April 25, 2021

Anniversary of The Bodyguard

There are several dozen films and television series with the title "Bodyguard". This article will focus on the film in the genre of "eastern", created by Akira Kurosawa.

Kurosawa's film "Yôjinbô 用心棒 (The Bodyguard)" was released in Japanese cinemas on April 25, 1961, exactly 60 years ago (!). This movie became Kurosawa's most successful film in Japan, as it attracted the largest number of Japanese moviegoers compared to the other pictures of the great Master.

However, outside of Japan, Kurosawa's "The Bodyguard" did not gain serious festival success. The film was presented at the Venice Film Festival, but it was limited only to a nomination for the Golden Lion. The victory at that festival went to Alain Resnais's film "L'année dernière à Marienbad (Last year at Marienbad)". However, the performer of the main role in the film "The Bodyguard" - Toshiro Mifune - in Venice received two awards.

The New York Times film reviewer Bosley Crowther was very derogatory about Akira Kurosawa's film "The Bodyguard", calling this film in his review "a straight transposition of Western flim clichés". At the same time, he condescendingly noted that, "despite the sometime appearance of the whole thing as a forthright travesty, it does have stretches of excitement and cinematic power". Also, Crowther condescended to evaluate the acting of Toshiro Mifune, who, according to the film critic, "passes well in this picture for a Japanese Gary Cooper or John Wayne". Crowther's general conclusion about the movie "The Bodyguard" is that in it "as in most Westerns, the dramatic penetration is not deep, and the plot complications are many and hard to follow in Japanese. Kurosawa is here showing more virtuosity than strength. "Yojimbo" is a long way (in the wrong direction) from his brilliant "Rashomon."

In fairness, it should be noted that Akira Kurosawa himself never hid the fact that his "The Bodyguard" is inspired by American films in the genre of noir and westerns. In particular, the film noir directed by Stuart Heisler "The Glass Key", based on the novel "Red Harvest" by Dashiell Hammett, as well as the westerns "High Noon" by Fred Zinneman and "Shane" by George Stevens.

However, the opinion of the vast majority of professional film critics differed with the opinion of Crowther. Roger Ebert, for example, rated Kurosawa's film with a maximal 4 stars and included it in his list of "Great Movies". Another authoritative American film critic James Berardinelli in his review noted that the Kurosawa's film, "Stylish, compelling, and involving, it became as much a blueprint for future productions as it is an homage to past ones..... It is fair to say that, without Yojimbo, certain key aspects of Western cinema would not be the same today."

The reason for Berardinelli's conclusions was at least the fact that Sergio Leone's film "Per un pugno di dollari (A Fistful of Dollars)", which marked the beginning of an entire genre called "spaghetti western", was largely copied from Kurosawa's "The Bodyguard". This was recorded in the court's decision, which ordered Leone to pay Kurosawa 100 thousand dollars plus 15% of the fees from the rental of the film "A Fistful of Dollars", as well as to give Kurosawa the rights to rent this film in Japan, South Korea and Taiwan.

Some film critics see an imitation of the "The Bodyguard" in the film "Django" by Sergio Corbucci, as well as in the film "Last Man Standing" by Walter Hill. Moreover, in the credits of "Last Man Standing", the co-authors of the script are Akira Kurosawa and Ryuzo Kikushima - the authors of the script of "The Bodyguard".

So, the condescending characterization of Kurosawa's film "The Bodyguard" as "a forthright travesty", given by the aforementioned Bosley Crowther, is difficult to recognize as appropriate. Unlikely famous filmmakers would imitate the "forthright travesty". And, if we agree with the statement that Toshiro Mifune "passes well in this picture for a Japanese Gary Cooper or John Wayne", then we must also agree that Clint Eastwood in Sergio Leone's spaghetti western trilogy passes well for an American Toshiro Mifune.

However, some of Bosley Crowther's arrogance in his review of the film "The Bodyguard" can be explained by the fact that the review was written in 1962, just a year after the film was released on the screens of American cinemas. That is, when it was not yet known about the impact of Kurosawa's film on world cinema.

Modern moviegoers around the world have no less highly appreciated Akira Kurosawa's film "The Bodyguard" than Japanese moviegoers in the early 60s. 74% of IMDB and Kinopoisk users gave this film a rating from 8 to 10. Taking into account this indicator and the above, the rating of Akira Kurosawa's film "The Bodyguard" according to FilmGourmand version was 8,165, which allowed it to take the 505th place in the Golden Thousand.

The film was not shown in the Soviet Union. At least until the beginning of perestroika.