First we see a beautiful black and white shot of majestic mountains
Summer stew and millet
. Into the frame come the head and shoulders of a samurai, his back to us. He stands and looks up at the mountains for a few moments. And then he hunches his shoulders and scratches his head. He’s got fleas! We follow the back of his shaggy head as he walks, and without even seeing his face, we learn so much about him, from his posture and his gait. It’s Toshiro Mifune, baby! Surely one of the most charismatic actors of all time! As he walks, he comes across a farmer berating his son. The son wants to go off and join a gang of gamblers because, as he says, it’s better than a long life eating gruel. The film, of course, is Yojimbo, by Akira Kurosawa. It’s an action-packed film, with plenty of sword fights and intrigue, but, as with many of Kurosawa’s films, the real struggle concerns extreme poverty and deprivation. In this film, as in Seven Samurai, the inhabitants of a small rural town literally have nothing to eat but rice or millet, and they’re in danger of losing that. The samurai that fight for their lives and often to their deaths, are fighting for grain, fighting so that the son of a farmer can have a long life eating gruel. As with all of my favorite films, it’s the humanity and humor mixed with the drama that resonates. We love the samurai as much because he’s rootless, confused, and has fleas as we do because he’s charming and a brilliant swordsman. As I’ve mentioned many times, I’m a peaceful person of low ambition, and I think I could enjoy a long life eating gruel, if the gruel was as tasty as I could possibly make it!
It was partially because of Kurosawa that I went out and bought some millet. I’ve made it in the past, but not very well. I wanted to try again. I used a basic technique, described by Madhur Jaffrey, of toasting and then steaming the grains. But I cooked them in broth instead of water. It turned out delicious!! Everyone in the family liked it! Soft, but fluffy and flavorful. I’m a millet fan! I also made a sort of summery stew of lots of vegetables mixed with black beans and golden hominy. (You could easily substitute white hominy!) You could call it CSA stew, because I used up a lot of the veg we got this week. I seasoned it with smoked paprika, sage, and chipotle, and we ate it with toasted strips of tortilla. Everybody liked everything!!
One of the absolute best things about Yojimbo is the soundtrack. It reminds me of RZA’s soundtrack for Ghost Dog. (High praise indeed!!) Here’s Big Trouble, from the sound track.
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