Theatrical release poster
|Directed by||Akira Kurosawa|
|Produced by||Sōjirō Motoki|
|Music by||Fumio Hayasaka|
|Edited by||Akira Kurosawa|
|Box office||¥268 million|
Seven Samurai (七人の侍 Shichinin no Samurai?) is a 1954 Japanese Jidaigeki adventure film co-written, edited, and directed by Akira Kurosawa. The story takes place in 1586 during the Warring States Period of Japan. It follows the story of a village of farmers that hire seven ronin (masterless samurai) 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 and Rotten Tomatoes polls. It has remained highly influential, often seen as one of the most "remade, reworked, referenced" films in cinema.
Marauding bandits approach a rural mountain village, but their chief decides to spare it until after the harvest because they had raided it before. The plan is overheard by a farmer who tells the rest of village. Lamenting their fate, three farmers ask Gisaku, the village elder and miller, for advice. He declares they should hire samurai to defend the village. Since they have no money to offer, Gisaku tells them to find hungry samurai.
After little success in finding any recruits, the group witness Kambei, an aging but experienced rōnin, rescue a young boy who had been taken hostage by a thief. A young inexperienced samurai named Katsushirō also approaches Kambei to become his disciple. The villagers then ask for his help, and after initial reluctance, Kambei agrees. In turn the aged rōnin 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. Although inexperienced, Katsushirō is taken as a sixth recruit because time is short. Kikuchiyo, a man who carries a family scroll that he claims makes him a samurai, follows the group to the village despite attempts to drive him away.
On arrival the samurai find the villagers cowering in their homes refusing to greet them. Feeling insulted by such a cold reception, Kikuchiyo rings the village alarm bell prompting the frightened villagers to come out of hiding. The samurai are both pleased and amused by this and accept him as their seventh comrade-in-arms. Slowly the samurai and the farmers begin to trust each other as they train together in preparation for the return of the bandits. Katsushirō forms a relationship with Shino, a farmer's daughter, who had been forced to masquerade as a boy for protection from the supposedly lustful samurai. However the six samurai are angered when Kikuchiyo brings them samurai armor and weapons; equipment that the villagers had mostly likely acquired from killing other injured or dying samurai. But Kikuchiyo retaliates and castigates the group. He points out that samurai are responsible for battles, raids, taxation and forced labor that devastate the lives of villagers. By doing so he reveals his origin as an orphaned farmer's son. The anger of the samurai turns to shame.
Shortly before the raid, three bandit scouts are seen. Two are killed while another reveals the location of their camp. Against the wishes of the samurai, the prisoner is lynched by the villagers. The bandits' camp is burned down in a pre-emptive strike. However the attack costs Heihachi his life. Rikichi, who helps the samurai, watches in horror as his wife, who had been kidnapped and raped by the bandits, immolates herself in shame.
When the bandits attack the village they are confounded by village's new fortifications, including a moat and wooden fence. Several bandits are killed according to Kambei's plan. As they individually try and enter the village, they are hunted down and killed using phalanxes of farmers armed with bamboo spears. But Gisaku, the village elder, refuses to abandon his mill on the outskirts of the village and perishes with his family who die trying to save him. A lone baby is rescued by Kikuchiyo who breaks down in tears as it reminds him of his own childhood.
The bandits possess three Japanese matchlock firearms. Kyūzō ventures off alone and returns with one. An envious Kikuchiyo abandons his post—and his contingent of farmers—to bring back another gun. But his action is castigated by Kambei because, while he was gone, the bandits attacked, killing some of his farmers. The bandit chief attacks again and Gorobei is slain. That night Kambei instructs everyone, including a remorseful Kikuchiyo, that due to their dwindling numbers, the bandits will make an all-out effort to take the village in a final, decisive battle. Meanwhile, the relationship Katsushirō is having with Shino is discovered by her father. He hits her until Kambei and the village intervene. Shichirōji calms the situation by saying they should be forgiven because they are young and that before any battle passions can run high.
The next morning in a torrential downpour, Kambei orders that the remaining thirteen bandits be allowed into the village. As the battle winds down their leader, armed with a gun, enters the women's hut from where he shoots Kyūzō. An enraged Kikuchiyo charges the hut only to be shot as well; he nevertheless manages to kill the bandit chief as his final act before dying. With the fighting over, Kambei and Shichirōji observe that they have survived once again.
In an epilogue, the three surviving samurai watch as the joyful villagers sing while planting their crops. Kambei—standing beneath the funeral mounds of his four dead comrades—reflects that it's another pyrrhic victory for the samurai. While they gained nothing for their sacrifice, the farmers' reward is their lands.
- Toshiro Mifune as Kikuchiyo (菊千代?), a humorous character who initially claims to be a samurai, he even falsifies his family tree and identity. Mercurial and temperamental, he identifies with the villagers and their plight, and he reveals to the group that he is in fact not a samurai, but rather a peasant. Eventually however, 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 he 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 samurai, he left home to become a wandering samurai against his family's wishes. 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.
- 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 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 leads 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.
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". Kurosawa recast Mifune as Kikuchiyo and gave him creative license to improvise actions in his performance.
The film took a year to complete. It had become a topic of wide discussion long before it was released. 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.
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. 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."
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.
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. 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. 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.
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. "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.
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 described this as a practical necessity 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.:89
Seven Samurai grossed 268 million yen in the first 12 months of its release. Eventually, it became Japan's third highest-grossing film of 1954. It ranked fifth on Rotten Tomatoes's action/adventure voting list. It is also ranked number seven on Rotten Tomatoes' top 100 art house and international films.
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 and number nine in 2002. It also ranked number seventeen on the 2012 Sight & Sound critics' poll, 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
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.
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".:42 Stephen Prince argues that considering Samurai films and Westerns respond to different cultures and contexts, what Kurosawa found useful was not their content but rather he was inspired by their levels of syntactic movement, framing, form and grammar.
Edited versions and DVD releases
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.
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 was released 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.
Awards and nominations
- Venice Film Festival (1954)
- Mainichi Film Award (1955)
- Winner - Best Supporting Actor - Seiji Miyaguchi
- Nominated - BAFTA Award for Best Film
- Nominated - BAFTA Award for Best Foreign Actor - Toshiro Mifune
- Nominated - BAFTA Award for Best Foreign Actor - Takashi Shimura
- Nominated - Best Art Direction-Set Decoration, Black-and-White - So Matsuyama
- Nominated - Best Costume Design, Black-and-White - Kôhei Ezaki
- Jussi Awards (1959)
- List of films considered the best
- List of historical drama films of Asia
- Samurai 7 - An anime inspired by this movie
- List of films with a 100% rating on Rotten Tomatoes, a film review aggregator website
- Sharp, Jasper (7 May 2015). "Still crazy-good after 60 years: Seven Samurai". British Film Institute. Retrieved 16 February 2015.
- 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.
- "Kikuchiyo" has a genealogy which shows he was "born the 17th of the 2nd month of Tenshô 2 (1574), a wood-dog year". Kanbei's comment is "o-nushi 13 sai niwa mienu ga" (You don't look 13…). Since the traditional way of counting ages in Japan is by the number of calendar years one has lived in, this means the story takes place in 1586.
- "Top 100 Movies Of All Time". Rotten Tomtoes.
- 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.
- Toho Masterworks. Akira Kurosawa: It Is Wonderful to Create (DVD) (in Japanese).
- Galbraith IV, Stuart (16 May 2008). The Toho Studios Story: A History and Complete Filmography. Scarecrow Press. p. 101. ISBN 978-0810860049. Retrieved 7 July 2015.
- Toshiro Mifune interview (Pamphlet). Criterion Collection. 25 August 1993.
- Richie, Donald (1996). The Films of Akira Kurosawa (3 ed.). Berkeley: University of California Press. p. 107. ISBN 0520200268.
- Nixon, Rob. "Behind the Camera of the Seven Samurai". Retrieved 20 February 2015.
- Lack, Jonathan R. "An Appreciation of Akira Kurosawa's Seven Samurai". Fade to Lack. Retrieved 20 February 2015.
- Roger Ebert (19 Aug 2001). "The Seven Samurai (1954)". Chicago Sun-Times. Retrieved 17 October 2008.
- Cardullo, Bert (2008). Akira Kurosawa: Interviews. University Press of Mississippi. ISBN 978-1578069972.
- "The greatest Japanese box office hits of the 1950s". Nippon-Kino. Retrieved 27 February 2015.
- "Top 100 Action & Adventure Movies". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved 20 February 2015.
- "Top 100 Arthouse and International Films". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved 17 February 2015.
- "Sight & Sound top 10 poll 1992". BFI. Retrieved 17 February 2015.
- "BFI Sight & Sound 2002 Top 10 Poll". Retrieved 20 February 2015.
- "The Top 50 Greatest Films of All Time". Sight & Sound. British Film Institute. 1 August 2012. Retrieved 5 August 2012.
- "The 100 Best Films Of World Cinema - 1. Seven Samurai". Empire.
- Anderson, Joseph L. (1962). "When the Twain Meet: Hollywood's remake of 'Seven Samurai'" (PDF). Film Quarterly 15 (13): 55–58. Retrieved 17 February 2015.
- Prince, Stephen (1999). The warrior's camera : the cinema of Akira Kurosawa. (Rev. and expanded ed.). Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press. p. 18. ISBN 978-0691010465.
- Kenneth, Turan. "The Hours and Times: Kurosawa and the Art of Epic Storytellling". The Criterion Collection. Retrieved 20 February 2015.
- "Seven Samurai (1954) - The Criterion Collection". The Criterion Collection. Retrieved 2 June 2011.
- "NY Times: Seven Samurai". NY Times. Retrieved 22 December 2008.
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- Seven Samurai at AllMovie
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- Criterion Collection essay by Kenneth Turan
- Criterion Collection essay by Philip Kemp