Since Amazon has mixed up the separate reviews of these two films, this is my review of Yojimbo only.
So says Ejiro Tono’s restaurant owner, Gonji, to Toshiro Mifune’s lone ronin ('unattached samurai’), Sanjuro Kuwabatake in Akira Kurosawa’s 1961 film Yojimbo ('bodyguard’), as the latter trades off the small, late 20th century town’s two gangs against one another, superficially for financial gain, but with some undercurrent of latent humanity. Yojimbo was, of course, another Kurosawa film (following Seven Samurai) that was the inspiration for a western genre film, this time Sergio Leone’s A Fistful Of Dollars (made in 1964). Indeed, not only was Kurosawa and Ryuzo Kikushima’s tale the inspiration for Leone’s film but the look of Yojimbo also appears to have influenced Leone’s (and regular cinematographer Tonino Delli Colli’s) visual sense – a great example of this is (for me) Yojimbo’s most stunning shot, that near the end as the samurai is framed in the distance, across the wind-swept town, with (recently tortured) ally Gonji suspended by his wrists in the foreground (a panoramic shot revealed as Kazuo Miyagawa’s camera draws back).
As was Kuroswa’s wont in relation to his 'samurai films’, Yojimbo is not all flailing swords and severed limbs – far from it, it is more a study of social manners and human idiosyncrasies. And Mifune’s ronin is hardly an 'action hero’ in the mould of the traditional 'professional’ samurai, more a phlegmatic and conflicted opportunist with an undercurrent of dark humour and cynicism (repeatedly fooling the 'tough guys’ and sticking out his tongue in jest). Indeed, even when Sanjuro reveals his more human sympathetic side by rescuing Yoko Tsukasa’s farmer’s wife, Nui, from Ushi-Tora’s (Kyu Sazanka) gang, specifically from (an underused) Takashi Shimura’s Tokuemon who has 'acquired’ the desperate spouse, the samurai recoils in disgust at Nui (and family’s) grovelling thank-you with, 'Stop it. I hate pathetic people’. This sequence, involving Nui is (for me) one of the film’s highlights, as Kurosawa (plus Masaru Sato’s intoxicating music) creates a truly spine-tingling spectacle, packed with emotion.
Character-wise, Kurosawa’s film is also endlessly intriguing, from cynical restaurant philosopher Gunji, bemoaning the town coffin-maker’s success ('It’ll be a corpse fair, not a silk fair’) to 'gang boss’ Ushi-Tora’s brothers, the scheming, perennially suspicious Unosuke (a brilliantly sinister Tatsuya Nakadai), forever brandishing his 'invincible weapon’, a handgun, and his bumbling, rotund sibling, Daisuke Kato’s gullible Inokichi. And, of course, these character idiosyncrasies are mirrored by Kurosawa’s unique eye for visual detail, as a dog strolls through town with a severed hand in its mouth and when Yojimbo builds to what is a brilliant climactic showdown scene, with Sanjuro 'banishing’ the last of his opponents with the killer put-down, 'A long life eating mush is best’.