Yojimbo : Ideology and Interpretation

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Yojimbo: Ideology and Interpretation

Yojimbo was directed by Akira Kurosawa in 1961. It is the story of a

nineteenth century Japanese village that is controlled by two opposing

merchants and their clans. The visit of a wandering samurai, who seeks work

as a hired killer, interrupts their arguing over a gambling concession. The

samurai, Sanjuro, is able to exploit both gangs using his skill with a sword.

The story is an Eastern take on the Hollywood western with a dash of satire,

with “The bodyguard who kills the bodies he is hired to guard.”1 The film

incorporates a humanist take on capitalism and its adverse outcome on


The main message of the film is the destructive nature of capitalism on

society. This message is reasonably obvious given the nature of the story and

its outcome. The opposing gangs are in markets for sake and silk, and their

desire to dominate the market economically is what motivates them to kill. In

Yojimbo, it is money that creates greed, and greed that necessitates murder.

The film brings attention to the intentions of Western economy and attempts to

prove the negativity and insatiability of these objectives. The earliest example

of this in the film is when the bodyguard witnesses a son running away from

his family to pursue a life of gambling. The fact that the son prefers a short,

exciting life to a long, productive existence serves as a stepping-stone for the

overall apathy of many of the story’s main characters. The choice of selfindulgence

over self-fulfillment is an illustration of the moral emptiness of

capitalistic values.

1 Kael, Pauline. Film Theory and Criticism: Yojimbo. Oxford University Press, 1999.

Secondly, the story of Yojimbo shows other factors of capitalis...

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...ional values with the newly established commercial

ethos. In many scenes he seems to be simply acting out his aggression on

whoever is closest to him, just to go against the grain. His nihilistic tendencies

reveal the confusion of a warrior in peacetime, especially the uprooted nature

of a masterless samurai in a strange social climate.

In summation, an examination of the diegetic world of Yojimbo reveals

how the subtexts of a capitalist economy conflict with the ideologies of

humanism. Almost everyone is dead by the end of the film, yet it is neither

disturbing nor surprising. The manner in which they conducted themselves

brought on their fate. Kurosawa’s message is clear and concise, and the

conflict he presents gives insight into the casualties of a market economy.

Yojimbo delivers the importance of human morals by narrating an example of

their absence.