May 22, 2009

Kaze No Yojimbo #4: Beauty and the Poison

2001 episode
directed by Hayato Date
written by Katsuyuki Sumisawa, Akatsuki Yamatoya, Daisuke Yajima, Michiko Yokote, Satoru Nishizono
based on the film YOJIMBO by Akira Kurosawa and Ryuzo Kikushima

(1961 film)


After taking and leaving jobs on both sides of this fractured town, George kicks back for a bit when he takes a bodyguard job at the neutral inn. We've already met the owner, the beautiful widow Sanae Araki, but it's only now that we start to get hints of deeper connections she has to the past, to George's old friend Genzo Araki. It's only limited to a few odd glances and snatches of gossip, at the moment, but it is compelling.

In fact, I found the entire episode to be quite nice. I've been harsh in my reviews of the preceding ones of how loosely this ties to the deeper themes at play in Kurosawa's classic film, but I'm starting to think the creative team is getting a handle on just where it is they want to go. They've finally built a nice sense of flow to the largely static imagery, setting up quiet shot dynamics that work when held and letting us soak in some lovely scenery. And when the moments of animation do come, they feel a bit more focused and fluid than before. Hell, even the odd bits of superimposition or stylized backgrounds, which have failed till now to enhance moments of drama, are finally starting to work with a newfound sense of subtlety.

One of my biggest concerns going in was the relationship between George and Miyuki, the teenage daughter of one of the main political faction heads. She has that type of youthful infatuation with the handsome stranger that could quickly become predictable and vomitous. It likely will go that route, but I found its presence this episode, with her getting all jealous of Sanae and yanking George off to show him something, surprisingly endearing and amusing. I'll hold off further judgment until I see how it plays out.

And then there's Raccoon. A big slab of muscle, he's a thug from Ginzame who's had the misfortune of going up against George on more than one occasion. Here, they set up an incident between him and a young woman that not only takes an unexpectedly hilarious twist which shows a cuddly side to his character, but spins him around from a hopeless adversary of George to a potential sidekick. It's quite fun and unexpected and I'm very curious to see where it goes from here.

I was quite surprised by this episode. Up until now, I was groaning about both the misdirected way I felt the material was being interpreted and the sloppy quality of the overall production. But here I find myself, for the first time, caught up in these characters and events. No, I haven't completely fallen for it, nor do I yet hold it up as something merely good, but I am intrigued enough to keep going.

(series trailer)

(opening titles)

(anime news network)
(internet movie database)

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