up or noteworthy mention as it’s too gimmicky and sugar-coated for my taste.