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Monday, June 10, 2013

Yojimbo (1961) d. Akira Kurosawa

in Akira Kurosawa's 1961 film Yojimbo, the aspect ratio is king.

Movie Review
Yojimbor (1961)
 d. Akira Kurosawa
Criterion Collection #52

  Not particularly looking forward to watching every g d Akira Kurosawa movie, because it seems like every one is in the Criterion Collection.  I know he's a master of world cinema but I just have never got into it.  But I still prefer watching Yojimbo to any of the about 50 Friends episodes I've got stacked up on my DVR.  I can't even contemplate the horror of watching 6 dvr'ed episodes of Friends in a row.  It's like thinking about cutting off a limb, for me anyway.

  At the same time I'm forced to admit that I can't exactly sit down and watch a two hour Akira Kurosawa picture straight, either.  What I end up doing is watching Yojimbo like it's an episodic tv show, with two half hour shows and a one hour finale over the course of 3 or 4 days.  That way I have time to reflect before the film is over and I'm sitting there going "Ugh so boring."

 I've never been a Kurosawa fan but that must have something to do with the fact that I haven't seen the Criterion Collection editions of this work. For example, I can remember watching a pan and scan version of Seven Samurais on PBS in high school and not getting what the deal was.  The deal is the way Kurosawa uses the wide screen format and translates the filimic components of a Western into his Japanese milleu.

  Many Americans who haven't seen Yojimbo have seen the Sergio Leon remake/adaptation from 1964, Fist Full of Dollars with Clint Eastwood.  Actually probably at this point most people who have heard of one have heard of the other- don't know that the cult of Clint Eastwood really exists these days.

Toshiro Mifune as Sanjuro in Yojimbo (1961) d. Akira Kurosawa

The center of Yojimbo is the incomparable (from the criterion collection website) Toshiro Mifune as Sanjuro, the itinerant Samurai/Cowboy who strolls into the frontier town where two gangs are at war with one another.  Sanjuro plays both sides off against one another in his now classic, timeless, manner.  Like the Seijun Suzuki films, to watch Yojimbo is to watch a movie that has directly influenced a half century plus of successful Film makers.

 One  Criterion Collection specific observation I have after watching a dozen or so films is that the wide aspect ratio that characterizes Hollywood film was by no means standard on a world wide basis, particularly outside of America.  Yojimbo has an aspect ratio of 2.35:1 whereas Amarcord, a Fellini film shot in the early 1970s, only has 1.85:1.  The Most Dangerous Game, shot in the pre Code Hollywood era, is only 1.33:1.  Same thing with Diablolique, a French film shot in 1955- 1.33:1.   In fact, the only other film I can think of that shares the 2.35:1 aspect ratio of Yojimbo is Seijun Suzuki's movies.  The 2.35:1 ratio is actually even larger then the current Hollywood standard.  For example Robocop, shot in 1987, is 1.66:1.

 The 2.35:1 aspect ratio gives the filmmaker many possibilities in terms of composing the scene but it makes facial close ups awkward.  Not in the hands of Kurosawa, but it's easy to see how a facial close up in a 2.35:1 aspect ratio would actually cut off the top and bottom of the face.  But landscapes... or "long" shots- beautiful.

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