Bowman's article is interesting for its tracing of the morally ambiguous natures of Kurosawa's characters through several works prior to Yojimbo, most of which are more serious in tone. He also gives valuable cultural insight into Kurosawa's motivations for these stylistic choices. Yojimbo, as a grim comedy, takes the more overtly pessimistic view that both sides are downright bad. Sanjuro also quite literally embodies the observer when he climbs a watchtower to watch the pointless battle. Sanjuro himself is also amoral, a sly trickster trying to survive. As Bowman remarks, Sanjuro owes much to Dashiell Hammett's Sam Spade, and indeed Hammett's detective noir works Red Harvest and The Glass Key had a direct influence on the film. Bowman's analysis shows us Kurosawa's own precedent for Yojimbo's characteristics, also a certain national quality gained from the Japanese post-war mindset. This gives a richer view of the film than that of merely a stylised Japanese Western. These qualities would adopted by Eastwood and Leone and eventually as a stylistic theme permeating all genre's and nationalities.
Film genre reader III / edited by Barry Keith Grant. 1st ed. 0292701845 series Austin, Tex. : University of Texas Press, 2003.
Call#: Van Pelt Library PN1995 .F45793 2003
A significant part of my analysis of Yojimbo has sought to fit it into the context of such characterizations of both the Western genre and the jidaigeki. Gallagher's article points to heavy flaws in the system of genre analysis used in the film literature to achieve this goal. While many lines of influence can be traced from one director to another, it is difficult to read too much into generalizations. Characteristics such as the amoral drifter Sanjuro and Kurosawa's ironic use of over the top violence could be seen primarily as part of a gradual evolution of film to keep up with modern times.
Call#: Van Pelt Library PN1998.A3 K795 1984
Despite his crudenesss and self-interest, we still see Sanjuro essentially as a Western archetypal hero capable of producing positive change. Kurosawa takes advantage of the familiarity with both Japanese and individual viewers with typical Western themes to establish Sanjuro as such a hero. But Kurosawa reworks the essentially Western story in his own style, by adding elements of black comedy and a certain reflexivity on the violence and simplicity of both the Western and jidai-geki genres. These qualities were adopted by Leone's Spaghetti Westerns and filtered back into the American genre. Similarly, the rough cut and insolent image of the hero, who showed no remorse at dispatching several men to achieve his own ends, would turn up in the Westerns that followed.
Kurosawa mainly made gendaigeki ("contemporary-life films") with firm morals. These films were important for the recovering nation. But Sato believes that they failed internationally because the modern Japanese lifestyle seemed merely an imitation of the west. Instead, jidaigeki with idealized versions of a lost world with traditional Japanese values appealed more to an international audience. Still, Kurosawa was among a select few to achieve international fame. Sato credits the fact that Kurosawa was outside of the established jidaigeki machine. He was able to side-step the strict feudal and loyalty based stories and inject elements of realism and nuanced emotions. His breakout film, Rashomon, was a jidaigeki with these qualities that was also a fusion of Japanese and western ideas, all of which gave it broad international appeal.
Yojimbo can be seen to fit into this context as a jidaigeki outside of the feudal system. Instead of strictly tied to his bushido loyalties, Sanjuro is a hip self interested character and thereby obtains a broad appeal with the modern world. Yojimbo's style is not realistic, but departs from the standard jidaigeki in the other direction. Through dark humor it makes a comment about being trapped between two evils as a feature of real life. Kurosawa's film achieves its magic by transcending both genre and culture.
Japanese Swordfighters and American Gunfighters
J. L. Anderson
Cinema Journal, Vol. 12, No. 2 (Spring, 1973), pp. 1-21
Published by: University of Texas Press on behalf of the Society for Cinema & Media Studies
In his article Anderson describes the features and evolution of the Japanese swordsman film and examines its differences with the American Western. The Japanese swordsman film, known by the term jidai-geki, usually takes place in the second half of the Tokugawa, or Edo, era that ended in 1867. The jidai-geki and the Western have similar roles in their respective countries as long-lived and successful national genres. Anderson also states that much was taken from the American Western for early jidai-geki films. The feudal structure of Japan during this period provided samurai as heroes for many traditional stories and the movies based on them. These are usually solitary samurai detached from the established order. Obvious similarities between the Japanese and American genres are extreme body counts, conflicts always solved with violence, and the importance of personal honor and skill. However, Westerns often display clear cut good vs. bad conflicts, a respect for the law, and a reluctance to use violence lacking in many jidai-gekis of the time. The masterless ronin of many Japanese films was a wanderer and much more of a loner that his early American counterparts.
Anderson mentions Kurosawa's self-proclaimed ability to respect the Westerns while making truly Japanese films. Yojimbo's similarities to American Westerns are clear. However, the hero Sanjuro's easiness with violence, moral ambiguity, and his role as a solitary ronin make him a true jidai-geki hero. The Sanjuro character also enabled Kurosawa to establish important differences from both genres. Anderson acknowledges that Sanjuro was more self-serving and less tied duty than a traditional jidai-geki hero. Clint Eastwood emulated these qualities as the nameless man in Leone's Fistful trilogy, thus influencing the American Western genre. Anderson also cites the final showdown from Yojimbo's sequel, Tsubaki Sanjuro, a scene where blood shoots like a geyser from Sanjuro's rival after a sword quick draw. This comical awareness of the absurd ability and violence on display began in Yojimbo and remained in Leone's films.
Joseph L. Anderson
Film Quarterly, Vol. 15, No. 3, Special Issue on Hollywood (Spring, 1962), pp. 55-58
Published by: University of California Press
The Magnificent Seven was a 1960 American Western remake of Kurosawa's The Seven Samurai. It was made by Hollywood Western and Action director John Sturges, and featured Hollywood Western stars such as Charles Bronson and Steve McQueen. In this article, Anderson offers a critique of the film largely focusing on its differences from the original. He acknowledges the admirable performance of the film's leading men. However, he faults Sturges on changes that serve only as an attempt to squeeze Kurosawa's masterpiece into a rigid Hollywood framework. A large part of this is Sturges' reliance on greater amounts of dialog to explicitly establish his characters as good or bad, or as a more general character type. The bandit leader is seen as an evil villain, the villagers as cowardly but essentially worth defending. Things are more ambiguous in Kurosawa's film, where the the villagers past despicable deeds are revealed and the bandit's leader is never shown. Kurosawa's seven men, who take the job desperate for food, speak little and manifest themselves more in the violent acts of battle. The differences between the battling groups are blurred, and the feeling of triumph of good over evil is not as firm. Ultimately, Anderson concludes that Kurosawa is an auteur whose own allows his own personality to come through in his film, while Sturges instead succumbs to Hollywood convention.
The article allows us to glimpse the restrictions that helped lead to the stagnation of the American Western. As Anderson notes, Kurosawa's The Seven Samurai was heavily influenced by John Ford's movies and other American films. Yet he the feel he creates could not have existed in a big-budget American movie. Their is a certain moral ambiguity of all parties that creates a tension in the viewer when watching the film. The action draws us in and also makes us uncomfortable, serving as a commentary on the difficulties we face in reality. The overall tone of The Seven Samurai is thus very serious, while Yojimbo is a comedy. Yet Kurosawa is again able to use the traditional period piece, lessons from the American Western, and his own style and ingenuity to make a personal statement artistically and philosophically.
On a different level Anderson's article also demonstrates the incestuous relationship between the popular American and Japanese genres. He notes that a current boon in the Western's popularity has resulted in a number of remakes in Japanese settings, and mentions rumors that The Magnificent Seven will be remade in Japan and Yojimbo in America (the article is from 1962).
Call#: Van Pelt Library PN1998.3.L463 F68 2005
A Fistful of Dollars  pp.42-43
Frayling is well-known for his work on director Sergio Leone, famous for his popular and influential Italian "spaghetti" Westerns of the 1960s. In this book, he offers a brief summary of Leone's Dollars trilogy that, while brief, are useful due to Frayling's authoritative knowledge of the director. Leone's 1964 A Fistful of Dollars served as his own breakout film as well as that of the entire Italian Western genre. It became widely successful at home and in America and quickly made Clint Eastwood a star. Leone decided to make the film after seeing Yojimbo, and Fistful was in fact an adaptation of Kurosawa's work. The story consists of a stranger (Eastwood) who wanders into a small town on the American-Mexican border which has become dominated by two warring factions. The stranger realizes he can work the two sides against each other to his own economic advantage. In the end both sides are decimated and Eastwood's character kills his main rival, Ramon, in a final showdown. Leone was unlicensed to use the story, and as a result of a lawsuit Kurosawa made a large profit from the film's success. Frayling sees Fistful in a sense as a "radical departure" from the traditional Western. A hopelessness hovers about the worthless town, and its eventual cleanup is beyond the legal and moralistic motives of previous Westerns. Eastwood is a "stylish Western antihero" with superhuman ability as a gunman and a propensity to use it. He returned in his role as the Man With No Name, with no past, answering to no legal or moral obligations in the remainder of the trilogy, consisting of For a Few Dollars More (1965) and The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly (1966).
The completeness of Yojimbo's impact on these films is at once clear to anyone familiar with Kurosawa's work. Fistful and Yojimbo can be matched up almost scene for scene, and the famous Man With No Name persona is a mirror of the Yojimbo's self-serving ronin. Mifune's character, like Eastwood's, goes only by an alias or simply as the samurai; Sanjuro is just something he came up with, literally meaning "thirty something." Frayling seems to underplay Yojimbo's influence on the film. Eastwood's signature cigar hanging out of his mouth emulates the toothpick always used by Mifune. His character also shares with Mifune's a disrespect for authority. Yet these aspects are cited by Frayling as departures from Yojimbo. Both films share a characteristic dark humor and lovingly sarcastic reflexiveness into the genre and violence. However, Fistful allowed Leone to elaborate on these notions and further expand his own contributions in his subsequent films, and his own personal style should not be downplayed. Later in the book Frayling is more accurate when he says Leone's "theft" allowed him to add his own spin to the genre while creating the "modern action hero."
Call#: Van Pelt Library PN1995.9.W4 H685 2008
Shane is a 1953 Western with what Hughes states is a classic plot, but a particularly mysterious hero. Alan Ladd plays the role of Shane, a former gunman with an unknown past who wanders into a town where the farmers are being forced off the land by the bad cattleman, Wilson. Eventually Shane kills Wilson and his two strongmen in a gunfight, and rides away, wounded, but having rid the town of guns. In between, he befriends a boy who idolizes him as a storybook Western hero. Shane was both successful and influential. Hughes states that Clint Eastwood's role in many films as the mysterious drifter is "defined by Ladd's hero."
The influence of Shane on both Kurosawa and Leone as well as on many later Westerns is often remarked upon in other sources. If Eastwood's Man With No Name is Sanjuro after Yojimbo, than Ladd's Shane is Sanjuro before Yojimbo. Eastwood's character in the Dollars trilogy is more directly influenced by Mifune's character, but Sanjuro definitely owes something to the wandering drifter in Shane. The differences become clear once we realize that Shane was both soft-spoken and averse to needless violence. Hughes says that director George Stevens made the film's violence particularly realistic to avoid glorifying the use of guns. Kurosawa and Leone take quite the opposite approach, and their characters are brash and quick to violence whenever it seems to suit them. The killing is comical and unrealistic. In a sense, Shane fits an important character twist into a classic film. Morality is clear cut; Shane wears a white hat and the evil Wilson a black one, a traditional way of reaffirming the good vs. the bad. Mifune and Eastwood are incapable of wearing either.
Shane also possesses a certain amount of reflexivity that is picked up by Kurosawa and Leone's films. The boy's initially unquestioning idolization of Shane serves as a comment on the unrealistic ideal of the Western hero, who must in the end ride away injured and alone. Kurosawa and Leone use dark humor to take their characters to extremes and thereby make similar statements of their own.
Call#: Van Pelt Library PN1998.3.K87 P75 1999
In the opening chapter of his book, Prince gives an overview of Kurosawa's career and many general aspects of his films. He discusses the fact that Kurosawa is often said to be the most Western of Japanese filmmakers. This partly stems from Kurosawa's admiration for many important works of Western literature. The other part has to do with his apparent stylistic similarities with Western directors. Most frequently he is compared to John Ford. Like Ford, Kurosawa enjoyed the Western genre and also relied on repeated use of a group of familiar actors. Critics comment that the small town in Yojimbo as well as elements of Kurosawa's action filming could be from Ford Westerns. Kurosawa has a self-acknowledge debt to Ford and the American Western. Yet techniques Kurosawa developed such as the use of slow motion death in turn predated their use in 1960s American films. Prince also suggests that differences in the fundamental social structures of feudal Japan and the American West separated the Japanese samurai film from the Western. Ford's films taught Kurosawa how to develop his own language for expressing his ideas within the samurai-film context. Prince also cites Sergio Leone, John Sturges, Sam Peckinpah, and George Lucas as "obvious examples" of the influence Kurosawa has in turn had on Hollywood and International Westerns. Kurosawa considers himself an entirely Japanese director. Prince continues to raise further questions, such as whether or not the strong individualism in Kurosawa's films is primarily Western or Japanese. Kurosawa considers himself an entirely Japanese director. Ultimately Prince says it is impossible to answer such questions as who has influenced who more.
This chapter is useful as a summary of the various people who have influenced Kurosawa, and vice versa. The American Western's influence on Yojimbo is readily apparent, along with the noir detective novels of American writer Dashiell Hammett, Red Harvest and The Glass Key. Yet Prince notes that Kurosawa's use of the rogue Sanjuro figure makes sense only in the context of the strict hierarchy of feudal Japan and the popular films set in that period.
Call#: Van Pelt Library PN1995.9.W4 S38 2001
"New Directions" pp.81-91
This chapter in Saunders's book looks at the new developments of the Western genre during the 1960s, primarily through Sam Peckinpah's Wild Bunch (1969). He says that by the early 60s, American Western productions were declining. Those remaining often mirrored this fact by showing us aged warriors hanging onto a dying way of life. Sergio Leone's Italian Westerns represented a new direction that emphasize style and utilized irony and comic book violence. The American director Sam Peckinpah, while also known for extreme violence, took another direction. Wild Bunch tells the tale of a group of outlaws attempting to make a living as gunman near the Mexican border. The film is place in the 1910s, and as in other films these warriors face dying out as their way of life becomes increasingly anachronistic. The gunman are bad men who are not idolized, but through their struggle earn our sympathy. They are prone to violence, often when it is unnecessary. However, they face very real consequences, and most are dead by the end of the film. They also face many personal issues. Clearly the members of the Wild Bunch are not the purely cool and ultimately immortal heroes as seen in Leone's Dollars trilogy. Peckinpah movie was successful with critics and viewers, although there were initial reactions against the excessive realistic violence. Nevertheless, the violence eventually gave it much of its popularity, and Peckinpah's technique in shooting such scenes would influence many later directors.
Peckinpah stands next to Leone in partially resurrecting the fading Western genre. Saunders' mentions the seeming ambiguity as to whether or not Peckinpah was influenced by Leone's movies of the past several years. The Leone scholar Christopher Frayling suggests that Peckinpah acknowledged a heavy debt to Leone. However, the main similarities are the heavy use of violence and disreputable heroes. As a whole, Wild Bunch presents a different paradigm than that of the Fistful/Yojimbo. Peckinpah's violence is more realistic and has more innocent or unnecessary victims. His movie is fundamentally tied to the fading of the Western as a genre and as a lifestyle, and his characters face intellectual problems the heroes of Yojimbo and Fistful are impervious to. This points out the difficulties in tracing the influence as it is tracked across directors and nations, and might also show a fundamental difference between American Westerns and international ones that do not face the reality of the disappearing frontier.