Yojimbo, said Kurosawa, is patterned on the American western. However, instead of the good townsfolk battling and triumphing over the bad men on horseback, it’s the evil townsfolk against the other evil townsfolk, both battling and neither securing triumph. Along the way, a lot of limbs and lives are lost, as well as considerable quantities of fine silk and sake.
In the middle is the accidental stoic with martial skill who walks into town. He is not the town’s saviour, though, naturally, he could be. He has the skills, intellectual and physical; but chooses generally to watch rather than influence or terminate the civic confrontation. As Kurosawa also commented, the hero is permitted, and permits himself to be, weak, which is the more common condition of mankind. He is not the moral purist of High Noon, but the accidental interloper down on his luck, and perfectly willing to exploit local hatreds for personal gain, while, almost by the bye, keeping the local innkeeper and coffin-maker in business and, to his detriment, casually if effectively helping an oppressed family escape the evil clutches of others.
The film is a comedy. Because, in many respects, so is life. The drama of the day reaches its conclusion, and one moves on, either into death or into more of one’s life. It is the unitary anarchy of the oppressed.