Repertory Picks

Ruthless Ronin in Massachusetts

On Film / In Theaters — Jan 3, 2019

Tomorrow, as part of its ongoing After Midnite series, the Coolidge Corner Theatre in Brookline, Massachusetts, will spool up a 35 mm print of Akira Kurosawa’s Yojimbo for a late-night screening. With this 1961 classic—made after he had shot to international acclaim in the 1950s with such strikingly original works as Rashomon, Ikiru, and Seven Samurai—Akira Kurosawa created a bold new kind of genre film, combining the samurai movie and the American western into a dynamic, black-comic brew, spiked as well with pungent film-noir elements. 

As scholar Alexander Sesonske observes in his liner essay for our edition of Yojimbo, the film takes place in “a classic western setting, with dust and leaves blowing across the wide, empty street that runs the length of a village,” but its protagonist, Toshiro Mifune’s Sanjuro, is no upstanding cowboy: “a sword for hire, available to the highest bidder, with an attitude more akin to that of Sam Spade than of Shane,” he has no compunction about capitalizing on the small town’s rival-clan turf war, which comes to a head in a number of tautly staged action sequences. The unique genre alchemy that Kurosawa achieved here would prove one of his most lastingly influential contributions to cinema: Yojimbo quickly became a worldwide sensation, spawning a celebrated sequel (1962’s Sanjuro) as well as two official remakes (Sergio Leone’s breakthrough spaghetti western A Fistful of Dollars and Walter Hill’s Prohibition-era thriller Last Man Standing).