Thursday, May 12, 2011

Kill Bill and Miltonic Allusion: Yojimbo

Quentin Tarantino movies do look like he took scenes from other people's movies and put in a blender. But only if it is some kind of super-intelligent blender that does not blend randomly but places things next to each other to form a kind of careful commentary on where the foods are from and how they relate. John Milton, in Paradise Lost, also had such a blender.

A Japanese sword fighter looks out across the big road of a small town where dust swirls. He fights a gang. One guys yells and he yells at him and lets him run away. Here is the trailer:

Thurman fights and one of the Crazy 88s is revealed to her as very young. She spanks him with the sword and tells him This is what you get for fucking with Yakuza. Go home to your mother and he runs off.

Yojimbo is the story of a masterless Samurai who goes to a town where two gangs are at war. He pretends to be working with each of them, with the aim of getting them all killed and making the town a better place.

The scene above is from one of the last scenes in the film. Our hero is attacking the gang who have tortured him and hung up his only friend. Most of the bad guys are idiots -- particularly one guy, who yells "Mommy!" "Children shouldn't play with swords!" says our guy. "Go home to your mother and live a long life eating gruel."

This is pretty closely repeated in Kill Bill, as Thurman discovers one of the Crazy 88s is just this idiot kid and sends him back to his mother unharmed.

Tarantino may be sort of stealing the joke from Yojimbo, but in his hands the scene, while still a good bit of comic relief, is better -- because of course Thurman has missed out on raising children (she thinks) because the people she is revenging herself against took that away from her. The moment, while still broadly comic, fits into the story thematically, as it does not in Yojimbo.

Remember also that the Kill Bill clip above also alludes to Samurai Fiction -- a movie about a stolen sword, a movie that got the actual sword used in the filming from the legendary samurai actor Toshirô Mifune who is the star of Yojimbo. So there is a logic to going from Samurai Fiction to Yojimbo.

Yojimbo is also one of the great precursors for Kill Bill, just in terms of being this ground in which various genres and countries come into play. Yojimbo is a Japanese samurai movie with a plot very much in debt to Dashiell Hammett's Glass Key and Red Harvest, novels which were a big part of film noir (and also unofficially remade as Miller's Crossing, a film that as we will see is also alluded to in Kill Bill -- you see the same plot in Miller's Crossing, Yojimbo and Red Harvest -- the one guy who plays the gangs against each other). And I gave a long clip from Yojimbo above so you can see how much it is visually in debt to the cowboy films of John Ford. Then Yojimbo becomes the source itself for Clint Eastwood's Fist Full of Dollars. The hero in Yojimbo has no name, neither does Clint Eastwood's character in Fistful, neither does Thurman for most of Kill Bill. So Noir and Classic Westerns become Samurai stuff before becoming Spaghetti Western stuff. So anyone who wants to single out Kill Bill as being some kind of insane unjustified genre mash-up is pointed by Tarantino to Yojimbo -- and they are pointed to Yojimbo at a moment that also recalls Samurai Fiction and Highlander (a film which itself has a Scottish protagonist killing a Russian in New York City with a Japanese sword he got from an Egyptian working for Spain) -- JUST TO DRIVE THE POINT HOME. And of course Lucy Liu is SCALPED by a SAMURAI SWORD, the ultimate expression of east meets west. Film history has ALWAYS been one crazy mash up, Tarantino wants to say. He just celebrates the absurdity more than most.

1 comment:

jennifer said...

geoff, i love these posts. good job.