Undergraduate Honors Theses

Thesis Defended

Spring 2017

Document Type


Type of Thesis

Departmental Honors



First Advisor

David Atherton

Second Advisor

Paul Gordon

Third Advisor

Annjeanette Wiese


This paper seeks to investigate the warrior figure in samurai films of the 1960s as a means of tracing an evolving sense of social order in Japan in this decade, characterized by political and social turbulence resulting from the lingering trauma of World War II, the uncertainty of the Cold War, and the increase of consumerism as the Japanese economy began to accelerate. Through in-depth analysis of three particular films from this decade, Yojimbō, Hara-Kiri, and The Sword of Doom, this paper argues that the pervasive classification of samurai films from the 1960s as cynical, nihilistic, and cruel, while not incorrect, neglects to fully consider the role of the samurai figure as holding together the social order in a moral capacity. Each film’s protagonist is a unique reimagining of the samurai, and each accomplishes this task differently and with varying degrees of efficacy, representing the manner in which a sense of communal cohesion was envisioned over the course of the 1960s. As the decade progressed, the cynicism in these films grew more pronounced and the hope of achieving a healthy, moral social order embodied in samurai protagonists became more oblique and overall less attainable, though never entirely impossible.