Yojimbo  is one of Akira Kurosawa’s historical masterpieces. In essence a historical yakuza film, Yojimbo centers around a town controlled by two rival crime lords. The main character, a man who calls himself “Sanjuro,” or “thirty-year-old” is the original “man with no name” that audiences came to know later on as a western-style hero.
The man with no name, played by Japanese film legend Toshiro Mifune, comes to town and finds it nearly deserted. All but a tired few townsfolk remain, the rest of the inhabitants being either gamblers, yakuza or prostitutes.
Quickly proving that he is a master swordsman, Mifune’s character then offers his services to the highest bidder. It seems that whichever gang has him as their “yojimbo” [bodyguard] has the upper hand in the ongoing war for control of the town.
What I’ve just described can all be seen in the trailer:
Those of you familiar with film may recognize this plot; it is nearly identical to the story from A Fistful of Dollars, made by Sergio Leone in 1964 and starring Clint Eastwood. Leone adapted the screenplay from Yojimbo [and took elements from Dashiell Hammett's Red Harvest] to create a western featuring the man with no name. While Leone’s spaghetti western trilogy was made in Italy, Eastwood’s character became an icon of the American western genre. Its roots can be directly traced to Mifune in Yojimbo. Not only character themes and plot, but also photography and film techniques were taken. This shot from Yojimbo, with Mifune standing in the middle of a wide shot:
The architecture and such may be a little different, but you get the picture. Yojimbo is a great film not just because of its great writing, but because fans of the western genre can make all sorts of connections. Kurosawa made the movie with western films in mind and spawned more western films in the process.
I really liked this movie, and I highly recommend checking it out on DVD. You can rent it on Netflix and you can most likely find it at your local movie store; it’s part of the Criterion Collection!