Seven Samurai is frequently described as one of the greatest and most influential films ever made, and is one of a select few Japanese films to become widely known in the West for an extended period of time. It is the subject of both popular and critical acclaim; it was voted onto Sight & Sound's list of the ten greatest films of all time in 1982 and 1992, and remains on the director's top ten films in the 2002 poll.
The men go into the city, but initially are unsuccessful, being turned away by every samurai they ask — sometimes very rudely — because they cannot offer any pay other than three meals a day. Just as all seems lost, they happen to witness an aging samurai (Kambei) execute a cunning and dramatic rescue of a young boy taken hostage by a thief. In awe, they ask him to help defend their village; to their great joy, he accepts. Kambei then recruits five more masterless samurai (ronin) from the city, one by one, each with distinctive skills and personality traits. Although Kambei had initially decided that seven samurai would be necessary, he leaves for the village with only five companions because time is running short. A clownish ersatz samurai named Kikuchiyo, whom Kambei had rejected for the mission, follows them to the village at a distance, ignoring their protestations and attempts to drive him away.
When the samurai arrive at the village, the villagers cower in their homes in fear, hoping to protect their daughters and themselves from these supposedly dangerous warriors. The samurai are insulted not to be greeted warmly, considering that they have offered to defend the village for almost no reward, and seek an explanation from the village elder. Suddenly, an alarm is raised; the villagers, fearing that the bandits have returned, rush from their hiding places begging to be defended by the newly-arrived samurai. It turns out that Kikuchiyo, until this point merely a tag-along, has raised a false alarm. He rebukes the panicked villagers for running to the samurai for aid after first failing to welcome them to the village. It is here that Kikuchiyo demonstrates that there exists a certain intelligence behind his boorish demeanour. The six samurai symbolically accept him as belonging with them, truly completing the group of wanderers as the "seven samurai."
As they prepare for the siege, the villagers and their hired warriors slowly come to trust each other. However, when the samurai discover that the villagers have murdered and robbed fleeing samurai in the past, they are shocked and angry, and Kyūzō, the most professional and calm of the samurai, even comments that he would like to kill everyone in the village. The always clownish Kikuchiyo passionately castigates the other samurai for ignoring the hardships that the farmers face in order to survive and make a living despite the intimidation and harassment from the warrior class (and in the process, also reveals his own roots as a farmer's son). "But who made them like this?" he asks. "You did!" The anger the samurai had felt turns to shame, and when the village elder, alerted by the clamour that this revelation instigates, asks if anything is the matter, Kambei humbly responds that there is not. The samurai continue their preparations without any animosity, and soon afterwards show compassion toward the farmers when they share their rice with an old woman who, her family having been killed by bandits, cries out that she merely wants to die.
The preparations for the defense of the village continue apace, including the construction of fortifications and the training of the farmers for battle. Katsushirō, the youngest samurai, begins a love affair with the daughter of one of the villagers who had been forced to masquerade as a boy by her father, hoping to protect her from the supposedly lustful samurai warriors.
As the time for the raid approaches, three bandit scouts are captured, and one divulges the location of the bandit stronghold. Three of the samurai, along with a guide from the village, decide to carry out a pre-emptive strike. Many bandits are killed, but one of the samurai, Heihachi, is struck down by gunfire. When the bandits arrive in force soon after this raid, they are confounded by the fortifications put in place by the samurai, and several are killed attempting to scale the barricades or cross moats. However, the bandits have a superior number of trained fighters, and possess three muskets, and are thus able to hold their own. Kyūzō decides to conduct a raid on his own to retrieve one of the muskets and returns with one several hours later. Kikuchiyo, jealous of the praise and respect Kyūzō earns, particularly from Katsushirō, later abandons his post to retrieve another musket, leaving his contingent of farmers in charge. Although he succeeds, the bandits attack the post, overwhelming and killing many of the farmers. Kambei is forced to provide reinforcements from the main post to drive the bandits out, leaving it undermanned when the bandit leader charges this position. Although they are driven off, Gorobei is shot and killed.
Apart from defense, the initial strategy of the samurai is to allow the bandits to enter a gap in the fortifications one at a time through the use of a closing "wall" of spears, and to then kill the lone enemy. This is repeated several times with success, although more than one bandit manages to enter the village several times. On the second night, Kambei decides that the villagers will soon become too exhausted to fight and instructs them to prepare for a final, decisive battle.
During the night, Katsushirō's affair is revealed, and after an initial uproar, his amorous adventures provide comic relief to the embattled militia.
When morning breaks and the bandits make their attack, Kambei orders his forces to allow all 13 remaining bandits in at once. In the ensuing confrontation, most of the bandits are easily killed, but the leader takes refuge in a hut unseen. In an act of extreme dishonor, he shoots Kyūzō in the back from the safety of the hut, killing him. A despondent Katsushirō seeks to avenge his hero, but an enraged Kikuchiyo bravely (and blindly) charges ahead of him, only to be shot in the belly himself. Although mortally wounded, Kikuchiyo ensures he kills the bandit chief, finally proving his worth as a samurai, before dying. Dazed and exhausted, Kambei and Shichirōji sadly observe "we've survived once again," while Katsushirō wails over his fallen comrades. The battle is ultimately won for the villagers.
The three surviving samurai, Kambei, Katsushirō, and Shichirōji, are left to observe the villagers happily planting the next rice crop. The farmers now ignore the samurai, as they no longer have any use for them. The samurai reflect on the relationship between the warrior and farming classes: though they have won the battle for the farmers, they have lost their friends with little to show for it. "Again we are defeated," Kambei muses. "The farmers have won. Not us." This melancholic observation sheds new light on Kambei's statement at the beginning of the film that he had "never won a battle." This contrasts with the singing and joy of the villagers, whose figuratively life-sustaining work has prevailed over war and left all warriors as the defeated party.
The single largest undertaking by a Japanese filmmaker at the time, Seven Samurai was a technical and creative watershed that became Japan's highest-grossing movie and set a new standard for the industry. Its influence can be most strongly felt in the western The Magnificent Seven, a film specifically adapted from Seven Samurai. Director John Sturges took Seven Samurai and adapted it to the Old West, with the Samurai replaced by gunslingers. Many of The Magnificent Seven's scenes mirror those of Seven Samurai and the final line of dialogue is nearly identical: "The old man was right. Only the farmers won. We lost. We always lose." The film spawned several sequels and there was also a short-lived 1998 television series.
The Indian film Sholay (1975) borrowed its basic premise from Seven Samurai and The Magnificent Seven. The film was declared BBC India's "Film of the Millennium" and is the highest-grossing Indian film of all time.
A sci-fi reworking is found in the Roger Corman release Battle Beyond the Stars (1980) which not only pays homage to the plot of Seven Samurai, it also employs one of the actors from the American remake The Magnificent Seven, Robert Vaughn''.
George Lucas states in the DVD commentary for Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith, that Yoda's running his hand over his head (like Kambei) is a nod to Kurosawa and this movie. Also the line about the farmers' lot in life is to suffer is quoted in Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope but as droids.
The game Throne of Darkness gives the player control of seven samurai (four at a time) who all closely resemble Kurosawa's characters in role, style of combat and appearance.
|Best Art Direction-Set Decoration, Black-and-White||So Matsuyama|
|Best Costume Design, Black-and-White||Kôhei Ezaki|