I envy transgender people. They figured out what’s going on with them and they fixed it. What an amazing gift to know what the fuck is wrong with you. Who else gets to have that? For everyone else it’s just a mushy I DON’T HAVE ANY IDEA. I would give a million dollars to just wake up and be like, ‘Oh, I’m an owl. That’s what the thing is. I just gotta blink slow and eat a mouse.’ “” Louis ck, 2017
i haven’t watched a kurosawa film in five whole years—oh, so that’s what’s been wrong with me…i just need to come back more frequently to what’s good whenever i find it. it is a tremendously lucky event, whenever it happens, to come upon by accident a storyteller whose aesthetic and subject matter, whose leap ‘from peak to peak’ matches so much what you yourself would create if so endowed. the most influential artistic discoveries in my life have come entirely by accident…i can’t recount, for example, the series of events that lead to watching kurosawa’s Seven Samurai (1954) so long ago. such other accidents that would have suffered from recommendation include brit marling—whose genius i reacted to with a feeling as if i’d merely been reminded of a language i already knew how to speak. ingmar bergman, another brilliant accident, fitted me with a pair of aesthetic lenses through which i forever have to look through if i am to take a film seriously. great films have that automatic effect of merely showing you around the landscape of a mood you’ve been in for an extended period of time but have yet to find a visual context for.
so how then could i excuse myself having let five years go by since i saw—and was seduced by—kurosawa’s Rashomon (1950)? it doesn’t help that my return to kurosawa should be through a film whose hilarity, and union of ethic and aesthetic underline what i’ve been missing out on….
it’s all kinds of good to be back: Yojimbo (which translates to ‘bodyguard’) is about the most robust film i’ve seen in awhile. it’s comical and yet not a comedy; many a muchacho struts and yet not a western; swords abound and yet nothing of that samurai sort; a historical sense and setting and yet indescribably relevant. it had no particular allegiance to one genre and as such one feels as if in a marketplace of images and events. films like this within which one could get lost are in the vast minority of great films. even its minor characters suggest an epic of their own: isuzu yamada’s orin and daisuke kato’s inokichi are two of the most robust one-dimensional comedic-characters i’ve seen on screen. that a film is 'robust' puts it in a separate category from other such well earned compliments. a great film might have a very particular point of view/ethic that the story is confined to and consequently, so is the viewer. it requires the talent of a filmmaker who is also something of a reclined conductor to tell a story that moves forward, but in no particular direction—and Yojimbo to that extent, is an awe-some experience.
one can’t evade the orson welles hurdle if one is to talk at all about great filmmakers: but his is not that style of a reclined conductor i referred to. yes, his films have an orchestral quality to them, by which i mean much is happening, but merely for the sake of buying time for the main plot’s unraveling (where hitchcock had one mcguffin, welles at his best, had several). indeed welles was a conductor, a believer in the multifacetedness of a good story—in his radio days he was rumoured to ‘conduct’ an entire production in the studio from a slightly raised platform, baton in hand, cueing actors and gaffers as if mere sound-organs. but in american films in general, even with the best examples, there’s very little of a reclined posture in the storytelling; that is, everything that’s happening has to happen in one particular direction. i think it was in the film Mr. Nobody (2009) that i heard the most surprisingly accurate description of a what makes a film french (surprising because that film did not make any other attempts at profundity):
There were cars that polluted. We smoked cigarettes. We ate meat. We did everything we can't do in this dump and it was wonderful! Most of the time nothing happened... like a French movie.
Mr. Nobody (2009) Nemo.
i guess that really is what makes a film french--and made Yojimbo so entertaining: it feels like most of the time nothing happened—a style for which Last Year at Marienbad (1961) takes the fucking cake. but what a tremendous compliment that can be for a film, to accuse of it nothing happening… for it shares that character with real life: most of the time, nothing happens. that’s the compliment i reserve for films like Yojimbo, except in this case much happens, though not in any particular direction. that is another character of real life, much is happening but not in any discernible direction.
in summa summarum, i give this film 5.15 thicc unibrows out of 6