If there's one thing that I always think is unfair, it's when "entertainment" (sometimes called "popcorn") movies often get shrugged off when compared to "thought-provoking" and "complex" movies. Contrary to the belief of many a moviegoer, it is quite possible to make absolutely brilliant "entertainment" movies. For example, see any of freelance director Seijun Suzuki's films that he made during his brief stay at B-movie Nikkatsu Studios (then again, Suzuki has always been incredibly skilled at taking the most cliché and otherwise unremarkable scripts often given to him and making great films from them).

However, I think one of the best examples of a brilliant "entertainment" film is Akira Kurosawa's 1961 film Yojimbo. The film, inspired equally in part by American westerns and Dahiell Hammett's 1929 novel Red Harvest, is frequently credited to reviving the western genre (ironic, eh?). The 1964 film A Fistful of Dollars was also an uncredited remake of the film (almost directly scene-for-scene, which led to a rather infamous lawsuit by Kurosawa against Sergio Leone).

The film takes place in 1860, after the fall of the shogunate and roughly around the time of the Meiji Restoration. Due to the rise of a middle class in Japanese society, the upper class (though the samurai in particular) has effectively been toppled. This leaves plenty of ronin roaming around the country, looking for some form of sustenance. The film centers around one such ronin, Sanjuro Kuwabatake (Toshirô Mifune), though technically the name is made up, making him the original "Man With No Name" (kuwabatake means "mulberry field", while sanjuro means "thirty years old").

Sanjuro wanders around the countryside a bit, looking for work as a bodyguard (yojimbo). He eventually reaches a seemingly deserted town, before receiving a rather nice greeting in the form of a dog with a human hand in it's mouth:


What Sanjuro finds out is that the town isn't deserted, but rather in the middle of a rather violent gang war. These two gangs - one led by Seibei, the other led by Ushitora - turn out to be equally rotten in Sanjuro's eyes, so he decides that the town would be much better off without either of them. So, rather than take on the suicidal mission of singlehandedly attempting to kill all members of both gangs, he decides to set them up against each other.

Sanjuro enjoys the view while the two gang leaders argue.

As the film progresses, we see that Sanjuro enjoys his own personal code of morals. That is to say, he's definitely an antihero. He has some "bad" qualities, such as being a rather selfish and greedy person, but he also has "good" qualities, such as compassion and hatred for the dirty tactics both gangs use. In other words, he's a more complex character than your typical action/"entertainment" movie protagonist is.

Overall, I think it goes without saying that this film is highly recommended. It's both action-packed and darkly comedic. It's very hard to underrate its influence on cinema, particularly the western (or, if you want to get more specific, the spaghetti western), even if you've never seen it. Not to mention the fact that it might be Kurosawa's most "accessible" film, at least to Western audiences, as it literally is a western set in 19th century Japan.