Film / Yojimbo

"I'll get paid for killing, and this town is full of people who deserve to die."

Yojimbomore correctly Yōjinbō, meaning "bodyguard" — is a 1961 Jidai Geki film directed by Akira Kurosawa, loosely based on Dashiell Hammett's novel Red Harvest. It stars Toshiro Mifune as wandering rōnin Sanjūrō, who arrives in a town beset by criminals and decides to clean the place up (apparently for fun and profit). His method is simple, yet clever: he reduces the number of gangsters in the town by getting the two rival factions to go to war, then mops up the remainder. An enormously influential film, it has had at least three direct remakes — Sergio Leone's A Fistful of Dollars (as a Western), Walter Hill's Last Man Standing (as a mob movie) and Albert Pyun's Omega Doom (as a sci-fi movie) — as well as homages in numerous other films and television shows. It was even used as the basis of an episode of the Pokémon anime.

A year later it got a sequel titled Sanjuro, which was a bit more of a light-hearted comedy.

Yojimbo provides examples of the following tropes:

  • Action Film, Quiet Drama Scene: Quite a few of these. This is one reason this movie stands the test of time so well. In fact, although the plot revolves around the threat of violence, very little screentime actually depicts violence. So it hardly fits the modern concept of "action movie".
  • Animal Motifs: Akira Kurosawa had this very clearly in mind. He told Toshiro Mifune to act like a stray dog, which is why he twitches his shoulders and scratches himself a lot during the film (see Character Tics below). Kurosawa told Tatsuya Nakadai (who played Unosuke) that his character was a snake, so Nakadai moves very slitheringly and doesn't blink a whole lot.
  • Anti-Hero: Sanjūrō
  • Ax-Crazy: Unosuke. Or rather, Gun Crazy. He really likes his pistol.
  • Badass: Sanjūrō is a complete badass, and everybody comes to realize this very quickly. In fact, seeing as how his performance influenced Clint Eastwood in A Fistful of Dollars it could be said he's one of the modern Trope Makers.
  • Badass Boast: Recently recovering from an injury, Sanjurō was out to rescue the innkeeper Gonbei from Unosuke's gang. When the sympathetic coffin-maker expressed doubt at the odds against him while he has a mere knife to fight with, Sanjurō bellows: I'll turn them into sashimi!
    • And earlier when he goes to rescue Nui, he goes into the house where she is being kept under guard and then comes back out to tell Inokichi that all six guards are dead. After Inokichi leaves, one of the guards comes out to see what all the noise is. Sanjūrō wasn't a liar for long.
    • And the coolest one of them all:
    "I guess there is no cure for stupidity except for death."
  • Batman Gambit: Sanjūrō is able to destroy the two rival gangs by exploiting their leaders' personalities and the fact that both of them desperately want his skills.
  • Big Bad: Ushitora is the one who starts the gang war.
  • Bloodless Carnage: During the fights, you won't see any wounds (except for one instance of Sanjūrō cutting off a guy's arm) and the swords often seem to slash nothing but air. There is sometimes blood after the battles though, spilling from under the victim's body.
  • Character Tics: Sanjūrō has a habit of keeping one hand inside of his clothing and twitching his shoulders. The idea behind this is that he's like a wolf/dog and has fleas — making him a character with ticks.
  • Chekhov's Skill: Sanjūrō shows he's a crack-shot as a knife thrower by passing the time throwing a knife at a shred of paper blowing around in the wind. It helps him to defeat Unosuke, the gun wielder.
  • Deadpan Snarker: Sanjūrō, especially when talking to Ushitora's men.
    Thug 1: If they catch me, they'll put my head on a pike. Not to brag, but I've committed every crime in the book.
    Sanjūrō: So you wouldn't mind if I killed you?
    Thug 2: Kill us if you can!
    Sanjūrō: *shrugs* It'll hurt.
  • Diagonal Cut: One of the last things Sanjuro does: Cut the ropes binding Gonji with a single stroke, before turning around to go Wander the Earth some more.
  • Dirty Cop: The local constable is useless and venal, and attempts to get a finders fee for recommending that Sanjūrō join one side of the gang war. Sanjūrō tells him to kill himself at the end of the film.
    Sanjūrō: Go hang yourself.
  • Dirty Old Man: Tokuemon, the Sake Brewer.
  • Distracted by the Sexy: Averted, although they give it a good try.
  • The Ditz: Inokichi doesn't even know how to count with his fingers. He later helps Sanjūrō escape from Ushitora's gang, involuntarily.
  • Don't Make Me Destroy You: Sanjūrō warns three mooks that mocked him earlier. Said mooks are all sentenced to death if caught and seem quite proud of it. Sanjūrō has thus no qualms and slays them all as a demonstration of his skills and utters the following badass line.
    Sanjūrō: Cooper, two coffins... No, better make that three.
  • The Dragon: Inokichi and Unosuke to Ushitora. The latter is equipped with a brain, the former isn't.
  • Enemy Civil War: What started the mob war in the first place.
  • Evil Matriarch: Seibei's wife is the really nasty one in the family.
  • Evil Versus Evil: The status quo at the beginning of the movie. Sanjūrō's actions just turn it Up to Eleven.
  • Fakeout Escape: Sanjūrō's escape from Ushitora's house starts by crawling inside a large wooden chest, to make everyone think he's already escaped.
  • Fat Comic Relief: Inokichi, who's more pudgy than fat.
  • A Fistful of Rehashes: Officially, this is an adaptation of The Glass Key, though its plot more closely follows Red Harvest.
  • Giant Mook: Kannuki the Giant, one of Ushitora' mooks. None of the other Mooks are even as tall as his shoulders and he wields a big freakin' mallet.
  • Gonk: Most of the bad guys except for Unosuke. Inokichi's the real standout here.
  • Guile Hero:
    • While Sanjūrō is more than capable of handling open conflicts, he spends most of the movie implementing Batman Gambits against his enemies instead.
    • Gonji has traits of this too when he has to hide and transport a seriously injured Sanjuro.
  • Heads or Tails: The film's opening shot shows Sanjūrō arriving at a fork in the road. After a few seconds of pondering, he throws a stick into the air and bases his decision on where it lands. The rest, as they say, is history.
  • Hollywood Healing: Sanjūrō manages to heal quickly and apparently without lasting consequences after being beaten pretty badly. Although it takes him at least a week if not more to fully recover.
  • Homage: The scene where Sanjūrō is thrown around by his face is an homage to the 1942 film version of The Glass Key.
  • Improbable Aiming Skills: Averted. Unosuke can hit stationary targets just fine, but he misses badly in the climax when aiming at a moving Sanjuro.
  • I Surrender, Suckers: Subverted. Unosuke is so far into his death throes that he can't even finish Sanjūrō off at point blank range. Strangely, Unosuke takes a bit longer to die than that and talks some more later. Perhaps he considered Sanjūrō a Worthy Opponent he couldn't bring to kill like that. He could have even gotten away since revolvers were rare in Japan at that time that Sanjuro didn't realize until he got close it still had bullets left!
  • Jerk with a Heart of Gold:
    • Sanjuro. He's coarse, devious, treats the closest thing he has to friends like crap, and kills a whole bunch of people, but inserts himself into a mob war because it's the right thing to do, and saves several people from their own stupidity.
    • Gonji is this as well. He could have left Sanjuro to die, but took great risk to protect and heal Sanjuro while the guy was injured and running from the mob. He even gets captured and strung up for his efforts, but scolds his rescuers for coming back and endangering themselves again.
  • Job Title: Yojimbo is a corruption of the Japanese word "yõjinbõ," which translates to "bodyguard."
  • Line-of-Sight Name: When asked what his name is, Mifune looks out over a field of mulberry trees and gives the name Kuwabatake (mulberry field) Sanjūrō (thirty-ish).
  • Lost Him in a Card Game: The husband in the family in the Pet the Dog example lost his wife (and their house) gambling.
  • Made of Iron: Averted Trope, after Sanjūrō is beaten up and guarded by two of Ushitora's thugs and one of the guards asks the other if it's all right to keep him tied up while the Giant Mook says he's nothing without his sword anyway in a way that would rather seem to be Tempting Fate to many Genre Savvy viewers, Sanjūrō escapes through more sneaky means and drags himself to his escape from being unable to stand.
  • Master Swordsman: Sanjūrō, naturally. It comes back to bite him when Unosuke notes that he's the only one skilled enough with a sword to kill six men single-handed. In the final showdown, he takes on 10 men, including a Giant Mook and a guy with a gun, killing 9 of them (the 10th he lets go out of mercy).
  • Minion with an F in Evil: Inokichi, who while boisterous is so slow-witted he's almost charming.
  • Mob War
  • Mr. Exposition: Gonji, who lays out the whole situation in town and who everybody is to Sanjūrō (and the audience).
  • Nerves of Steel:
    • Sanjūrō, as best displayed during the escape scene. Even after being beaten within an inch of his life, he's still able to think clearly enough to make an effective escape.
    • Gonji, with none of the training or skills, manages to bluff his way past gangsters and through a mob war to get an injured Sanjuro to safety.
  • Never Bring A Knife To A Gunfight: Averted. Sanjūrō wins.
  • Nice Job Breaking It, Hero: The family Sanjuro saved send him a letter of thanks, and Unosuke spots it, leading to Sanjuro's capture and torture.
  • Nice Job Fixing It, Villain: Kannuki tossing Sanjuro around like a ragdoll during one of the torture sessions breaks the lock on a storage box, which Sanjuro hides in to trick the guards that he has escaped, and then makes a break for it as they go on the hunt.
  • No Name Given: The main character's real name is not revealed. "Kuwabatake Sanjūrō" is just a name he made up on the spot.
  • Only in It for the Money: Sanjūrō behaves like this at start, and Gonji chew him out several times for that.
  • Pet the Dog
    • Sanjuro manages to save a family that's been caught between the quarrels of the two gangs, which tends to make him less antiheroic. In order to act a little more rugged, Sanjūrō threatens them with death if they don't get the hell out of there fast enough. He does so with good reason: if they're caught, they'll likely be killed.
    • Also, at the very beginning of the film, he chances to see a farmer boy quarreling with his parents; he intends to join one of the gangs, thinking that the excitement and riches are preferable to a boring life of farming and eating gruel. Near the end of the film, Sanjūrō actually has that same farmer-turned-gangster at swordpoint. Rather than cut him down, though, Sanjūrō just remarks to him that perhaps the gruel-eating life is better than this. The boy, elated at this mercy, runs off.
  • Playing Both Sides: Sort-of the movie's main premise. Arguably this is the codifying example as it is the most identifiable element in the remakes A Fistful of Dollars and Last Man Standing, and is oft cited as a primary influence in later works that revolve around this premise.
  • Prematurely Marked Grave: The local gravedigger sizes up Sanjūrō for the coffin he will need to be building.
  • Psychopathic Manchild: Inokichi is somewhere between being the big Dumb Muscle and between appearing endearing and harmless.
  • Rock Beats Laser: Unosuke and his overconfidence in his gun are no match for a superbly trained samurai like Sanjuro, who defeats him easily with his throwing knife and a single deadly katana blow.
  • Ronin: Sanjūrō
  • Sanity Slippage: Tazaemon, the Silk Merchant falls victim to this. His grip on reality is tenuous even at the start of the film and by the end he appears to have gone completely insane.
  • Samurai Ponytail: Mifune is a poor wandering ronin with a short, scruffy ponytail that sticks straight out of the back of his head.
  • Sean Connery Is About to Shoot You: Based on the poster, Sanjuro is either going to cut your throat or take your head off with his katana.
  • See You in Hell: Unosuke's final words to Sanjuro.
  • Shopkeeper: Gonji, the much put-upon restaurant owner, and the cooper/coffin-maker next door.
  • Slasher Smile:
    • Unosuke's default facial expression.
    • After Sanjuro escapes having taken a severe beating, Gonji tells him he doesn't look alive... and it's even worse when he smiles.
  • Terror Hero: It's part of Sanjuro's Guile Hero shtick. By establishing himself as Alpha Badass early on, he gets to play both gang leaders, and intimidate every Mook to allow him free reign of the town.
  • Those Two Guys: Those fired thugs of Ushitora's whom Sanjuro holds hostage.
  • Walking the Earth: At the beginning, Sanjuro wanders in whatever direction a casually thrown branch suggests.
  • War for Fun and Profit:
    • The casket-maker has this attitude.
    • Sanjuro himself, at first. While he tells Gonji he's going to get rid of the gangs, his reasoning is basically summed up by the fact that he gets to kill men who deserve to die and get paid for it.
  • Weapon of Choice: Unosuke wears a sword on him, but shows the constable the pistol he got in his travels and proceeds to never be seen without it at least once in any given scene.
  • Wouldn't Hit a Girl: Ushitora's men allow Seibei's women to flee when his gang attacks Seibei's house. Well everyone except for Seibei's wife.