Creator: Studio Pierrot production
Director: Hayato Date
Genre: Film Noir, Drama
Length: 25 Episodes
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+ Gorgeous, stunning animation
Story line is subtly deep
+/ Deliberate pacing, at times tedious
Kaze No Yojimbo is a masterpiece of animated storytelling. While it begins with Kurosawa's iconic film, Yojimbo, it soon develops it something completely original and deeply compelling. It masterfully fuses beautiful animation and solid writing with elements of film noir and mystery to create a series that transcends the genres it borrows from. If the original Kurosawa masterpiece was a short story quickly sketching in the highlights to capture the action and drama, then Kaze No Yojimbo is a fully rendered animated novel exploring the characters and their deepest motivations.
4.5 out of 5 · Highly Recommended
Kaze No Yojimbo Anime Review
Written by: Frank B. Chavez III on 6/23/2009
In 1961, Akira Kurosawa made the film Yojimbo. One of several jidaigeki or period films produced by the director, it tells the story of a nameless ronin who finds himself in a village dominated by rival gangs. He hires himself out to both gangs as a bodyguard and then through a skillful combination of swordplay and political maneuvering brings peace to the village by manipulating the gangs into wiping each other out. Influenced by American film noir and Westerns, Yojimbo in turn became one of Kurosawa's most influential films. Its basic premise informs the plot of several major motion pictures including Sergio Leone's A Fistful of Dollars; Walter Hill's Last Man Standing; and most recently Takashi Miike's pop culture soaked samurai western Sukiyaki Western Django. In 2001 Studio Pierrot created the anime series Kaze No Yojimbo which brought the concept into the present day. It follows the story of Jyouji "George" Kodama as he pits two factions against one another in the effort to uncover a man from his mysterious past.
The series is heavily influenced by mystery, Westerns, and film noir. Like film noir and Westerns, the hero is a loner with a troubled past searching for answers to a mystery that may be over his head, answers that might be better off left unknown. Also much like the noir films that it borrows from, Kaze No Yojimbo builds its plot quite slowly. The series begins with a black and white flashback at a train depot as we see a teenage version of what will turn out to be the series' protagonist watch soldiers searching a train for unnamed but clearly important cargo. The story then cuts to 15 years later. George Kodama is one of the few adults on board a commuter train full of high schoolers heading towards Kimujuku. He is woken up from his nap just in time to disembark by a teenage girl we will later learn is the daughter of one of the town's "leading" citizens.
Kimujuku is one of those places that couldn't exist outside of TV, movies, and comic books. Cities such as Kimujuku exist to be the backdrop for struggles between opposing factions and visual metaphors for the hero's own internal struggles with good and evil, sin and virtue. A former mining town that seems to have fallen on hard times since the closing of the mine; it is divided along factional lines into the older Red Town which dates from the Meiji Era and the more recently constructed White Town. As in the original film, George makes his way to a diner run by one of the town's few remaining "old timers" where he proceeds to beat the snot out of one of the faction's thugs and become fast friends with the diner's owner. He later checks into the local hotel where he is initially told by the hotel manager that Genzo Araki has moved to the next town. Kodama senses that the townspeople are hiding something and decides to stay in town, playing the factions against each other until he learns their secrets and uncovers the whereabouts of Genzo.
Show More The town's factions are the Tanokura and Ginzame families. Much like the Montague and Capulet clans from Romeo and Juliet the exact reasons for their rivalry are not disclosed, their hatred for one another seems to have outgrown the original dispute that sparked their rivalry. While melees are a daily occurrence and the city's ordinary citizens are caught in the middle and are often forced to pick sides out of self preservation, violence in the city really starts to heat up when George arrives in town. His presence has upset the balance of power and provoked a bidding war between the factions to curry his favor. As in the original Yojimbo, George uses his wits and impressive martial prowess to gain the trust of both factions' leaders and earn a job with both of them. He becomes bodyguard for Tanokura's teenage daughter and a strategic advisor to Ginzame. However, unlike Yojimbo in which the ronin Sanjuro is primarily interested in bringing justice to the town, George is driven by the need to uncover the town's secrets. His situation is further complicated by Tanokura's daughter developing a crush on him and by his acceptance of job as a bodyguard at the hotel which is considered neutral territory.
The creators of many anime series would be content to borrow the plot of Yojimbo and use it for the basis of a noirish action adventure and it would have been good. It would have been watchable. The creators of Kaze No Yojimbo do not content themselves with simply creating something watchable. They start with the plot of Kurosawa's film and slowly layer in new elements until a new work of art emerges. The story's central mystery: Who is Genzo Araki and what does he know about the mysterious train seen at the beginning is not the typical Macguffin that can be ignored; it is really the driving force behind a complex exploration of human connections. Script wise the series dramatically expands upon Yojimbo's straightforward plot, the series' writers use devices such as flashbacks and internal monologues to delve deeper into their characters' backgrounds, histories, and motivations than Kurosawa did. The characters in Kurosawa's original, while realistically portrayed, primarily existed to drive the plot forward. The characters in the series seem to take on a life of their own; they have pasts and futures beyond the machinations of the plot. The series isn't better than the movie that inspired it, just different. If Yojimbo was structured like a short story, then Kaze No Yojimbo is more like an animated novel.
Show More While this attention to character development is admirable, it does contribute to the series' two main drawbacks, its slow pace and great length.
The series takes 25 episodes to tell a story that most series would likely develop in twelve. The series develops at a deliberate pace reminiscent of film noir which helps create a sense of mystery; however, it becomes overwhelming when the story grinds to a halt to delve into the background of nearly every character. It's almost a surprise when a character doesn't have a flashback. However, in the end, the resolution of the mystery surrounding the characters and the way the plot threads are woven together is so compelling and masterful that the length and pacing can be forgiven.
Visually, the series is stunning. The animators quickly establish mood with the evocative and lonely landscape, muted colors, and oppressive weather. The character designs follow the trend of blending traditional cartoon-y anime styles with more realistic Western style character designs - the characters look human and not like freaks but they don't exactly look like they actually live in Japan. Perhaps the series most interesting visual elements are the use of extreme close ups, comic book panel style split-screens, and "static-y" backgrounds to emphasize key moments. These elements are used sparingly and give an interesting graphic feel to the series. Viewing this series is often more like viewing a modern art painting than watching a cartoon.
Many contemporary anime series are gorgeously animated but they often so poorly written or their characters are so badly developed they are essentially immediately forgettable eye candy. Kaze No Yojimbo takes the basic plot of Kurosawa's classic action film Yojimbo and uses it for a jumping off point for a richly detailed and thoughtful drama. The creators of the series masterfully weave together conventions of mystery and film noir to create a story that somehow transcends those generations. While the series has a slow start, it builds to a powerful finale of that is so emotional and gut wrenching that it will linger with the viewer for days.
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