Unconcerned by the response to his arrival, Sanjuro heads over to Gonji the Sake Seller (Eijiro Tono) and sizes up the situation. Apparently, the town has split into two openly feuding factions, under the antagonistic leadership of Seibei (Seizaburo Kawazu) and Ushi-Tora (Kyu Sazanka). Sensing an opportunity, Sanjuro reckons that he can somehow play the opponents off against each other while still making a tidy profit. Gonji is less than keen on the idea, fed up with the continual banging of the coffin-maker (who's doing a roaring trade) and drop off in business. His pleas go unnoticed by Sanjuro though, who heads out the door to offer his services to Seibei, as a bodyguard.
Commanding a high price, Sanjuro proves just how handy he is with a sword by marching over to Ushi-Tora's place and decapitating three of his mercenaries right there. Such is the awe of the Samurai that Ushi-Tora's men merely watch him walk away, into the pay of Seibei. Of course, they wish that they had him on their side. Overwhelmed by greed and eagerness, Seibei orders an attack that very afternoon (in broad daylight), counting on Sanjuro and his personal fencing master. However, he and his wife are throughly deceitful and plan to assassinate Sanjuro as soon as they've won (to save 50 Ryu). No wonder Sanjuro wanders between the troops, who are menacingly facing-off, and announces that he's not going to fight. It's all up to the ground troops now, much to the wry amusement of the samurai.
Yojimbo is a triumph of realisation for Akira Kurosawa, both in its direction and script. A cunning and fully integrated composite of black-comedy and overt violence, the parallels between the two are made blindingly obvious without by mixing these themes thoroughly. The inhabitants of this small silk trading town are a wonderful bunch of human beings, encompassing a vast range of human weaknesses (from the obsequious, pandering officer who prostrates himself with abandon to Unosuke (Tatsuya Nakadai), clever, suspicious and a sign to the future). Balanced on a knife edge, over a petty land dispute, it's sheer cowardice that prevents a resolution. No one particularly wants to die so they just insult each other, waiting for the day when someone like Sanjuro happens by. This is good for the coffin maker though, well supplied with a steady stream of corpses.
Technically, Yojimbo is fully under the control of Kurosawa, in everything from spatial positioning of the on-screen figures to the incidental sound effects. The sheer space available with widescreen is used brilliantly, particularly so when the massed hordes are hesitantly advancing towards each other. All we get are brief skirmishes but the framing, with Sanjuro sitting above the battle, is perfect. The level of acting is equally high, with the characters feeling extremely solid yet cast in a satirical light. Mifune is convincing as the weary, taciturn swordsman, with a soft spot for those he pretends to despise.
The result is strangely compelling, propelled by a violence which is enervating rather than repelling (and never gratuitous). Yojimbo is a truly memorable creation which partially explains how it crosses cultural borders so successfully, appealing to universal themes. However, it is also mysterious, much like Sanjuro's motives.