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By the 1960s, Akira Kurosawa was becoming force in international filmmaking. His back-to-back films of Yojimbo and Sanjuro are often grouped together because of their similarities in cast, style, and subject matter.
Yojimbo, one of the most remade stories in Hollywood, stars Toshirô Mifune as a renegade ronin warrior who plays both sides of warring gangs in a paralyzed town in an attempt to destroy them both and free the people of the village. Sanjuro the sequel, also starring Mifune, revolves around the samurai who helps a man free his uncle from wrongful imprisonment.
Here are a dozen things about Kurosawa’s legendary films you may not have known…
1. Akira Kurosawa challenged his assistant directors to come up with an image for the film to let Sanjuro know he was entering a bad town. He shot down all of their ideas since all of them had already been done. Kurosawa himself then came up with the idea of the dog carrying the human hand.
2. “Yojimbo” means “bodyguard” in Japanese.
3. In one scene, the samurai shows incredible skill at knife-throwing by impaling a blowing leaf against a wooden floor. This was accomplished by running the shot backwards. In the frame before the knife hits the leaf, you can see a slit in the leaf the same size and at the exact point where the knife penetrates it a frame later.
4. Akira Kurosawa told Toshirô Mifune that his character was like a wolf or a dog and told Tatsuya Nakadai that his character was like a snake. Inspired by this direction, Mifune came up with Sanjuro’s trademark shoulder twitch, similar to the way a dog or wolf tries to get off fleas.
5. The two most popular remakes of this film include the Sergio Leone western A Fistful of Dollars and the Bruce Willis drama Last Man Standing.
6. Like in most Kurosawa films, rainy weather is present in a few scenes, increasing the effect of the characters’ discomfort. The windy weather all throughout the film represents the chaotic life in the town.
7. When Sanjuro has to kill about a dozen of Kikui’s men and then smacks three of the young samurai for forcing him to kill so many, Toshirô Mifune slapped the three young actors for real. As seen in the film, the slaps both surprised the actors and knocked them backwards.
8. While most of the sets were built in the studio or out in the lot, the shrine in the first scene was a real, unused shrine in Gotemba. It is still standing as of 2007.
9. This was the first time Kurosawa appeared in the trailer for one of his films, showing him in a scene on set rehearsing with the cast.
10. All of the camellias used in the film were artificial and man-made. The leaves were real and taken from a Sakai plant. Every morning before shooting, the leaves were replaced to prevent them from looking old.
11. Mutsuta’s wife is shown to have what appears to be blackened teeth. This was a common type of fashion, especially with Courtiers in the Imperial Court.
12. For the “explosion of blood” in the final duel, chocolate syrup was mixed with carbonated water and put under 30 pounds of pressure.