The idea of heroism stands high in the minds of the audience. Viewers love action movies with heroes and villains and of course love to see the hero come out on top. The hero, of course, always gets in some kind of trouble or gets hurt but still ends up winning in the end. In most hero movies, the hero almost always is fighting the villain consistently, but Kurosawa takes a different approach in Yojimbo. Kurosawa makes Sanjuro Kawabatake peaceful yet hypocritical. Sanjuro plays the roll of the hero and anti-hero. Even though Sanjuro does not believe in fighting, he uses the hatred within the village to his advantage. When the village is fighting, he is making money. Sanjuro’s hypocrisy of heroism is shown through many scenes where he walks away from fights, starts arguments, sacrifices himself through beatings, and finally ends the battles between the opposing sides.
First lets uncover how Sanjuro acts as an anti-hero. Sanjuro is a very intelligent man. He is calm, wise, trusting, and clever. He remains calm through frightening situations and never acts cocky about his power. Throughout the film, Sanjuro finds ways to manipulate the hatreds and hopes of both sides, but it is almost undone by a simple act of human kindness (Macdonald). In a time when people are trying to make money off of anything they can get their hands on, it’s every man for himself. Even Sanjuro is in a situation to make money. Jobless and hungry, Sanjuro comes across an opportunity to get by on a bowl of rice. The two opposing sides in the town want to have the victory of ruling the town when Sanjuro’s victory is surviving and getting by another day and continuing his journey (Goodwin). Sanjuro decides to use the village uproar for his benefit. As each side offers him more money and benefits to become their bodyguard, Sanjuro consistently turns them down in hopes of making more and more money. When the two sides come to a calm point during the film, Sanjuro says, “How’d they manage to calm down?” Sanjuro fuels the fire by talking to each side and giving the leader information that will cause the sides to start fighting again. When speaking to Ushitora, Sanjuro says, “You don’t get information like this for free,” and holds out his hand for money. The only way Sanjuro makes money is when the sides are fighting and paying Sanjuro to be their bodyguard. He does this multiple times throughout the film and bargains with both sides. In the stills below, we see Sanjuro trying to create a plan that will make the sides fight again and asking for a payment from Ushitora.
Although Sanjuro is an anti-hero, he is also a hero for the village. When he first encounters the hatred filled villagers and is challenged, Sanjuro walks away peacefully and without interest in fighting. At first he has no interest in fighting until he discovers he can make a pretty penny off of the leaders. Another scene that shows the caring character of Sanjuro is when he rescues the little boy’s mother from being held captive. He sends her off with her husband and son. The family bows and praises Sanjuro, but he does not accept the praise. Like a true hero, Sanjuro’s interest lies with the safety of innocent citizens instead of with the opposing leaders (Macdonald). Through Sanjuro’s act of kindness, he lets his guard down and is beaten. He takes these beatings in sacrifice to protect the innocent citizens. After multiple beatings and ill treatment, Sanjuro decides to take matters into his own hands. Sanjuro stands up against Ushitora’s youngest brother. Kurosawa uses this fight scene like any other hero movie. The hero stands up to a leader and his men who possess more power. In this scene Sanjuro fights of the youngest brother who has a gun and ten men with just a sword and dagger. Of course, Sanjuro wins. A still below shows the beating of Sanjuro and the following clip shows his heroic act.
Sanjuro is a killer with a code of honor. He is a defender of justice. Sanjuro does not want to get involved with the town’s problems and issues and lets the town fight out their problems. The village is to chicken to fight on their own. They are cowards and far from being heroes. Both sides want to hire Sanjuro to solve their issues, but Sanjuro wants to take no part. This is shown when Sanjuro sits by and watches both sides ‘attempt’ to fight each other and when he states, “I’ll think about the bodyguard thing”. One reason Sanjuro does not want to get involved is because it is not his problem and he believes in peace, but when things get out of hand and justice is called for, Sanjuro is there to fight back. For example, when he goes to rescue Gonji because Gonji has taken care of him and fed him for free.
In conclusion, Sanjuro is a hero, but is also just trying to survive. We may picture Sanjuro as a hypocrite, but in actuality he was doing the town a favor. He helped the town work out all their issues and he left. He rewarded himself by taking the leaders’ money, but he was putting a financial burden on them just like the leaders’ were hurting the innocent citizens. Sanjuro fights when he needs to, saves when he needs to, and stands by when he needs to. When he kills of the gunslinger and his men, Sanjuro says, “Now there’ll be quiet in this town,” which is a line that is used in many hero genre movies. Sanjuro changes throughout the film. He starts off just wanting to make money off of the situation, but then he realizes the harm that has been done. As soon as innocent citizens’ lives are in danger and the sinful men beat him, Sanjuro draws the line and becomes the town hero.