Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Movie Review: Yojimbo

So I needed to watch a movie for Japanese class and (since neither of the libraries had the movie version of Memoirs of a Geisha) I went to the every so handy netflix streaming section and, after narrowing down my choices, went for the samurai movie Yojimbo. And before anyone asks why I didn't watch Seven Samurai instead (and they were both directed by the same guy, Akira Kurosawa) it's because I've already seen it and don't feel like sitting through a four hour movie again quite so soon.

Yojimbo (bodyguard, normally spelled yojinbo).

Summary: Sanjuro* is a ronin who finds himself in a town caught in a conflict between two crime lords. For no real reason he decides to help rid the town of the gangs by agreeing to be a bodyguard for both sides and skillfully egging them on to wipe each other out.

The Good: It's a simple concept for a movie but it's pretty well done and doesn't drag at all, even though the movie clocks in at close to two hours. The fights look good, the characters manage to stay distinct, it's nice to listen to, it's just a nice movie to watch.

The Bad: Is it just me or are all of the characters pretty flat? It's pretty obvious that all the characters in the town (except the restaurant owner) are stereotypes but Sanjuro isn't that fleshed out either. There's never any reason given for why he gets involved in this whole mess (I just assumed for fun since he never keeps any of the money he gets for switching sides) and the movie ends without even a hint.

The Music: I really liked the underlying drum music in here, for some reason you don't hear a lot of this in anime (seriously, considering so much anime is set in Japan you'd think they'd use traditional instruments every now and then) and I found it just plain cool. The background music also helped add to the scenes a lot and sometimes it reminded me of a play with the way that music, not a cut or change in lighting, was used to make quick mood changes.

The Visuals: After taking black and white photography for a while now I'm really impressed at how good the movie looks. It's not that grainy and all the shots are pretty darn well exposed no matter what the situation is. That's hard and my hat is off to them for just that. The fight scenes were alright, no really cool one-on-one fight scenes (which I was hoping for) but what fighting there is looks natural enough.

I know that's a short review but it is a pretty straightforward movie, I could get into details but that would be more spoilery than I want to do. I actually got the urge to re-watch House of Five Leaves about halfway through (since both of them have taken the master-less samurai story and twisted it a bit), anyone who likes Kurosawa's films should totally check that out by the way (it's on Funimation's website and hulu I believe).
Now, to wait until I get my paper back in Japanese and to revise it, it's even harder to write this review in Japanese even if I spoil the entire movie (so many grammar errors!).

*Which I'm almost positive is a pseudonym since it means "around 30ish," even a beginning speaker like me picked up on the pun almost immediately.