Monday, August 09, 2010

YOJIMBO (1961) remade again & again

I was recently told about a series of post apocalyptic men’s adventure novels published in the mid-1980s called Traveler which were pseudonymously written by Ed Naha and John Shirley. The title character is an ex-soldier surviving in a ruined America 15 years after World War III and since I love Road Warrior style fiction I made a note to be on the lookout. Happily I lucked across three of the books in a local thrift store last weekend (including #1 & #2 of the run) and couldn’t resist diving into the first one as soon as I finished what I was currently reading. I was less than 40 pages into ‘First, You Fight’ when I was amused to note that it was yet another adaptation of Akira Kurosawa’s classic film YOJIMBO. Oddly, now that I think about it, MAD MAX 2 a.k.a. THE ROAD WARRIOR bears some similarities to YOJIMBO in the first place. Huuummm.

Adapting this story has been a staple of storytelling for a long time now. Supposedly based on Dashiell Hammett’s book Red Harvest YOJIMBO tells the story of a masterless samurai who upsets the fragile balance of a small town’s warring criminal factions at first unintentionally and then with great purpose and glee. I say supposedly based on the Hammett book because there are a number of changes in the story that might cause doubt even though the basics are intact enough to seem pretty clear. Regardless, Kurosawa’s film was a hit and a few years later Sergio Leone remade it set in the old west as A FISTFULL OF DOLLARS. This was of course an even bigger hit. Since that one-two punch adapting YOJIMBO has become a filmmaking standard and I find that no matter what change in time period or location I always get a kick out of the retelling.

The first time I realized I was watching a remake of this story was back in the old VHS days when I rented a cheap-jack David Carradine fantasy film called THE WARRIOR AND THE SORCERESS. (As a side note I think I read that this Corman produced mess is coming to DVD soon. I’m actually excited, strange to say.) Then in 1996 the great Walter Hill directed Bruce Willis in another version called LAST MAN STANDING which for the first time set the story in the same period as Red Harvest with prohibition era gangsters fighting over the liquor trade.
I have enjoyed every variation on this tale I’ve ever seen and I have to admit I’m liking this print steal of it as well. I don’t know if I react positively to this story because of my personality or if there is just something in it that strikes universal chords. I obviously can’t be the only one that gets a kick out it. When will we see a version set in outer space? Or has there already been one and I missed it?


Brian Lindsey said...

Isn't the 007 film LICENCE TO KILL (1989) also considered a riff on YOJIMBO -- sort of?

Rod Barnett said...

Damned good point! That's what I mean about spotting the basic plot in places. I fully expect to be told about a sci-fi version that's right under my nose.