In what kind of crazy mixed-up world could a Japanese samurai film simultaneously launch the genre of spaghetti westerns and propel Clint Eastwood to stardom? If the director is Akira Kurosawa, it wouldn’t be that unusual. Many of his best samurai films, including Rashomon (1950), Seven Samurai (1954), and Yojimbo (1961), were remade — or westernized — by Hollywood and Europe. The Hidden Fortress (1958), another Kurosawa samurai film, is acknowledged by George Lucas to be a primary influence for Star Wars. Yojimbo’s remake is Sergio Leone’s A Fistful of Dollars (1964), which ironically named its central character, played by Clint Eastwood, “the man with no name.”

In Yojimbo, the nameless samurai is portrayed by Kurosawa favorite, Toshiro Mifune. He skillfully pits one feuding faction against the other, because both sides are equally bad. Then he quite literally sits back and watches the fun. Kurosawa’s sequel to Yojimbo (Sanjuro; 1962) takes a more comic approach, almost to the point of becoming a spoof of its predecessor. Yojimbo strikes the better balance between comic and dramatic elements. If you’ve ever wondered why some consider Mifune to be one of cinema’s finest and most versatile actors, this film would be an excellent introduction.

(1961; directed by Akira Kurosawa; cable, dvd, & blu-ray)
Criterion Collection
List Price: $39.95 (Blu-ray), $39.95 (DVD)

Saturday, May 16 at 4:00 a.m. eastern (late Fri. night) on Turner Classic Movies