Criterion // 1961 // 110 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Chief Justice Sean McGinnis (Retired) // October 22nd, 1999
A warrior without virtue finds a town with much vice. This could be fun!
One of Akira Kurosawa's best loved films, Yojimbo is sure to entertain, notwithstanding the fact that Criterion dropped the ball with this release.
Yojimbo, the predecessor to Sanjuro tells the story of Sanjuro Kuwabatake who this time around has taken his name from a nearby mulberry field. Sanjuro has stumbled on a little town that is tearing itself apart. Two warring factions of gamblers, whom Sanjuro decides to play off each other, populate the town. He approaches the first side and offers his services as a bodyguard, or yojimbo. Then to prove his worth, he wanders down the main street to confront the other side's men. Ten seconds later, three men lie dead, victims of the classic blunder -- "never go up against a samurai when death is on the line, hahahahha ahahahahah." Sorry, wrong movie.
Yojimbo has been, as you probably know, remade twice. Once as Sergio Leone's Fistful of Dollars and then as Walter Hill's Last Man Standing. Neither do justice to the original. Yojimbo is so original and funny, it stands out as a classic in the annals of filmmaking, and rightfully so. To top it all off, the composition is nearly perfect is every scene.
Toshiro Mifune once again portrays Sanjuro and with so much flair, he nearly defines a genre of acting. Sanjuro swaggers and scratches his neck and chews on a toothpick nearly the entire film, all the while plotting the demise of both sides of the town. Sanjuro seems to have taken on the traits of his country. A Samurai without a master, he lacks honor and fights for nothing more than taking pleasure in his superiority and for money. He wanders aimlessly about, as does his society as it crumbles around him. One leaves the film with the impression that Sanjuro will continue his ways until he finds a man, a LEADER worth defending, one with honor and wisdom beyond that of his own. Alas, one also is left with the desperate thought that he will never find one, and be left to his own devices for all time.
"Criterion is proud to present Yojimbo in a luminous Tohoscope transfer."
This from the back case of the Yojimbo DVD. Unfortunately it is wrong on two counts. The transfer is far from luminous. Neither is it Tohoscope. Something is amiss here. Is this the Criterion that has done such great work before? Not really. The transfer is not in 2.35 Tohoscope as advertised, but rather closer to 2.20:1 or even 2.15:1. The easiest way to tell something is wrong with the aspect ratio is during the beginning credits where parts of letters are chopped off on the right hand side of the picture. I hardly think that was the "director's intention."
But the biggest problem may go beyond the aspect ratio problem. This transfer was in dire need of a restoration, as it was filled with nicks and scars. Some may argue this doesn't reach the level of "distraction." I disagree. Strongly. I found myself really doubting whether the image measured up to Criterion standards from the first couple moments. Fox Lorber yes, but definitely not Criterion. Now, I know this is probably what Criterion was saddled with by the folks at Toho, but the bottom line is the transfer doesn't measure up, and I find that disappointing. I would rather have waited until some work could be done on the master, or better elements found and worked with. Too bad, really.
Criterion responded to a complaint letter, which was then posted on the Home Theater Forum. Here is what they said with regard to the aspect ratio issue.
"The opening titles of Yojimbo, which are in English, came
from a different film source then the feature. The titles were cut off a bit on
the film. The remainder of the movie is presented in the proper aspect ratio
without any zooming in or out. No information has been lost.
But not even as bad as the mono sound track, which was filled with hiss and lacked in dynamic range from the beginning. But a good part of that is to be expected from a 1961 mono soundtrack. Where I felt cheated a bit is in the fact that the soundtrack accompanying the action here is so good, I would have liked to hear "more" for lack of a better word.
Yojimbo is a terrific, trend-setting film that deserved better than it got from the folks at Toho and Criterion. The image was not up to Criterion's usually excellent standards. It was not presented in its advertised aspect ratio. The audio suffered from hiss and thinness. And the disc totally lacks in extras. It is hard to recommend a disc like this. But, since we are unlikely to see anything better for some time to come, it is probably worth owning anyway.
The film is acquitted from all charges. Criterion is guilty and sentenced to get work on a DVD special edition release of Fargo right away.
Review content copyright © 1999 Sean McGinnis; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
* 2.20:1 Non-Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 1.0 Mono (Japanese)
Running Time: 110 Minutes
Release Year: 1961
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Theatrical Trailer