Definitions

cower

Seven Samurai

is a 1954 Japanese film co-written, edited and directed by Akira Kurosawa. The film takes place in Warring States Period Japan (around 1587/1588). It follows the story of a village of farmers that hire seven masterless samurai (ronin) to combat bandits who will return after the harvest to steal their crops.

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.

Plot

A gang of marauding bandits approaches a mountain village. The bandit chief recognizes they have ransacked this village before, and decides it is best that they spare it until the barley is harvested in several weeks. One of the villagers happens to overhear the discussion. When he returns home with the ominous news, the villagers are divided about whether to surrender their harvest or fight back against the bandits. In turmoil, they go to the village elder, who declares that they should fight, by hiring samurai to help defend the village. Some of the villagers are troubled by this suggestion, knowing that samurai are expensive to enlist and known to lust after young farm women, but realize they have no choice. Recognizing that the impoverished villagers have nothing to offer any prospective samurai except food, the village elder tells them to "find hungry samurai."

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.

Cast of characters

The Seven Samurai

  • (Takashi Shimura) — The leader of the group and the first "recruited" by the villagers, he is a wise but war-weary samurai.
  • (Yoshio Inaba) — The second samurai, recruited by Kambei. A skilled archer, he acts as the second in command and helps create the master plan for the village's defense.
  • Shichirōji (七郎次) (Daisuke Katō) — The third samurai. He was once Kambei's deputy. Kambei meets him by chance in the town and he resumes this role.
  • (Minoru Chiaki) — The fourth samurai, recruited by Gorōbei. An amiable though less-skilled samurai whose charm and wit maintain his comrades' good cheer in the face of adversity.
  • (Isao Kimura) — The fifth samurai. A young unblooded samurai from an aristocratic family who wants to be Kambei's disciple.
  • Kyūzō (久蔵) (Seiji Miyaguchi) — The sixth samurai, who initially declined an offer by Kambei to join the group, though he later changes his mind. A serious, stone-faced samurai and a supremely skilled swordsman; Katsushirō is in awe of him.
  • Kikuchiyo (菊千代) (Toshirō Mifune) — The seventh member of the group and the only one who is not actually a samurai. A would-be samurai (right down to the false noble birth certificate) who eventually proves his worth. He is mercurial and temperamental. Of all the samurai, he most closely identifies with the villagers and their plight. Always the show-off, his sword (Ōkatana) is considerably larger than everyone else's.

The villagers

  • Gisaku 儀作 (Kokuten Kodo) — The village patriarch who tells the villagers to hire samurai to protect themselves.
  • Yohei 与平 (Bokuzen Hidari) — A very timid old man who shares some memorable comic scenes with Kikuchiyo.
  • Manzō 万造 (Kamatari Fujiwara) — A farmer who fears for his daughter's purity when surrounded by the dashing samurai.
  • Shino 志乃 (Keiko Tsushima) — Manzō's daughter who falls in love with Katsushirō.
  • Rikichi 利吉 (Yoshio Tsuchiya) — Hotheaded and relatively young, he has a painful secret concerning his wife.
  • Rikichi's Wife (Yukiko Shimazaki) - Unseen in the early part of the film, the secret of her whereabouts will lead to tragedy.
  • Mosuke 茂助 (Yoshio Kosugi) — His house is one of the three outlying buildings that will have to be abandoned in order to save the twenty in the main hamlet.

The bandits

Structural innovations

According to Michael Jeck's DVD commentary, Seven Samurai was among the first films to use the now-common plot element of the recruiting and gathering of heroes into a team to accomplish a specific goal, a device used in later films such as The Guns of Navarone, Ocean's Eleven, The Dirty Dozen, and the western remake The Magnificent Seven (also a common plot device in role-playing game adventures). Film critic Roger Ebert wonders in his review that the sequence introducing the leader Kambei (in which the samurai shaves off his topknot, a sign of honor among samurai, in order to pose as a priest to rescue a boy from a kidnapper) could be the origin of the practice, now common in action movies, of introducing the main hero with an undertaking unrelated to the main plot. Other plot devices such as the reluctant hero, romance between a local girl and the youngest hero, and the nervousness of the common citizenry had appeared in other films before this but were combined together in this film.

Legacy

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.

Sam Peckinpah’s use of slow motion violence in his films, most famously The Wild Bunch, which influenced manifold other directors, was, in fact, influenced by Kurosawa’s use of such in this film.

In 2004, Kurosawa's estate approved the production of an anime remake of the film, called Samurai 7, produced by GONZO, which provided an alternate steampunk-themed retelling of the classic story.

A sixth season episode of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine entitled "The Magnificent Ferengi" also spoofs the film. Even the 1986 comedy ¡Three Amigos! borrows several themes from Kurosawa.

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.

Edited versions and DVD releases

While the initial Japanese release of the film ran 207 minutes long, edited versions were shown in international markets. An edited version of 160 minutes was shown in many countries except the UK and U.S. which originally showed 150 minute and 141 minute versions respectively. A re-release version of 190 minutes was shown in the UK in 1991 and a near-complete 203 minute version was re-released in the U.S. in 2002. A Criterion DVD version of the film is currently available containing the complete original version of the film (207 minutes) on one disc, and a second, more expansive Criterion DVD released in 2006 also contains the digitally-remastered, complete film on two discs, as well as an additional disc of extra material.

In addition, a region 4 DVD of the full 207 minute cut was released in 2004 by Madman Entertainment under its Eastern Eye label.

Academy Awards

Award Person
Nominated:
Best Art Direction-Set Decoration, Black-and-White So Matsuyama
Best Costume Design, Black-and-White Kôhei Ezaki

External links

Search another word or see coweron Dictionary | Thesaurus |Spanish
Copyright © 2014 Dictionary.com, LLC. All rights reserved.
  • Please Login or Sign Up to use the Recent Searches feature
FAVORITES
RECENT

;