Yojimbo

So, I watched Akira Kurosawa’s Yojimbo recently. Decades have passed since the last time I’d seen it. And really, I’ve only seen it one time through. It’s not like I spent a long-ago summer watching and re-watching it. Though I might correct that mistake this summer. Thanks to Amazon, I now own a digital Criterion Collection version.

Two things stayed with me, from that single viewing years ago. One–the theme. It’s this fascinating mix of sounds. Opens with amazing percussion, then horns, and strings. And the second thing is the way Toshiro Mifune fights. It’s cemented in my memory as this mind-boggling run-run-stab-stab dance. No, not so much a dance, as an obstacle course. Like American Ninja Warrior, but with a lone Samurai killing machine.

Actually, it was modern-day killing machine John Wick that inspired me to revisit Yojimbo. The first John Wick was playing on TV, and something about the scene in the night club, where John Wick is going after the bad guy who murdered his puppy, made me think of Toshiro Mifune. Except with Keanu Reeves, it was more of a run-run-shoot-shoot kind of movement.

There’s so much I could write about Yojimbo. There are so many more masterly details I picked up on. But I’ll try to be succinct, and I’ll start with the two items that have stayed with me through the years. They’re both pretty elemental, and they didn’t disappoint.

  • The theme: in the beginning, Sanjuro (Toshiro Mifune) is wandering, and encounters a couple at a home on the outskirts of the town. The woman is inside at a silk loom, and the sound of it is very pronounced: two beats, a lull in between, two beats, all in an even rhythm. The theme mimics the sound of the loom–those same two beats, done via horns, thread through the music of the film. Subtle yet phenomenal.
  • Toshiro Mifune: it’s not just the way he fights, it’s the way he inhabits the character of Sanjuro. He’s shot from behind quite a bit, so the viewer sees right over his shoulder. You see the way he adjusts his shoulders in his kimono right before he fights. And sometimes after. He’s pretty badass.
  • Yojimbo as inspiration: I think its pretty widely known that Sergio Leone’s A Fistful of Dollars and Walter Hill’s Last Man Standing are retellings of Yojimbo’s story. But maybe less well-known is that my favorite comic book of all time, Stan Sakai’s Usagi Yojimbo, was inspired by it. Usagi is this awesome bunny, a masterless samurai who wanders through feudal Japan, helping the helpless along the way. If memory serves, his long-gone lord whom he could no longer serve (because he was dead) was named Mifune. Usagi was the reason I first checked out the movie Yojimbo so long ago.
  • And one last bit of trivia: Yojimbo is distributed by Toho Co., Ltd., one of the big film studios in Japan. The main reason I know Toho? One word; one big, green, word: Godzilla. So I was pretty thrilled when I received the production schedule for the cover art and layout for my next novel, The Trouble on Highway One. The designer had abbreviated the title on the schedule. Wait for it, it ties together, I promise. My new novel’s abbreviated title? TOHO. (Yes!!)

Three things I learned about Pacific Rim

I saw Pacific Rim: Uprising this past weekend. I thoroughly enjoyed it. The events in this sequel take place ten years after 2013’s Pacific Rim. So, only five years passed in real life, while ten years went by in movie time.

Still, that five years in real time is notable. By Hollywood standards, it’s a little lengthy for a sequel release. It seems to me, the hit movie makers don’t want to give audiences time to forget what they love about a movie. It seems even the most persnickety of filmmakers get their sequels out in no longer than a three-year time span.

But maybe I’m thinking way too much about this. Before the movie, I saw a trailer for Incredibles 2. That’s a fourteen-year lapse since the first Incredibles. Who knows?

Anyway, regarding Pacific Rim: I did not forget what I loved about the first one. That’s why I saw it opening weekend. I accompanied Niece Nicole and her friend Rachel to an early Saturday IMAX showing.

So what do I love about the world of Pacific Rim? Lots of stuff, but underlying it all is probably that it’s a story about kaiju. Who, in the Pacific Rim universe, are giant, engineered sea monsters. I have a very special place in my heart for Godzilla, so Pacific Rim pretty much had me at “giant monsters.”

When you mix in giant robots (Jaegers), who require a neural link (a drift) between two humans to operate, a plotline that incorporates the imminent destruction of Earth, and a compelling love story (at least, the first one had this). . .well then, count me in.

Oscar-winning Guillermo del Toro produced Pacific Rim: Uprising, but he didn’t direct it. He was producer and director on the first. So there is definitely some differences in style between the two movies, but I didn’t mind that. I appreciated that the second film begins with a voiceover, a recap of the events in the first film. The voiceover also sets up the main character, Jake Pentecost (wonderfully portrayed by John Boyega), without any unnecessary exposition.

The movie opens with Jake squatting in the abandoned, palatial homes of Southern California, an area that was never rebuilt after the events of Pacific Rim. I knew right then and there the movie would be a hit with me. I’ve always figured that would be something I would do, should the current paradigm of our world shift. As a matter of fact, that’s the only way I ever see myself living in a huge, palatial estate. I don’t see the point of it, even if I won the lottery.

Anyway, here are the three things that came as news to me:

  1. Guillermo del Toro didn’t write the original story. I had just sort of assumed he did, or at least had come up with the concept, and had someone else write the screenplay. But no, the credits at the end of Pacific Rim: Uprising said something about “Based on characters created by. . .
  2. . . .Travis Beacham.” So I guess the story concept, and the screenplay for the first, were written by this guy, Travis Beacham. Kinda made me think of how Roderick Thorp has a “Based on the novel by” credit on Die Hard. That novel is Nothing Lasts Forever. I’ve never read it, but Husband Tim has. From what he’s told me, it’s pretty different. But I digress, because the third thing I learned about Pacific Rim was:
  3. It was scheduling conflicts that kept Guillermo del Toro from directing, and Charlie Hunnam from returning to reprise his role as Raleigh Becket from the first movie. That’s what Niece Nicole told me. I knew Charlie Hunnam wasn’t supposed to be in the sequel, but in our post-movie discussion, Nicole and I marked all the opportunities there were for a nice little cameo.

And how there’s a wide open possibility for Raleigh Becket to return in Pacific Rim 3. Here’s hoping we don’t have to wait another five years for that.