Thursday, March 24, 2016

On Yojimbo

What can one say about Akira Kurosawa and it be anything other than "this is the most brilliant film maker ever"? He is credited by directors George Lucas, Steven Spielberg, John Milius. and Francis Coppola as one of the greatest cinematographers of all time, a masterful screenplay writer in his early and middle periods, and a director of such degree that his accomplishments cannot be overstated. Without Kurosawa you would not have Fistful of Dollars or STAR WARS.

Yojimbo is the samurai film that sparked spaghetti westerns and a visual style that is lush among the bleak and barren towns and wilderness where Kurosawa's samurai epics often takes place. One of Kurosawa's greatest influences on me is his view of space in storytelling. Space is something that continues on as the characters converse, love, hate, fight, and die, so it is always important to highlight movement within the setting. To put this into context, you pay more attention to movements when given space as the action taking place within the area reveal a more defined sense of how things happened on a more emotive level. It allows for still moments that breathe as the story progresses so that when there is a flurry of movement we are focused on it. We have to appreciate how stark in measure Kurosawa uses movement to progress his story, and more importantly, when to use it. 

In some ways he always dares us to have assumptions with movement: Instead of clean-cut, polished heroes, his protagonist are often scruffy swordsmen for hire or agonized samurai, middle-level knights who are struggling with the chaotic world around them. His rogue's gallery is varied but always has one real badass armed with an obvious advantage, and it is with creativity that Kurosawa gets us to a climax where we watch the hero finesse his way through, not on simple gravitas and predictability. Movements are made without consideration for the audience, and when those movements end there is a stillness where we are left to interpret what happened. 

Just like movies, it is up to readers to interpret what they are reading, not what they are told to read in it. Great storytelling requires attention to letting the actors turn the setting into the stage to address their issues within the self and society. Yojimbo never offers a black and white ending, but something equally tragic yet hopeful with justice served. This is an aspect I often find so compelling about Eastern storytelling. They have taken a lot from us in recent years, but they also have their own corpus that is equally beloved and novel as ours that we should be lucky to borrow from.

Yojimbo conceptualizes how movement goes hand in hand with great storytelling.