You can find investing wisdom in the most unexpected places -- including on the silver screen. A two-fisted samurai classic, now streaming online for Netflix subscribers, offers surprising lessons for automakers and oil companies alike.
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In director Akira Kurosawa's 1961 Yojimbo, Toshiro Mifune plays a nameless drifter who wanders into a country village plagued by two feuding gang bosses. Like a sword-slinging Han Solo, Mifune cunningly plays each side against the other, ultimately tricking the criminals into destroying themselves -- and wrecking the town in the process. Big-time Kurosawa fan George Lucas paid homage to Yojimbo with Obi-Wan Kenobi's bar fight in Star Wars, and Sergio Leone stole the whole dang movie for his Western A Fistful of Dollars, the first big-screen star turn for a young punk named Clint Eastwood.
Market forces and the pursuit of money are big themes in Yojimbo. Here are just a few of the film's takeaways for investors.
One man's disaster is another's profit. The local undertaker is the only citizen happy about the ongoing gang war; it ensures steady customers for his coffins. When he hears that a cease-fire has been declared, he's devastated. Nearly every disaster has an upside for someone, and investing in those who profit when others lose can be a smart contrarian play. Toyota's
Better technology doesn't guarantee you'll win. Mifune's main antagonist is a sneering gangster with an Elvis-esque pompadour and a foreign-made revolver, which gives him a big advantage over sword-wielding opponents. But in the end, his fancy tech is no match for Mifune's unexpected moves. Sony
Always prepare for the worst-case scenario. Neither of Yojimbo's dueling crime lords could imagine that a fleabitten bum with a sword would leave both of them dead and their disputed empire in burnt-out ruins. BP
Wickedly funny and hair-raisingly violent, Yojimbo offers an excellent parable about the dangers of greed run rampant. It's all fun and games until somebody loses an arm …
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Fool online editor Nathan Alderman can only dream of being one-tenth as cool as Toshiro Mifune in his prime. He holds no financial position in any company mentioned above. The Fool's disclosure policy ordered two coffins … better make that three.