Usagi Yojimbo is printed entirely in black and white to emulate the old black and white films of the samurai cinema genre. By employing the genre conventions of samurai cinema, Stan Sakai uses Architextuality to drive the narrative. He also uses intertextual references that contribute to the architextuality of the comic.
Intertextuality appears in the form of the title character, Usagi (rabbit), who is a ronin (a vagabond samurai) who is hired as a yojimbo (a bodyguard). Sakai pays homage to Akira Kurosawa’s 1961 film Yojimbo by loosely modeling Usagi Yojimbo after Kurosawa’s story featuring a ronin who is also hired as a bodyguard because of his masterful swordplay. Another instance of intertextuality is the character of Zato-ino (blind masseur boar), which is a play on Zatoichi, a blind masseur and skilled swordsman, who is a prolific character in samurai cinema (there have been over 20 films with him as the title character).
Pages 106 and 107 (Usagi vs. Zato-ino)
In terms of architextuality, characters that are typical of the samurai cinema genre appear. These characters include ninjas, brigands, lords, and other samurais. They appear in situations that are typical of their characters. For example, ninjas appear to ambush Usagi from the shadows on page 26. A reader who is versed in the genre conventions of samurai cinema knows to expect ninjas when he or she sees shuriken or ninja stars (as Anne Magnussen would say, they are an indexical sign).
Pages 26 and 27
Sakai uses shots and editing techniques that are common in not only samurai cinema but action movies. These shots include extreme close-ups, such as the one of the old woman on page 4, that suggest that something is amiss and wide-angle shots that feature showdowns where the characters fiercely charge at each other, like on page 106 and 107 where the reader knows the protagonist is likely to be victorious from prior experience with the genre. In terms of editing techniques, Sakai introduces a succession of panels displaying a battle in slow motion on page 27, and he intercuts three different shots of three different adversaries lunging at Usagi to insinuate simultaneity on page 26, both of which are common in action films.
- Tara Yousif