Sunday, 9 September 2012

Yojimbo & A Fistful of Dollars

Though Akira Kurosawa and Sergio Leone use the same narrative plot for Yojimbo and Fistful of Dollars but with different culture the execution in both films are very similar but at the same time quite different. In a unique way the; mise-en-scene, choreography, cinematography and music somewhat collide but due to different cultures one been Japanese Samurai and the other being a Spaghetti Western. The best way to compare both film with the depiction and effect of movement and image is to look at the opening scenes, how the heroes are introduced, how the towns are introduced, comparing the framing, the soundtrack and sound effect used in the films and by comparing these elements not only by comparing both A Fistful of Dollars and Yojimbo but understanding what a western is. As a viewer we have to right away understand within a few frames even that we are watching a western movie. So the importance of comparing both films also is looking into the Western genre and getting a clearer understanding of what it means for a film to be labelled as a Western. By depicting what makes a western genre I can get a clearer understanding of why each frame was used, why the is protagonist has no name, comparing their styles through choreography and looking into the mise en scene between both Yojimbo and A Fistful of Dollars. 

How each protagonist is reviled is very similar.  The audience only sees the back and different parts to the protagonist in Yojimbo this creates a feeling of mystery and build up to who is this protagonist? We then are greeted to the landscape by an establishing shot of a Mount Fuji like Japanese mountains with the cold and somewhat lost samurai going where the wind takes him. Mitsuhiro Yoshimoto said in Kurosawa: Film Studies and Japanese Cinema “Kurosawa fully exploits the compositional possibilities of the wide screen format. In the early part of the film, the camera follows Sanjuro closely. One of the recurrent images here is the low angle medium close up of Sanjuro body from the chest up”. Fistful of Dollars has a similar opening scene after animation intro with the first shot of the dusty desert like mountain roads. The camera slowly pans up revealing the landscape to be a dry and hot mountain with the protagonist back to the camera once again. The mise-en-scene helps the audience identify characters more clearly by the way they are dressed. In Fistful of Dollars the first character you see is a cowboy like man on a horse somewhere in the mountainous desert when in Yojimbo you can identify a samurai by his clothes; the traditional Japanese clothing of Hakama and the Japanese socks Tabi and most noticeable his samurai Katana sword. Within seconds of the film the audience has some idea where the film is set due to the cinematography with the establishing shot. We can see that both films use the same technique in cinematography and mise-en-scene.

How both towns’ inhabitants are introduced is very similar with the use death as the symbolism. It’s in these towns also were both films show the typical western theme genre through cinematography. The symbol of death and danger in Yojimbo is seen when the samurai arrives at ghost like town with a dog walking down the main road with a human hand in its mouth. Fistful of Dollars the audience see a hanging noose knot from a tree with the church bells ringing. These shots are all symbols of death which help the audience gain the feeling of violence. In the shot when Sanjuro returns to the town the wide angle lens that is used is heavily influence by Spaghetti Western cinematography which creates a lone hero with the wide framing which is the same in Fistful of Dollars when the Hero with no name encounters a group of cowboys outnumbering him. “He was deliberately combining the samurai story with the Western, so that the windswept main street could be in any frontier town, the samurai could be a gunslinger” this quote by Roger Ebert author of “Great Movies III” helps gets a better understanding of what Yojimbo is. Personally I see Yojimbo be a Japanese samurai film with a Spaghetti Western theme. The two films clash with the same theme but through different cultures however the protagonists in both films are very similar act and move the same way. The choreography of how both characters act is so similar with the audience never knowing their real names. Roger Ebert said “Sergio Leone’s A Fistful of Dollars with Clint Eastwood, is so similar to Yojimbo that homage shades into plagiarism. Even Eastwood’s Man with No Name is inspired, perhaps, by the samurai in Yojimbo”. The idea of both protagonist being so similar and both being so skilled with their weapons and being the lone hero creates more of a mystery identity for these characters.

I talked a lot about mise-en-scene, choreography and cinematography to help depict the effect of movement and image, but if we have a look into the sound and music used in A Fistful of Dollars and Yojimbo we can see that in both the sound and music is an important factor to help fuel the illusion of the western genre mise-en-scene. The music written for A Fistful of Dollars was Ennio Moricone he used a trumpet theme soundtrack similar of the 1959 Rio Bravo another famous western film. So the importance of having a western soundtrack similar to another western helps the audience understand more when hearing the music. In Yojimbo however didn’t use any western cowboy soundtrack but the music used was not of a trumpet but a drum. Just like how the whistling and trumpet would get louder as the climax of the violence would increase the slow drumming would become faster and faster as the tension would. The sound effects used in Kurosawa’s Yojimbo was much more effective. In Kurosawa: Film Studies and Japanese Cinema he wrote “Kurosawa intrudes in Yojimbo is realistic sound effects, particularly the sound of slashing human flesh with a swords.” I personally would say what Kurosawa lacked in soundtrack for a typical western music he made up for in violence and the sound effect used in the film. Personally when I want to watch a western I’m expecting a lot of action and a lot of intense scenes. A Fistful of Dollars seemed to lack a lot of this though it did have action and tension Yojimbo did out do A Fistful of Dollars. “So many villains can be slaughtered without making the spectators sick because of accentuating the consequences of violence; they only act to supplement the hero’s graceful action. By introducing the realistic sound of human flesh being cut, Kurosawa made the viewer’s realize how artificial Toei Jidaigeki was.” Yoshimoto summed up what a hero in a western genre should do, rather than slashing but shooting the hero should go out shooting his way out of trouble. With the importance of having a realistic sound effect to help fuel the illusion western helps the mise-en-scene.

With A Fistful of Dollars and Yojimbo having a Westernization theme, same narrative plot and even same shots the similarities between both films and their characters are very much their but  the Western genre was never born by Clint Eastwood’s A Fistful of Dollars it was Rio Bravo or Shane. When Kurosawa first wrote Yojimbo he was heavily influenced by the novel Red Harvest by Dashiell Hammett. Stephen McVeigh said  in The American Western “Kurosawa has also said he is a great fan of American cinema, especially Westerns, and it seem inconceivable that Yojimbo does not borrow much from George Stevens Shane, Hammett’s story becoming perhaps a smoke screen to fuzz exactly how close the two movies are” With this I would like to argue that just because both Yojimbo and A Fistful of Dollars have the same narrative plot and scenes that are shot the same Yojimbo cannot only be compared to A Fistful of Dollars but to the Western genre itself. We have to remember that A Fistful of Dollars came out later and was sued by Kurosawa on the grounds of plagiarism. Also you have to remember that A Fistful of Dollars is no normal Western but a spaghetti Western the difference being that it’s an Italian filmed with Italian directors and that that spaghetti westerns have a gritty dirty look when the American westerns was directed by American directors and their protagonists were are clear clean shaven look rather than Eastwood’s unshaven dirty cowboy who says very little. I personally believe that on the grounds that Yojimbo should be compared to Western genre influence rather than A Fistful of Dollars due to the fact that their narrative plot is the same. I personally see that Kurosawa love for Hollywood Western genres and that he wanted to create his own Western but with his own Japanese heritage and with Yojimbo’s protagonist Sanjuro as a Japanese samurai in a Western genre in Japan.

With the depiction and effect of movement and image, time and place the mise-en-scene, choreography and cinematography collide in both films. We can see that both films framing are so very similar with the; wide angle lenses, close ups of scenery or body parts to show emotion or movement. You can see the cinematography similarities most in the climaxes when both protagonists go into the town, having the traditional cowboy stand still before the shoot out or in Yojimbo’s case slash out. It is here in these scenes where the conventional western mise-en-scene comes into place; the swinging squeaky sign, burning building and the wind blowing these are all traditional scenes we would see in a western. We then get to the choreography of the Man with no Name and Sanjuro and we can see by comparing how they both fight is very similar even though their weapon of choice is very different.  Both protagonists have the same unique fighting technique when coming across an enemy. Both protagonist stands utterly still out numbered against the enemy. The tension builds with music and framing till the very last second and in a blink of an eye the well skilled protagonists will attack. In A Fistful of Dollars the Man with no Name deadly accuracy and skill is seen at the start and the very end when he kills five outlaws within a blink of an eye. Yojimbo’s Sanjuro samurai skill interlines with the Man with no Name skills; deadly accuracy and with and with a blink of an eye he slices his way through. The music used to build these tensions is different through instruments but how the instruments are played is very similar. Starting off with a slow tempo and slowly building up to the climax of the shootout.

So in conclusion how are A Fistful of Dollars and Yojimbo movement and image depicted through mise-en-scene, choreography, and cinematography as well as music? By looking at the opening scenes the audience is greeted by typical western whistling theme with horses riding and gunshots in the background with Yojimbo’s menacing rhythm of drums, as if the Samurai is on route to battle. The similarities between both protagonists always cross between one and other with their; mysterious look and with their real name never reviled, deadly skill with their weapons and the choreography of how they fight in battle. The mise-en-scene is depicted by the western genre by what makes a western movie; cowboy and outlaws, derelict landscape and towns middle of nowhere with no justice. I compared the two films to other western films and show the similarities between them; one being a western other being a spaghetti western and how Yojimbo should really be compared to other westerns rather than it’s protégé A Fistful of Dollars. Looking through the camera framing in Yojimbo and A Fistful of Dollars you see that shot the same by frame however these frames are typically used in other western cowboy films. So to say one copied the other frame by frame has a yes and no answer to this. Though Leone says his influence for A Fistful of Dollars was Shane with the lone stranger who rids into town and sees the chaos and helps the town’s peoples or villager’s one can say this is a typical western plot Kurosawa always states this about Yojimbo. So by comparing boy Yojimbo and A Fistful of Dollars the movement and image, time and place are clearly shown through consider mise-en-scene, choreography, cinematography and music.


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  2. You realize that Fistful of Dollars is simply a remake of Yojimbo, right?