The subject is corruption, and its misuse of power and people. It remains a perfectly object lesson for our so-called democratic societies, today.
In a society where corruption is tolerated, no citizen is incorruptible, however apparently noble the citizen’s actions; for behaviour within such a society is compromised, and the compromise infects the generations, even though the most condemnable and most destructive corruption resides in, and is practised by, government and large corporations. Society, thus, is maimed both bodily and spiritually, and the landscape within which it functions, devastated.
Kurosawa frames his narrative of commentary with an introductory sequence of a marriage of convenience and concludes with a sequence set in a bombed-out munitions factory. In the first, the corporate corrupt condone the emptiness of the event; in the last, the corporate corrupt sustain themselves through deception and murder. Between these two long sequences, the protagonist endeavours to fulfil his plan of retribution, but fails because of vacillation and the distractions of compassion, thereby weakening his position and increasing its vulnerability to the intractable ruthlessness it seeks to expose and punish. The allusions to Shakespeare’s Hamlet are deliberate and adept.