Seven Samurai

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Seven Samurai
Seven Samurai movie poster.jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed by Akira Kurosawa
Produced by Sojiro Motoki
Screenplay by
Starring
Music by Fumio Hayasaka
Cinematography Asakazu Nakai
Edited by Akira Kurosawa
Distributed by Toho
Release dates
  • April 26, 1954 (1954-04-26)
Running time
207 minutes
Country Japan
Language Japanese
Budget $350,000 [1]

Seven Samurai[2] (七人の侍 Shichinin no Samurai?) is a 1954 Japanese Jidaigeki adventure film co-written, edited, and directed by Akira Kurosawa. The film takes place in 1587 during the Warring States Period of Japan. 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.

Since its release, Seven Samurai has consistently ranked highly across critics' greatest film polls such as the BFI's Sight and Sound, Rotten Tomatoes and IMDB polls. It has remained highly influential, often seen as one of the most 'remade, reworked, referenced [films]' in cinema.[3]

Plot[edit]

Marauding bandits approach a mountain farming village, but having attacked it before, their chief decides to spare it until the harvest. A villager overhears this and warns the rest. Farmers Manzō, hotheaded Rikichi, and timid old Yohei go to the village elder, Gisaku, who declares they must hire samurai to defend the village. Since they have nothing to offer but millet, he tells them to find hungry samurai. The men then go to the city to find samurai by offering them white rice but are shunned.

They witness an ageing but experienced rōnin, Kambei, deftly rescue a boy taken hostage by a thief. Impressed, a young samurai named Katsushirō approaches him to become his disciple. The village then asks for his help, and after initial reluctance, Kambei agrees. Kambei recruits old friend Shichirōji and, with Katsushirō's assistance, three other samurai: the friendly and strategic Gorobei; the good-willed Heihachi; and Kyūzō, a taciturn master swordsman whom Katsushirō regards with awe. Though Kambei had judged that seven would be necessary, time is short, so Katsushirō is taken as a sixth. The poser Kikuchiyo, follows them despite attempting to drive him away.

When they arrive, the samurai feel insulted by the cold reception given to them by the villagers cowering in their homes, so Kikuchiyo raises a false alarm to make them realize their need for help. The samurai accept him as the seventh, but are angered when he brings them armor from samurai the villagers have previously killed. Kikuchiyo then castigates them for ignoring the hardships—including harassment from samurai—farmers overcome to survive, which reveals his origin as an orphaned farmer's son. The anger of the samurai turns to shame.

The samurai and the farmers grow to trust each other as they train and construct fortifications together in preparation for the siege. Katsushirō begins a relationship with Shino, Manzō's daughter, who had been forced to masquerade as a boy for protection from the supposedly lustful samurai. As the time for the raid approaches, two bandit scouts are killed, while another is captured and forced to reveal the location of their camp before he dies. Heihachi is killed in a pre-emptive strike led by Rikichi on the bandits' camp, which is burnt. Further compounding Rikichi's sorrow, a woman emerges and kills herself in the fire: Rikichi reveals she was his wife, who had been kidnapped and raped.

The bandits then attack the village, but are confounded by the new fortifications, including a moat, and several are killed attempting to cross them. Kambei's successful stratagem is to whittle down enemy numbers by repeatedly letting one bandit enter through a gap, then killing him while preventing the rest from entering with a phalanx of spear-wielding farmers. Meanwhile, Gisaku refuses to abandon his home on the outskirts of the village and perishes with his family, who die trying to retrieve him. A lone grandson survives, which sadly reminds Kikuchiyo of himself.

The bandits possess three muskets. Kyūzō ventures off alone and returns with one. An envious Kikuchiyo abandons his post—and his contingent of farmers—to bring another of the muskets back to camp. The leaderless farmers, meanwhile, are attacked, and some, including Yohei, are killed. Kambei is forced to send reinforcements, leaving the main post undermanned as the bandit chief attacks; Gorobei is slain. With the bandit numbers lowered Kambei instructs everyone at night, including a remorseful Kikuchiyo, to prepare for a final, decisive battle. Meanwhile, Manzō catches Shino with Katsushirō and beats her, until Kambei and the village intervene. Manzō is told to accept romance between them.

The next morning, in a torrential downpour, Kambei orders that the remaining bandits be allowed in. Most are killed, but their musket-armed chief takes refuge, unseen, in the hut containing the village women. He shoots Kyūzō, and a distraught Katsushirō watches him die. Enraged, Kikuchiyo charges towards the hut, only to be shot as well; he nevertheless manages to regain his feet, and kills the bandit chief as his final act before dying.

Kambei and Shichirōji observe that they have survived once again. Afterwards, the three surviving samurai watch the villagers joyfully planting the next crops. Having lost their comrades, they reflect on the fact that it is the farmers who are the true victors, whose sustainable living in their natural environment has triumphed the violence of war.

Cast[edit]

Seven Samurai[edit]

  • Toshiro Mifune as Kikuchiyo (菊千代), a humourous samurai character who even falsifies his own birth certificate. He is mercurial and temperamental and identifies with the villagers and their plight. Eventually, he proves his worth.
  • Takashi Shimura as Kambei Shimada (島田勘兵衛 Shimada Kanbei?), a ronin and the leader of the group. The first "recruited" by the villagers, he is a wise but war-weary soldier.
  • Daisuke Katō as Shichirōji (七郎次), who was formerly Kambei's lieutenant and old friend. Kambei meets Shichirōji by chance in the town and resumes this role.
  • Isao Kimura as Katsushirō Okamoto (岡本勝四郎 Okamoto Katsushirō?), a young untested warrior. The son of a wealthy landowner, he left home to become a samurai against his family's wishes.[4] After witnessing Kambei rescue a child who was taken hostage, Katsushirō desires to be Kambei's disciple.
  • Minoru Chiaki as Heihachi Hayashida (林田平八 Hayashida Heihachi?), recruited by Gorōbei. An amiable though less-skilled fighter. His charm and wit maintain his comrades' good cheer in the face of adversity.
  • Seiji Miyaguchi as Kyūzō (久蔵). He 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 whom Katsushirō is in awe of.
  • Yoshio Inaba as Gorōbei Katayama (片山五郎兵衛 Katayama Gorōbei?), a skilled archer recruited by Kambei. He acts as the second-in-command and helps create the master plan for the village's defense.

Villagers[edit]

  • Yoshio Tsuchiya as Rikichi (利吉), a hotheaded and relatively young villager. He has a painful secret concerning his wife
  • Bokuzen Hidari as Yohei (与平), a very timid old man who shares some memorable comic scenes with Kikuchiyo
  • Yukiko Shimazaki as Rikichi's wife. She is unseen in the early part of the film, the secret of her whereabouts eventually lead to tragedy
  • Kamatari Fujiwara as Manzō (万造), a farmer who fears for his daughter's purity when surrounded by the dashing samurai, but is later forced to accept her love for Katsushirō
  • Keiko Tsushima as Shino (志乃), Manzō's daughter, who falls in love with Katsushirō
  • Kokuten Kōdō as Gisaku (儀作), the elder miller and village patriarch, referred to as "Grandad," who tells the villagers to hire samurai to protect themselves
  • Atsushi Watanabe as bun seller
  • Yoshio Kosugi as farmer Mosuke

Bandits[edit]

Production[edit]

Film makers stand in front of actors while filming the movie.
Filming the movie, from behind the scenes.

The film was the first samurai film that Akira Kurosawa directed. He had originally wanted to direct a film about a single day in the life of a samurai, but later discovered a story about samurai defending farmers in his research. According to actor Toshiro Mifune, the film was originally going to be called Six Samurai, with Mifune playing the role of Kyuzo. During the six-week scriptwriting process, Kurosawa and his screenwriters realized that "six sober samurai were a bore—they needed a character that was more off-the-wall."[5] Kurosawa recast Mifune as Kikuchiyo and gave him creative license to improvise actions in his performance.

The film took very long to be completed and it had become a topic of wide discussion long before it was released.[6] After three months of pre-production the film had 148 shooting days spread out over a year—four times the span covered in the original budget, which eventually came to almost half a million dollars. Toho Studios closed down production at least twice. Each time, Kurosawa calmly went fishing, reasoning that the studio had already heavily invested in the production and would allow him to complete the picture. The film's final battle scene, originally scheduled to be shot at the end of summer, was shot in February in near-freezing temperatures. Mifune later recalled that he had never been so cold in his life.[7]

Kurosawa refused to shoot the peasant village at Toho Studios and had a complete set constructed at Tagata on the Izu Peninsula, Shizuoka. Although the studio protested the increased production costs, Kurosawa was adamant that "the quality of the set influences the quality of the actors' performances... ...For this reason, I have the sets made exactly like the real thing. It restricts the shooting but encourages that feeling of authenticity.[7] He also spoke of ‘intense labour’ of making the film: “It rained all the time, we didn’t have enough horses. It was just the kind of picture that is impossible to make in this country.”[6]

The choreography for the film was by Yoshio Sugino of the Tenshin Shōden Katori Shintō-ryū. Initially Junzo Sasamori of the Ono-ha Itto-ryu was working along with Sugino, but he was asked by the Ministry of Education to teach in Europe during production.

Innovations[edit]

Narrative

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, Sholay, the western remake The Magnificent Seven, and Pixar's animated film A Bug's Life.[8] Film critic Roger Ebert speculates 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 monk 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.[9] Other plot devices such as the reluctant hero, romance between a local woman and the youngest hero, and the nervousness of the common citizenry had appeared in other films before this but were combined in this film.

Technical

Through the creative freedom provided by the studio, Kurosawa made use of telephoto lenses, which were rare in 1954, as well as multiple cameras which allowed the action to fill the screen and place the audience right in the middle of it.[6] “If I had filmed it in the traditional shot-by-shot method, there was no guarantee that any action could be repeated in exactly the same way twice." He found it to be very effective and he later used it in movies that were less action oriented. His method was to put one camera in the most orthodox shooting position, another camera for quick shots and a third camera "as a kind of guerilla unit." This method made for very complicated shoots, for which Kurosawa choreographed the movement of all three cameras by using diagrams.[7]

Kurosawa quickly earned a reputation with his crew as the ‘world’s greatest editor’ because of his practice of editing late at night during the shooting. He thus describes as practical necessity a procedure that is incomprehensible to most directors, who on major production spent at least several months with their editors assembling and cutting the film after shooting is completed.[10]:89

Reception[edit]

Seven Samurai grossed 268 million yen in the first 12 months of its release.[1] Eventually, it became Japan's third highest-grossing film of 1954.[11] It ranked fifth on Rotten Tomatoes's action/adventure voting list.[12] It is also ranked number seven on Rotten Tomatoes' top 100 art house and international films.[13]

In 1982, it was voted number three in the Sight & Sound critics' poll of greatest films. In the Sight & Sound directors' poll, it was voted at number ten in 1992 [14] and number nine in 2002.[15] It also ranked number seventeen on the 2012 Sight & Sound critics' poll,[16] in both cases being tied with Kurosawa's own Rashomon (1950). Seven Samurai has also been ranked number one on Empire magazine's list of "The 100 Best Films Of World Cinema" in 2010 [17] and is the highest-ranked Asian film on the Internet Movie Database's "Top 250 movies" list.[18]

Legacy[edit]

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 (1960), 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.[19]

However, in interview with R.B Gadi, Kurosawa expressed how "The American copy of the The Magnificent Seven is a disappointment although entertaining. It is not a version of Seven Samurai".[10]:42 Prince argues that considering Samurai films and Westerns respond to different cultures and contexts, what Kurosawa found useful was not their content but rather was inspired by levels of syntactic movement, framing, form and grammar.[20]

Edited versions and DVD releases[edit]

At three hours, twenty-seven minutes (207 minutes), Seven Samurai would be the longest picture of Kurosawa's career.

Toho Studios originally cut fifty minutes off the film when screening it for American distributors for fear that no American audience would be willing to sit through the entire picture.[21]

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 Collection DVD version of the film is currently available containing the complete original version of the film (207 minutes) on one disc and a second Criterion DVD released in 2006 also contains the digitally remastered, complete film on two discs, as well as an additional disc of extra material. A region 4 DVD of the full 207 minute cut was released in 2004 by Madman Entertainment under its Eastern Eye label. A Blu-ray edition of the full length edition was released by the Criterion Collection on October 19, 2010.[22]

Awards and nominations[edit]

Venice Film Festival (1954)
Mainichi Film Award (1955)
British Academy Film Awards (1956)
Academy Awards (1957)[23]
Jussi Awards (1959)

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b Still crazy-good after 60 years: Seven Samurai, Retrieved 16 February 2015.
  2. ^ Because the Japanese language has no definite article, the question arises as to whether the proper English translation of the title is Seven Samurai or The Seven Samurai. While the former is the literal translation, either may be considered idiomatically correct.
  3. ^ Desser, David (Nov 1998). "Reviewed Work: The Films of Akira Kurosawa by Donald Richie". The Journal of Asian Studies 57 (4): 1173. Retrieved 20 February 2015. 
  4. ^ Toho Masterworks. Akira Kurosawa: It Is Wonderful to Create (DVD) (in Japanese). 
  5. ^ Toshiro Mifune interview, August 25, 1993. Criterion Collection DVD pamphlet
  6. ^ a b c Richie, Donald (1996). The Films of Akira Kurosawa (3 ed.). Berkeley: University of California Press. p. 107. ISBN 0520200268. 
  7. ^ a b c Nixon, Rob. Behind the Camera of the Seven Samurai, Retrieved 20 February 2015.
  8. ^ Lack, Jonathan R. "An Appreciation of Akira Kurosawa's Seven Samurai". Fade to Lack. Retrieved 20 February 2015. 
  9. ^ Roger Ebert (2001-08-19). "The Seven Samurai (1954)". Chicago Sun-Times. Retrieved 2008-10-17. 
  10. ^ a b Cardullo, Bert (2008). Akira Kurosawa: Interviews. University Press of Mississippi. ISBN 978-1578069972. 
  11. ^ nippon-kino.net "The greatest Japanese box office hits of the 1950s". Retrieved 2015-02-27. 
  12. ^ "Top 100 Action & Adventure Movies". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved 20 February 2015. 
  13. ^ "Top 100 Arthouse and International Films". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved 17 February 2015. 
  14. ^ [Sight & Sound Top Ten Poll: 1992 "Sight & Sound top 10 poll 1992"]. BFI. Retrieved 17 February 2015. 
  15. ^ "BFI Sight & Sound 2002 Top 10 Poll". Retrieved 20 February 2015. 
  16. ^ "The Top 50 Greatest Films of All Time". Sight & Sound. British Film Institute. 1 August 2012. Retrieved 5 August 2012. 
  17. ^ "The 100 Best Films Of World Cinema - 1. Seven Samurai". Empire. 
  18. ^ "IMDB top 250 list". Retrieved 17 February 2015. 
  19. ^ Anderson, Joseph L. (1962). "When the Twain Meet: Hollywood's remake of 'Seven Samurai'". Film Quaterly 15 (13): 55–58. Retrieved 17 February 2015. 
  20. ^ Prince, Stephen (1999). The warrior's camera : the cinema of Akira Kurosawa. (Rev. and expanded ed. ed.). Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press. p. 18. ISBN 978-0691010465. 
  21. ^ Kenneth, Turan. "The Hours and Times: Kurosawa and the Art of Epic Storytellling". The Criterion Collection. Retrieved 20 February 2015. 
  22. ^ "Seven Samurai (1954) - The Criterion Collection". The Criterion Collection. Retrieved 2011-06-02. 
  23. ^ "NY Times: Seven Samurai". NY Times. Retrieved 2008-12-22. 

External links[edit]