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To rid a terror-stricken village of corruption, wily masterless samurai Sanjuro (Toshiro Mifune) turns a range war between two evil clans to his own advantage in Akira Kurosawa’s visually stunning and darkly comic Yojimbo.
For more about Yojimbo and the Yojimbo Blu-ray release, see Yojimbo Blu-ray Review published by Dr. Svet Atanasov on March 3, 2010 where this Blu-ray release scored 4.5 out of 5.
Starring: Toshirô Mifune, Tatsuya Nakadai
Director: Akira Kurosawa
» See full cast & crew
Yojimbo Blu-ray Review
Reviewed by Dr. Svet Atanasov, March 3, 2010
Winner of the Best Actor award at the Venice Film Festival, Akira Kurosawa's "Yojimbo" (1961) arrives on Blu-ray courtesy of Criterion. The supplemental features on the disc include an exclusive audio commentary with film historian Stephen Price; forty-five-minute documentary about the making of "Yojimbo"; theatrical trailer; and more. The Blu-ray disc also arrives with a 22-page illustrated booklet, containing a statement from Akira Kurosawa that appeared in the 1999 book The Films of Akira Kurosawa, by Donald Richie; Alexander Sesonske's essay "West meets East"; and comments from notable Kurosawa collaborators that appeared first in the 2002 Toho SDVD release of "Yojimbo". With optional English subtitles. Region-A "locked".
Akira Kurosawa's Yojimbo is a classic Western set in...Japan. The film follows a masterless samurai (Toshiro Mifune) who arrives in a small town in the middle of nowhere looking for work. At the local inn, however, he is advised to leave the place as soon as possible. The owner tells the samurai that the town's two rivaling gangs have driven most ordinary folks away. There is no business, and no one would hire him. But the samurai declines the inn-owner's advice and decides to stay. This is exactly the place he has been looking for – a crime infested cesspool.
Not long after, three goons challenge the samurai. One of them quickly loses his arm, the other two run away. Impressed with the samurai's skills, the two gang bosses decide to hire him as yojimbo. He promises both that he would consider their offers and make up his mind after he sees how much they are willing to pay him.
Things get complicated when the samurai decides to play the two gangs and force them to kill each other. At first, each of the gang leaders is convinced that it is only a matter of time before the samurai joins them, but then they realize what his plan is and go after him. The samurai is quickly captured and seriously beaten up.
Before the gangsters manage to kill the samurai, he escapes. His wounds heal and eventually he also regains his strength. Filled with anger, he returns to the town and kills all of the gangsters in spectacular fashion.
Critics love to talk about how Yojimbo inspired Sergio Leone to shoot Per Un Pugno Di Dollari. They also love to remind us that Kurosawa was an influential figure for many young American directors during the 60s, 70s and 80s. Few of them, however, ever mention that Kurosawa himself was greatly influenced by Russian director Sergei Eisenstein, as well as the writings of Feodor Dostoyevsky, Leo Tolstoy and Maxim Gorky, some of which he filmed during the latter stages of his career -- The Idiot (1951), The Lower Depths (1957), etc.
We know that Kurosawa was also greatly influenced by John Ford, which is one of the reasons why both Yojimbo and Sanjuro have a distinctively Western look and feel. Both films also harbor a strong dose of dark humor, though only in Yojimbo the humor reaches far enough to make us comfortable speculating that it might have been meant to effectively criticize Japan's corrupt capitalist system.
Yojimbo is unlike other samurai that you would see in Japanese cinema. He is brave and dangerous with his sword, but also something of a scoundrel - money is always on the back of his mind. In one of the most memorable scenes in the film, he takes a great pleasure in watching the gangsters massacring each other. We also repeatedly see him drinking.
The manner in which Yojimbo is framed is also quite unusual. You would notice in the very beginning of the film how Kurosawa captured Sanjuro from all sorts of different angles, almost completely filling up the screen. Elsewhere in the film, there are many unique rapid camera cuts and zooms that eventually earned Kurosawa the "most Western of Japanese directors" label.
In 1961, Yojimbo won the Best Actor award (Toshiro Mifune) at the Venice Film Festival. A year later, the film was nominated for Oscar for Best Costume Design (Yoshirô Muraki).
Yojimbo Blu-ray, Video Quality
Presented in its original aspect ratio of 2.35:1, encoded with MPEG-4 AVC and granted a 1080p transfer, Akira Kurosawa's Yojimbo arrives on Blu-ray courtesy of Criterion.
This is a striking high-definition transfer! Frankly, aside from some very mild flickering that I noticed during a couple of scenes, everything else looks superb. Detail is fantastic, clarity outstanding, and contrast levels excellent. What impressed me the most, however, is how Yojimbo looks blown through a digital projector - the crisp and tight image is very much on par with Criterion's Last Year at Marienbad.
The film's grain structure is intact. I would also like to specifically note that none of the random digital noise that is visible on the SDVD release of Yojimbo is present here. Instead, the picture looks sharp and well detailed, even during the indoor scenes. Finally, I did not detect any disturbing flecks, scratches, debris, or stains to report in this review. To sum it all up, this Blu-ray release of Akira Kurosawa's Yojimbo represents a dramatic upgrade over its SDVD counterpart, which is why I am convinced that you would be absolutely thrilled with it. (Note: This is a Region-A "locked" Blu-ray disc. Therefore, you must have a native Region- A or Region-Free PS3 or SA in order to access its content).
Yojimbo Blu-ray, Audio Quality
There are two audio tracks on this Blu-ray disc: Japanese DTS-HD Master Audio 3.0 and Japanese LPCM 1.0. For the record, Criterion have provided optional English subtitles for the main feature. When turned on, they appear inside the image frame.
The following text appears in the booklet provided with this Blu-ray disc: "The monaural soundtrack was remastered at 24-bit from the 35mm optical soundtrack. The restored Perspecta Stereophonic Sound was decoded through Perspecta decoder and reencoded as a Dolby 3.0 soundtrack. Clicks, thumps, hiss, and hum were manually removed using Pro Tools HD. Crackle was attenuated using AudioCube's integrated audio workstation."
While obviously there are certain dynamic improvements on the Japanese DTS-HD Master Audio 3.0 track that provide Yojimkbo with a stronger flavor - Masaru Sato's fantastic score most certainly benefits from it - I prefer the umcompressed mono track. I like the dated feel Yojimbo has and think that the mono track is more suitable for it.
I did not detect any specific technical flaws with the mono track. The dialog is crisp, clear and easy to follow. There aren't any serious fluctuations in terms of dynamics either. Background hiss is also not an issue of concern.
Yojimbo Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
Commentary: an audio commentary with film historian Stephen Price, author of The Warrior's Camera: The Cinema of Akira Kurosawa, recorded exclusively for the Criterion Collection in 2006.
Akira Kurosawa: It is Wonderful to Create - this forty-five-minute documentary about the making of Yojimbo, part of the Toho Masterworks series Akira Kurosawa: It Is Wonderful Create, features director Akira Kurosawa, actor Tatsuya Nakadai, production designer Yoshiro Muraki, and longtime Kurosawa collaborator Teruyo Nogami, among others. In Japanese, with optional English subtitles. (45 min, 1080i).
Theatrical trailer - In Japanese, with optional English subtitles. (3 min, 1080i).
Teaser - In Japanese, with optional English subtitles. (2 min, 1080i).
Stills gallery - a collection of stills from the filming of Yojimbo.
Booklet - a 22-page illustrated booklet, containing a statement by Akira Kurosawa that appeared in the 1999 book The Films of Akira Kurosawa, by Donald Richie; Alexander Sesonske's essay "West meets East"; and comments from notable Kurosawa collaborators that appeared first in the 2002 Toho SDVD release of Yojimbo.
Yojimbo Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
I have a feeling that a lot of people would be genuinely surprised when they get their hands on Criterion's Blu-ray release of Akira Kurosawa's Yojimbo. This isn't a marginal upgrade of their SDVD release. It is one of the most dramatic upgrades to emerge from them since they began releasing on Blu-ray. Bravo! VERY HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.
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Yojimbo Blu-ray, News and Updates
• Criterion New Year's Card Hints at Upcoming Blu-ray Titles - January 1, 2010
The Criterion Collection asked resident “wacky” artist, Jason Polan, to help them ring in the New Year. The result is a cryptic e-card that features numerous obscure references to upcoming titles. Members of the blu-ray.com forum and other boards have tried to ...
• Criterion Announces Two Kurosawa Films on Blu-ray (Update) - December 15, 2009
The Criterion Collection has announced that, to celebrate the centenary of the birth of Japanese filmmaker Akira Kurosawa, it will release two of his films on Blu-ray on March 23: 'Yojimbo' and 'Sanjuro', starring Toshiro Mifune as a samurai-for-hire. Later in ...
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