It wouldn’t work without Toshiro Mifune. In this role he remains perfectly Japanese but also manages to look like a mixture of Clark Gable and Gary Cooper – the sly, amused Gable of screwball comedy and the weathered Cooper of the Western. And then he looks a little like, actually prefigures, someone else, whom I’ll get to in a minute.
Mifune sometimes ambles, sometimes strides, scratches himself, shrugs one shoulder. There are lots of shots of him from the back. He seems tired without seeming done in; vaguely disreputable without being seedy. Is he dangerous? He is certainly crafty, but does he make his living by his craftiness or by his sword? He is that recurring figure in Japanese movies, the dismissed, masterless samurai. The time is 1860, pretty late for samurai in general, and the film is Akira Kurosawa’s Yojimbo (1961).
more from the LRB here.