When it comes to class differences, Kurosawa makes it easy to detect the separation between social classes. In Yojimbo, Akira Kurosawa depicts class differences through a few different ways. In the film, the standard villagers are shown as the lower class, the sake brewer and silk merchant are considered lower-middle class, and Sanjuro the samurai is viewed as middle-upper class. Kurosawa uses camera movements, clothing, and dialogue to show how the lower class is completely different than the upper class. As we walk through multiple scenes and displays, the differences will become clearer and obvious of how and why Kurosawa uses camera movements to differentiate the classes, how clothing is portrayed differently, and specific dialogue that only certain social classes would state.
Camera movements are a huge part of Kurosawa’s films, especially Yojimbo. Though the major camera movements will be discussed later, this exhibit will touch base on how the camera strictly relates to class differences. When Kurosawa films the villagers, they are always filmed in a group and never as individuals. This filming technique displays how the lower class is of lower importance. There is no need to individualize the villagers based on their low importance. Gonji, the old restaurant keeper, can be inferred as lower-middle class since he runs a business. What is interesting about the old man is that he is not framed in a group with the other villagers. He is usually shot with Sanjuro. This is due to the fact of their close relation and semi-close relation in social class (Gow). Sanjuro, who is from the middle-upper class, is shown mostly alone in shots. Kurosawa frames Sanjuro this way because his status is more important. When Sanjuro is shot with other characters or villagers, Sanjuro is usually pictured closer to the camera or centered in the frame. The sake brewer and silk merchant are the largest money generators in the town. Since they make a decent amount of money, they are categorized as lower-middle class. Due to the higher than lower class status, their framing is slightly different than the lower class. The sake brewer and silk merchant are usually framed with a few people. These frames show their importance but do not make them overly important. As we look and compare the stills below, from the information above, it is easy to identify who are the villagers, who is Sanjuro, who are the sake brewer and silk merchant, and who is Gonji.
An example of the sake brewer and silk merchant is shown with only three characters in the frame: Sanjuro, the silk merchant, and a working woman. Another still is shown of Gonji and Sanjuro. This still is an example of how the two characters are shown together in multiple shots throughout the film.
When it comes to clothing, class differences are a little harder to detect. Because of the similar clothing and styles, we cannot figure out who has richer fabric than whom, but what we can tell is the maintenance and appearance of each character. The largest difference and easiest to detect is between Sanjuro and the villagers. Based on the clip below, when Sanjuro first confronts the villagers and they walk out to criticize him, it is easy to notice the raggedy clothing. The villagers clothing is ripped up and dirty. The villagers are also not well manicured. Their faces are dirty, their hair a mess, and they have no sense of cleanliness. Sanjuro is finely dressed in neat, clean close and is well manicured. His face is clean and his hair is groomed back into a bun. Sanjuro also presents himself very well. He walks in with a straight back and excellent posture. When he walks, he strides gracefully and fluidly. The villagers run out of the structure hunched over and move unevenly. They scamper around and are always running. The villagers always seem to be in a rush and nervous while Sanjuro is peacefully calm and takes his time.
Akira Kurosawa is a very creative director who uses the smallest details to make a film complete in all aspects, including dialogue. The dialogue in Yojimbo is tricky to pick up on, but once it is understood it is a straightforward relation to the class status. This dialogue is more effective and more often used in the lower class. There are multiple lines that relate to the lower class’s concern for money over people. The coffin maker states, “I bought a lot of lumber for coffins,” during a time when the fighting subsides. If no one is dying or being killed then the coffin maker is not making money. Another line that shows the lower class is working hard for money comes from the woman that looks over the performers. She says, “We paid a lot for you”. This line hints to the fact that the woman were bought and used to make money. The young women are shown dancing for the men and entertaining them. They are considered to be prostitutes. Umeno, a prostitute, ends up in the liking of the yojimbo. These actions seem to be frequent in a man’s eyes to find a woman and a prostitute’s to find freedom and a life (Pollard). In the clip below is the scene where the woman herds the prostitutes into a building to keep them safe.
Kurosawa also uses the idea of masculinity to slightly define class differences. Because the lower class is always being walked on and taken advantage of, they receive the idea to act tough. Toughness is the only way they can fight back and scare off enemies. Sanjuro knows he has power and knows there is no need to put on a tough guy show. He’s knows his strength and what he is capable of and likes to keep out of drama. When Sanjuro first arrives to the town and a villager runs out to offer him a job as a body guard, he tells Sanjuro he can not just walk away from the other angry mob, he has to “act tough, you gotta act big”.
This concludes the exhibit of social class differences within Yojimbo. Through concentrated scenes and stills focused on camera movement, clothing, and dialogue, the differences in social class can be detected. Though at first glance it might be tough to decipher who is of higher class, the main divider is who is more important and who is more sophisticated.