Note: This review contains spoilers
Enough cannot be said about the man who brought the Japanese Cinema to the attention of the world with his philosophical, action-packed, darkly comic movies that were to inspire countless ones later (including Sholay, the most popular Indian movie ever). Yojimbo is one of the manifestations of Akira Kurosawa’s genius (but not his claim-to-fame). Yojimbi constantly sways between deceptions (adroitly manipulated by Kurosawa) and cleverly crafted ying-yangs – stark violence and in-your-face humor, superficial cruelty and deep kindness, heroic courage and contemptible cowardice (that one surprisingly can’t help but laugh at).
A wandering anonymous Samurai comes across a father-son arguing, the father preventing the son to join a gang of gambling crooks - criminals with short life spans. He reaches a war-torn village, smelling the stench of fear pervading all its residents.
He takes shelter in a home where the host tells him about the prevalent conditions in the village – two gangs led by SeiBei and Ushitora, gambling clans of crooks and criminals are fighting it out to rule the village. The Samurai decides to make hay while the sun shines by exploiting his art.
After demonstrating his skill to SeiBei by killing three crooks from the Ushitora clan, the Samurai joins them for 50 ryo by offering to become their bodyguard, and helping eliminate the other side. However, his association is short-lived as he discovers the intentions of Seibei’s wife, who conspire to kill him after the fight. Samurai, who calls himself Sanjuro now, overhears them and devises a plan to retaliate.
Seibei and his hoodlums declare attack on Ushitora in broad daylight after procuring Sanjuro, their confidence unshakeable. However, Sanjuro deserts them at the beginning of the fight, informing both parties that he is neutral. Perched atop a tower he watches in amusement as two sides prepare to annihilate the other, fear written all over their cowardly faces.
To their relief and his chagrin, an unexpected inspection from a country official saves the two sides from killing each other (if they could engage at all in the first place).
Unable to strike a bargain with him and knowing that neither of them have the courage, Seibei and Ushitora patch up. Sanjuro rightly says, “Gambler’s make peace to make for a bigger fight,” and incites the two sides to stoke their mutual hatred. As a result, the brittle trust is soon broken. He joins Ushitora, and puts his plan into action by setting Ushitora’s mistress free (uniting her with her husband and child). An enraged Ushitora takes the bait and goes after Seibei and the conflict is resumed.
But lady luck deserts him when one of Tokuemon’s men spots the mistress with her family and brings it to his attention. He confronts Sanjuro and alleges it was him who killed the bodyguards (A thank-you note from the man Sanjuro helped confirms his suspicion). Sanjuro’s is incarcerated and tortured to reveal the mistress’s whereabouts without any success.
Sanjuro manages to escape and hides in the old man’s house where he usually is. When Tokuemon’s men arrive looking for him, they are told that Sanjuro is now with Seibei. Ushitora launches an attack on an unprepared Seibei, and a bloody rampage ensues in which Seibei’s family is wiped off. Sanjuro now recuperates in a temple, practicing his aim, when he hears that his saviour has been captured by Ushitora’s men. Killing all the vermin, he ends the chaos and bloodbath in the town.
Adjectives like versatile would undermine Toshiro Mifune’s reputation as an actor. Only he could wear the cloak of cruelty over a shining armor of kindness. As soon as the viewer labels Sanjuro opportunistic and selfish, he does a U-turn and show what real men are made of. If he symbolizes deceptively true courage (camouflaged by an outwardly contempt of those he helps), others do well to make the cowardice an almost necessary, complementary fit. Ergo, the entire epic culminates as a completion of various aspects of human nature.
If you are a fan of westerns, you really do need to watch this movie. Good action and entertaining acting is definitely an icing on the cake!