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VINE VOICEon November 27, 2006
Yojimbo and Sanjuro are great movies for diverse reasons.

Yojimbo (The Bodyguard) is a samurai movie based in the detective novels of Dashiell Hammett - particularly Red Harvest. Akira Kurosawa wanted to bring the best of literature and interpret it into Japanese cinema. Its interesting that the two main influences in this process were Hammett's hard-boiled detective fiction and William Shakespeare (Ran, Throne of Blood). The always-excellent Toshiro Mifune plays the nameless title character who schemes and plots of take down an entire town of gamblers and gansters. I won't recap the story, suffice to say that his plans lead into several battles and some beautifully choreographed sword fights. Yojimbo was later made (nearly scene-for-scene) into A Fistfull of Dollars by Sergio Leone with Clint Eastwood as "The Man with No Name." Bruce Willis brought the character back to it's ganster/detective roots with the not-so-good "Last Man Standing." Yojimbo is awash with cinematic violence, but the charm infused into the movie by the cynical, yet obstinately principled, hero surprised me when I first saw it. The performances of the supporting cast, as usual with Kurosawa's films, add depth and wit to each scene. For what its worth, Yojimbo has gradually become one of my favorite movies.

If you end up enjoying Yojimbo, check out The Seven Samurai, Sword of Doom, Miller's Crossing, The Maltese Falcon, and The Thin Man.

The sequel, Sanjuro, is a departure of sorts from Yojimbo. Kurosawa and Mifune return as we find our nameless hero assisting some naive samurai who have been backed into a corner by corrupt officials in their clan. Played more for laughs but still brimming with cynicism and wonderfully orchestrated fights (the final scene will leave you afraid to blink), Sanjuro is a worthy but unusual follow-up to the cynical Yojimbo.

Criterion did an excellent job with their recent re-release of Kurosawa's The Seven Samurai, and it appears that they are giving the same treatment to Yojimbo & Sanjuro. A new (and improved) translation, commentary from Steven Price, as well as documentary film focusing on Kurosawa during the time he was making these great movies, and a booklet with info about the two movies, sadly nothing from Mifune (he did have an essay in the Seven Samurai DVD re-release). I can't wait to get ahold of it - should be well worth the purchase!
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VINE VOICEon January 31, 2007


When you talk about an Akira Kurosawa film there is very little to say because his films speak way more than what any reviewer can write. Any filmmaker or film enthusiast can tell you that Kurosawa is one of the greatest directors to have ever made films. Not only is he able to tell grand and epic stories but he is able to keep his characters intimate with the audience. He is probably the single most influential director to have ever lived. Now the good folks over at Criterion have blessed us with remastered editions of Yojimbo and Sanjuro, two classic samurai masterpieces by the great director. Criterion wowed us last year with their remastered release of Seven Samurai, which was my favorite DVD of the year. This release, while not as extensive as the Seven Samurai three disc set, is still something to jump over. Since Sergio Leone is my favorite director you can assume that Akira Kurosawa is close behind in my taste in film, especially these two films. The two films can be purchased separately, but I highly recommend buying this box set as it will not only save you money but save you shame when you tell people that you own one but not the other.


The thing that surprises me the most about Yojimbo was that it was a film that was inspired by American westerns yet was even a bigger inspiration for the genre after it was made. The story is about a masterless samurai who wanders into an old town looking for food and shelter, maybe a job if he can find one. He notices that the entire town is deserted and the first thing he sees is a small dog happily trotting down the dirt street with a severed human hand in its mouth. That image right there sets the entire tone for this fun adventure film with a slight comedic side to it. The masterless samurai who is known as Sanjuro then realizes that the town is in the middle of a gang war with two feuding sides. He takes refuge with an old shopkeeper and decides to use this feud to his advantage. He plays both sides and manipulates each of the gangs in hopes of ridding the town of both groups and making a little profit during the process.

Even though the film was made in 1961 it's still as accessible today as any other film would be. Kurosawa was ahead of his time when it came to pacing films and structuring them. His characters were also so boldly developed that they became unforgettable. His visual style is probably the most unique of any director. The reason why Sergio Leone is my favorite director is because of his appreciation for cinematography and Akira Kurosawa had the same appreciation. While Leone may have been inspired by Kurosawa it was Leone who pushed the limits of the widescreen frame in terms of composition. Kurosawa was never as extreme as Leone was, but his films were nonetheless interesting to watch due to the brilliant cinematography. The final showdown at the end of the film is breathtaking all due to what is captured within the frame. Truly impossible to describe, it must be seen.

When you talk about iconic actors you always come across Toshiro Mifune who embodied the role of the masterless samurai to perfection. Just the mannerisms he uses in the film are entertaining to watch. He'll scratch his beard leisurely in the tensest situations, or even roll his shoulders around as he walks about. While Clint Eastwood without a doubt created his own icon in the Leone westerns, it is without a doubt heavily inspired by Toshiro Mifune.


With the immediate success of Yojimbo in Japanese cinema it was inevitable that a sequel was wanted by the studio. When Akira Kurosawa was approached to do a sequel he assured them that he didn't want to do any old sequel, and he didn't. Sanjuro has no relation to the previous film except for the main character. The first scene of the film finds a group of nine samurai in a small abandoned house waiting to be contacted and all the while discussing the state of their clan. Of course our "hero" is sleeping in the closet and ends up hearing their situation. Sanjuro emerges from the closet and tells them they are about to be betrayed and since they are blind to the world he decides to help them weed out the evil and corrupt members of their clan. Sanjuro is slower paced than Yojimbo, and I suppose there are less swordfights. However, just because there are less swordfights in the film does not mean the film has less action. Kurosawa cranked up the intensity of the battling and it makes the scenes all the more exciting. The film also keeps up with the comical side that we saw in Yojimbo. In the end it all dials down to one final samurai duel that will leave you breathless.

Kurosawa paced this film a little differently than Yojimbo. We are almost thrown right into the action with no detailed introductions to our characters. We already know our main hero well, so there is no need to introduce him again. The nine young warriors almost act as one character so just explaining their situation was enough. Sanjuro teaches these young warriors the way of honor and to be weary of their surroundings. It's truly a magnificent film. By the end of the film you will know exactly where Tarantino got his inspiration for Kill Bill and for the style of blood used in the film.

VIDEO: The highlights of these brand new sets are definitely the new high definition transfers, absolutely flawless in every sense of the word. The image could not get any better. Grain and dirt are practically non existent and no signs of any digital flaws. The image itself is not faded and textures come through crisp and clear. I never knew black and white could look so good. Both films are presented in their full 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen aspect ratios.

AUDIO: Sound is almost as perfect as the picture. We have included the original mono track in Japanese as well as a little bonus. Criterion knows that more and more homes are getting bigger and badder surround systems, but mono tracks on such a big screen may feel uninvolving for today's audience. So, we have an optional 3.0 Dolby track that was created to preserve the original Perspecta simulated stereo effects.

Perspecta was a technology that embedded three separate audio tones into a mono track. It was a cheap alternative at the time since projectors did not need a new sound head. So the DVD is basically using 3 speakers to simulate this early technology that was used during the films' theatrical distribution. Bravo Criterion. Bravo. I'd also like to applaud the effort to provide newly translated and more accurate subtitles for both films.


Yojimbo's Special Features:

Commentary by Film Historian and Kurosawa Scholar Stephen Prince:

The audio commentary is chock full of important facts and great analysis behind certain techniques used in the film. A must listen for film students and film enthusiasts because I bet anywhere else you'd pay lots of money to hear a professional speak at a seminar or a class to get information like this.

The Making of Yojimbo:

A 45-minute in depth documentary that goes behind the scenes of Yojimbo. There are plenty of interviews with crew members. They speak so much about Kurosawa that by the end you may feel like he was interviewed too. Lots of info such as using a telephoto lens for most of the film to get the look that Kurosawa wanted. Plenty of fun stories from crew members, an especially interesting one from the focus puller.

Theatrical Trailer & Teaser:

The original theatrical and teaser are included. They are nothing like what we know now as the theatrical trailer. It's fun little extra.

Stills Gallery:

Lots of pictures from the set of Yojimbo.


Includes an essay written by critic Alexander Sesonske and some notes from Kurosawa and his cast and crew.

Sanjuro's Special Features:

Commentary by Film Historian and Kurosawa Scholar Stephen Prince:

The audio commentary is chock full of important facts and great analysis behind certain techniques used in the film. A must listen for film students and film enthusiasts because I bet anywhere else you'd pay lots of money to hear a professional speak at a seminar or a class to get information like this.

The Making of Sanjuro:

A 35-minute in depth documentary that goes behind the scenes of Sanjuro. There are plenty of interviews with crew members. They speak so much about Kurosawa that by the end you may feel like he was interviewed too. Lots of info such as using a telephoto lens for most of the film to get the look that Kurosawa wanted. Plenty of fun stories from crew members, especially one story about painting flowers for the highly demanding Kurosawa.

Theatrical Trailer & Teaser:

The original theatrical and teaser are included. They are nothing like what we know now as the theatrical trailer. It's fun little extra.

Stills Gallery:

Lots of pictures from the set of Sanjuro.


Includes an essay written by critic Michael Sragow and some notes from Kurosawa and his cast and crew.

BOTTOM LINE: As a filmmaker and a film critic, I am simply floored by this set. I love Kurosawa's work, but these films especially since they went on to inspire my favorite director. Sergio Leone remade Yojimbo as A Fistful Of Dollars and added a whole new element to the story to make is just as great as the original. Leone used elements of Sanjuro for For A Few Dollars More and then he created his personal masterpiece with The Good, The Bad & The Ugly. Walter Hill remade Yojimbo with Bruce Willis taking the lead role in Last Man Standing. So, you can see that Kurosawa is simply one of the best filmmakers to have ever lived. Criterion continues to raise the bar in terms of home video distribution of important classic and contemporary films. This set is a must buy.
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on March 22, 2010
Got my pre-order a day early!

The HD treatment on these classics can be described in one word...WOW! Exceeded my expectations in every way! Great contrast and lighting with a 3 dimensional pop. Facial detail and expressions are thrilling to watch. Criterion's previous re-release was an excellent DVD translation but this blu-ray version is phenomenal. 99% of the film is gorgeous but there are a few scenes where detail seems low rez. It doesn't feel like a movie made nearly 50 yrs ago but one filmed recently due to the HD restoration.

I have both a 1080p screen and a 720p screen and I honestly can't tell which has better picture quality. There are 2 audio options, the original mono and a new HD DTS 3.0 perspecta and both are very good but I prefer the original. I've watched these films many times and this is the first time I'm noticing details I've not seen before such as fine details on actor's faces, clothes, props, and actor's facial expressions and backgrounds.

The extra features are slim and is probably the only thing that's lacking. Kurosawa's "It is wonderful to create" featurettes as well as an excellent commentary by Stephen Prince is very informative yet his tonal quality can be dry at times.

The set comes in a box exactly like the DVD version but smaller in size and included booklets of 19 pages.

I found Yojimbo to have better picture quality than Sanjuro which has an overall softer look.

I commend Criterion for an excellent job on these films and can't wait for Seven Samurai on blu-ray which was supposed to be ready in march but will be delayed till end of this year due to the magnitude of the HD treatment.

Even if you have the DVD version, this HD version seems like a whole new experience. Must have!

Blu-ray restoration wish list:
All Kurosawa films
The Sword of Doom
Samurai Rebellion
Samurai Trilogy Musashi Miyamoto
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on August 25, 2011
Yojimbo is one of the most influential films ever made. It has been redone countless times but none of the remakes has been near as succesful as the original classic. Yojimbo is not only influential but vey fun. In Sanjuro, Kurosawa created an indelible character powered by the incomparable Toshiro Mifune. The story is really involving and the settings are amazing. Of course you also have spectacular sword fights and action sequences that helps the film being arguably Kurosawa's most enjoyable one.

Two gangs have been in constant war for the control of a little town. Both sides had suffered losses and this disputes are, little by little, destroying the poor village. Enter Sanjuro, a ronin with else to do that to destroy both gangs in a play of wits and sword. Both gangs leaders want him as a bodyguard but he, chooses not to pick either one and instead plays a game of deception in which both gangs are sooner or later meeting their ends.
Mifune is absolutely mesmerizing as Sanjuro, he plays the ronin effortlessly with charm, intelligence and a deathly force. His performance is what makes this movie a pleasure to watch. The swordfights in the film are great with Mifune really getting into the role and fighting with a fierceness that has to be reckoned. The Cinemascope shots are beautifully captured, from open wide shots of the town to clear indoor settings, the camerawork in the film is impeccable. Another Kurosawa masterpiece that is a must see for everyone.

Sanjuro, the sequel released one year after Yojimbo, is not as good as its predeccesor but nonetheless is a great film on its own right. Part of it success is the return of Mifune as Sanjuro and is a pleasure to watch the character in another adventure.

When nine members of a clan suspect that teir leaders have been corrupted, they talk to the on ethey think is the only good one but instead they make the fatal flaw of talking to the leader of the whole corrupt operation. Sentenced to death, their only hope is to liberate the true not corrupt leader and expose the others, but they can't face an army that had been set against them. Again, enter Sanjuro and thanks to his strategies and wits, the clan members have a chance to survive. Sanjuro is not as visceral as Yojimbo and is lighter in tone than its predeccesor but its also funnier and a great action adventure that you will enjoy for sure. Again Mifune performance is what makes the movie interesting to watch and the action sequences are also mesmerizing. The final battle will leave you in complete awe. Sanjuro is underrated but nontheless deserves to be watched by everyone.

Video & Audio:
Yojimbo & sanjuro comes to BD in excellent form. Criterion, as always, delivers great transfers for both films. Yojimbo's transfer especially is breathtaking. Detail is sharp, contrast is clear, color reproduction is accurate and there are no sighn of artifacts in the print. Sanjur's transfer is a little bit less striking that Yojimbo's but is also very strong and has the same good elements as the first one.

On the audio front you have to mixes for both films: A Japanese uncompressed monoaural soundtrack or a Japanese DTS-HD MA 3.0. Both mixes sound spctacular with no signs of damage and with astounding clarity.

Bonus Features:
Both films come with the same extras that are not a lot but what you'll find here is very solid. Both films have: "Akira Kurosawa: It's Wonderful to Create" an amazing series of documentaries that delves with the production of both films. You also have on both films an audio commentary by film historian Stephen Price. Also on both discs you'll find trailers and galleries.

Both films includes a booklet with interviews of Kurosawa's collaborators and essays by film historians.

Closing Thoughts:
Yojimbo & Sanjuro are two classic films that deserve a spot in every film collection. With engaging stories, a tour de force performance by Toshiro Mifune and spectacular sword fights, this films are two of Kurosawa's most enjoyable films. Criterion has put a terrific package for both films with amazing transfers and mesmerizing audio. Bonus features do not abound but what is included here is great. Yojimbo & Sanjuro come VERY HIGHLY RECOMMENDED!!!
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VINE VOICEon August 12, 2011
If you only have time to see 2 Samurai films, this is the collection you want.
Director Akira Kurosawa (1910-98) and actor Toshiro Mifune (1920-97) were the John Ford/John Wayne of Japanese cinema, only more so. While it's possible to talk about other western directors (Hawks, Wyler) and other western actors (Stewart, Cooper, Eastwood), it's nearly impossible to list any other samurai luminaries apart from Kurosawa and Mifune, which accounts for why, since their death, the genre has become moribund.

Prior to "Yojimbo", they made nearly a dozen films, the most famous of which were "Rashomon" (1950), "The Seven Samurai" (1954), "Throne of Blood" (1957), and "Hidden Fortress" (1958). All were award winners.

"Rashomon" won the Golden Lion at Venice and an Honorary Oscar and was remade in 1964 as "The Outrage".

"The Seven Samurai" won the Silver Lion at Venice and was nominated for two Oscars, won a British Oscar for Mifune, and was remade as "The Magnificent Seven" (1960).

"Throne of Blood" was the Japanese Macbeth. It was nominated for the Golden Lion in Venice and won acting and direction awards in Japan.

"Hidden Fortress" won awards for Kurosawa in Berlin and was used by George Lucas in scripting the first Star Wars film (now known as Episode IV).

"Yojimbo" (the Bodyguard) followed in 1961. Its focus is the classic Japanese "tateyaku" - the heroic loner - played by Mifune as a wandering master-less Samurai in 19th Century Japan. Even when the dialogue is elsewhere, the camera follows Mifune, giving you some idea of the power of his acting. Mifune made more than 150 films, most of them Japanese, but he also made several films in Hollywood, the most famous of which were "Hell in the Pacific" (1968) with Lee Marvin, "Red Sun" (1971) with Charles Bronson, "Midway" (1976) as Admiral Yamamoto, and "The Challenge" (1982) with Scott Glenn. He also appeared in the TV mini-series "Shogun" (1980) as Lord Toranaga. Mifune won Volpi Cup awards in Venice for his work on "Yojimbo" (1961) and "Red Beard" (1965), was Emmy nominated for his role in "Shogun" and won many awards in Japan.

Yojimbo was Oscar nominated and won awards for Mifune in Japan and at Venice, where Kurosawa was nominated for a Golden Lion (he lost to "Last Year at Marienbad"). It was remade in 1964 as a western ("A Fistful of Dollars" with Clint Eastwood), again in 1984 as science fiction ("Warrior and the Sorceress" with David Carradine), and in 1996 as a gangster flick ("Last Man Standing" with Bruce Willis).

"Sanjuro" followed and Mifune reprised his performance as the wandering Ronin. It is much lighter in tone than Yojimbo, which was heavy and dark. Indeed, one gets the impression that this is a comedy with action, and many scenes are played to comedic advantage.

Unlike the other Kurosawa/Mifune films, "Sanjuro" won no major awards.

If you're not familiar with samurai films, you will be amazed by Mifune's speed and skill. For example, in both films Mifune locks himself in a room and kills more than a dozen armed soldiers within a few seconds.

Like John Ford, Akira Kurosawa had a repertoire company, and several of his mainstays appear in both films. The great Takashi Shimura (1905-82) appears as a sake brewer in "Yojimbo" and one of the conspirators in "Sanjuro". His long and crooked face is recognizable to fans even if his name escapes them. Shimura was the good doctor in the original "Godzilla" (1954) and the clerk in "Seven Samurai" (1954) and appeared in more Kurosawa movies than any other actor (19), including Mifune (16).

Tatsuya Nakadai (1932) is Mifune's arch rival in both films. Nakadai was second only to Mifune as a leading actor in the samurai genre, and after Mifune and Kurosawa had a disagreement during "Red Beard" (1965), Nakadai continued to work with Kurosawa and appeared in "Kagemusha" (1980) and "Ran" (1985). He remained a good friend with Mifune even though Mifune remained upset with Kurosawa.

As I said before, these are two of the very best Samurai films. If I had to add a third film I'd suggest "Seven Samurai". All of these are from the classic Samurai period of the mid 20th century. More recent Samurai films that may be of interest include "47 Ronin" (1994) and "13 Assassins" (2010).
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Akira Kurosawa made the best samurai movies in cinematic history, since he mixed in other elements (spaghetti westerns!) and crafted the action around the stories. And the two-movie pack of "Yojimbo" and "Sanjuro" is deeply satisfying -- vivid, compelling, often humorous and they star the fantastic Toshiro Mifune.

"Yojimbo" was an adaptation of Dashiell Hammett's "Red Harvest," the story of a detective who cleans up a city. But Kurosawa yanks the action across the world, to a grizzled samurai (Mifune) who wanders into an impoverished town, after hearing a farmer talking about the corruption there.

He wasn't kidding -- the nearby town is a battleground for two warring clans and the corrupt police. The samurai knows that he's smarter than anyone else in the town, so he starts playing the two clans against one another, while deftly sidestepping the inevitable clashes.

If "Yojimbo" is a dark comedy, "Sanjuro" is more of a straight-out comedy, with the return of Mifune's scruffy, wily hero. This time, he rescues nine naive, inept young noblemen from the Superintendent's thugs, and after figuring out the conspiracy that is forming in a nearby town, he decides to rescue the Superintendant, his wife and daughter.

Unfortunately, the samurai (now going by the name of Sanjuro Tsubaki) soon finds that the noblemen aren't very bright, and they also have a bad habit of disobeying him, since he is of lower rank than they are. He concocts a plan to thwart the Superintendant and his deadly lieutenant... assuming his army of nine doesn't botch it.

Kurosawa was a lover of American cowboy flicks, and at times this shows, especially in the rugged hero, who acts like a medieval Japanese gunslinger (he even has the piercing eyes for it). But first and foremost, these are solid stories -- no more and no less. And Kurosawa's storytelling ability is laced with drama, humor, and rapid-fire action. Not to mention great dialogue ("Get back in the cupboard!").

Mifune is the ideal rogue samurai -- he's gritty, unpretentious, and laughs openly when he sees a bunch of bullies who are too afraid to actually fight. Kurosawa gives him more dimension in the second movie, where he is compared to an "unsheathed blade" and compares himself to one of the villains, because they are the same kind of person.

For any rabid cinephile, Kurosawa's films are a must. Epic action movies with plenty of swords, comedy and grizzled heroes don't come any better than these.
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on July 21, 2007
I'm going to work under the assumption that you have already seen these movies (if not, there are plenty of reviews about how great the movies themselves are, so I won't belabor the point). I bought these movies as an upgrade to the 1998 Criterion release that I still have, and I think it was a worthwhile investment.

Although the differences between 1998 and 2007 pressing are not as great as the differences between the 1998 and 2007 pressing of Seven Samurai, these two movies did get a significant upgrade. While they are not flawless, they are closer than I would have ever expected to see them. I actually watched the first few chapters of each pressing of both movies, and the differences are amazing. The graininess has been cleared up, almost all the scratches have been removed, and there are very few blemishes (you pretty much have to be looking for them to even notice them).

Although these aren't cheap by an stretch of the imagination, if you love these movies and would like to see and hear them at their best, then the pricetag is well worth the cost. If, on the other hand, you haven't seen these movies (of you're just not insane about AV quality, like me) keep in mind that you can pick up the older pressing for half as much.
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on February 6, 2007
I'll admit up front I consider myself a Kurosawa fanboy so writing this is hard as I'm constantly trying to keep myself from degenerating into a fanboy rant. I'll just say with the nice price and the remastered video updating the problems with their original releases, this is a great release for those looking to get into Kurosawa films, or chanbara in general. Both films have a lighter tone and are shorter and funner than Seven Samurai and Ran and I loved the films plots over The Hidden Fortress.

First up Yojimbo, like Seven Samurai one of the most copied of Kurosawa's films. This is fun film, that has a streak of black humor that the two remakes A Fistfull of Dollars and Last Man Standing lack. Mifune had a humorous quality to his acting that came up greatly in his role of Sanjuro the wandering ronin who strolls into town after hearing about it from a farmer quarreling with his son. With Mifunes performance, intelligent writing, Kurosawa as usual makes full use of panavision. The opening where Mifune walks into town where all the residents peek out from behind windows and doors is just awesome with the way the camera captures all the small actions. Theres not much more I wanna say except with the opening listen to the confrontation between Mifune and compare it to a certain scene in Star Wars A New Hope. Lucas not only copied many of Kurosawas movies but cribbed scenes from this one and others as well.

Sanjuro is viewed by some like all sequels as inferior to the original. Personally its not a Matrix/Matrix Reloaded situation. Sure it doesn't feature a deep story like the previous film, but it does have the writing that I always like from Kurosawa and the humor in scenes that are great and add depth to the characters. Plus just one of the best endings ever. I've seen the film five times and I've always been suprised by it.

Anyway this whole thing is a great package with excellent video, the usual essays that come from Criterion and the usual documentaries from the Its Wonderful to Create series produced by Toho that have been on other Kurosawa releases, and a cracking commentary from Stephen Prince who gives a in depth commentary definitely worht a listen. Its a great package well worth the price.
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on March 4, 2012
Toshiro Mifune. Akira Kurosawa. Samurai. Black and White. What more could one hope for? Two timeless samurai flicks by a master director and an incredible actor on Criterion blu-ray with simply superb samurai swordplay and chocolate syrup blood. The last guy killed in the second film has extreme high blood pressure and probably would have died soon anyway. Bottom line: two great stories and two cool documentaries make this a must-see, must-own double-feature. If you don't know Kurosawa, then you don't deserve to bask in this samurai splendor....
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on March 5, 2013
Criterion have made up for lost time , with their blue ray titles collection . Both titles are also their DVD Catalogue , I have
Yojimbo DVD , The transfer is fine , but pales to Blu ray version , this only my opinion , But I recommend this for aficionados of Akira Kurosawa films .
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