Seven Samurai

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Seven Samurai
Seven Samurai poster.jpg
Japanese release poster
Directed byAkira Kurosawa
Produced bySojiro Motoki
Written byAkira Kurosawa
Shinobu Hashimoto
Hideo Oguni
StarringTakashi Shimura
Toshiro Mifune
Music byFumio Hayasaka
CinematographyAsakazu Nakai
Editing byAkira Kurosawa
StudioToho Studios
Distributed byToho (Japan)
Columbia Pictures (US)
Release dates
  • April 26, 1954 (1954-04-26)
Running time207 minutes
CountryJapan
LanguageJapanese
Budget$500,000
 
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Seven Samurai
Seven Samurai poster.jpg
Japanese release poster
Directed byAkira Kurosawa
Produced bySojiro Motoki
Written byAkira Kurosawa
Shinobu Hashimoto
Hideo Oguni
StarringTakashi Shimura
Toshiro Mifune
Music byFumio Hayasaka
CinematographyAsakazu Nakai
Editing byAkira Kurosawa
StudioToho Studios
Distributed byToho (Japan)
Columbia Pictures (US)
Release dates
  • April 26, 1954 (1954-04-26)
Running time207 minutes
CountryJapan
LanguageJapanese
Budget$500,000

Seven Samurai[1] (七人の侍 Shichinin no Samurai?) is a 1954 Japanese period adventure drama 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.

Seven Samurai has been described as one of the greatest and most influential films ever made,[2] 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 the top three of the Sight & Sound critics' list of greatest films of all time in 1982, and onto the directors' top ten films lists in the 1992 and 2002 polls.[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 food, he tells them to find hungry samurai. Eating millet themselves, the men go to the city to find samurai and offer white rice, their best, but are shunned by most.

An experienced rōnin, Kambei, deftly rescues a boy taken hostage by a thief. Impressed, a young samurai named Katsushirō approaches him to be his disciple, while the farmers are overjoyed when, initially reluctant, Kambei agrees to help them. Kambei recruits old friend Shichirōji and three other samurai with Katsushirō's assistance: the friendly and strategic Gorobei; the good-willed Heihachi; and Kyūzō, a taciturn master swordsman with whom Katsushirō looks at in awe. Though Kambei had judged that seven would be necessary, time is short and Katsushirō is taken as a sixth. The poser Kikuchiyo, despite attempts to be driven away, follows them.

When the samurai arrive, they feel insulted by the cold reception as the villagers cower 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 had killed before. Kikuchiyo then castigates them for ignoring hardships the farmers overcome to survive, including harassment from samurai, which reveals his origins as an orphaned farmer's son. The anger the samurai felt turns to shame.

The samurai train the farmers and construct fortifications, as the two groups grow to trust each other. 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 time for the raid approaches, two scouting bandits are killed, while another is captured to reveal the location of their camp before his death. Heihachi is killed in a preemptive strike on the camp led by Rikichi, where it is burnt. Further compounding his 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 blocking the rest with a spear wall of farmers. Meanwhile, Gisaku refuses to abandon his home on the outskirts and perishes with his family, who tried retrieving him. A lone grandson survives, which tragically reminds Kikuchiyo of himself.

The bandits possess three muskets. Kyūzō ventures off alone and returns with one. A jealous Kikuchiyo abandons his post and brings another back to camp. In doing so he left his contingent of farmers leaderless. They 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 all 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 youths.

In the following rainy morning, Kambei orders to let the remaining bandits in. Most are killed, but their musket-armed chief, unseen, takes refuge in the hut containing the village women. He shoots Kyūzō, and a distraught Katsushirō watches his hero die. An enraged Kikuchiyo charges towards the hut, only to be shot as well. However, Kikuchiyo gets up and kills the bandit chief as his final act before dying. Kambei and Shichirōji, who had hoped to find death in battle, observe that they have survived once again. Afterwards, the three surviving samurai watch the villagers joyfully planting the next crop. Having lost their comrades, they reflect on the fact that it is the farmers who are the true victors.

Cast[edit]

Seven Samurai[edit]

Villagers[edit]

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 had ever 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."[6]

Kurosawa recast Mifune as Kikuchiyo and gave him creative license to improvise actions in his performance. After three months of preproduction, 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 would calmly go fishing, reasoning that the studio had already heavily invested in the production and would have to allow him to complete the picture. The film's final battle, originally scheduled to be shot at the end of summer, was shot in February in near-freezing temperatures. Mifune would recall later 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 began using multiple cameras to shoot his scenes in order to capture action sequences from various angles, a practice he would continue for the rest of his career.

Structural innovations[edit]

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, 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.

Reception and legacy[edit]

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 (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. The Magnificent Seven spawned several sequels and there was also a short-lived 1998 television series. In January 2013 it was reported that director Zack Snyder was developing a Star Wars movie loosely based on the plot of the film, though it was denied by Snyder's representatives.[10][11]

Seven Samurai is the highest reviewed movie at Rotten Tomatoes with the highest number of votes that is listed as an action/adventure film on the site.[12] It is also ranked number six 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 and number nine in 2002, in both cases being tied with Kurosawa's own Rashomon (1950).[3] It also ranked number seventeen on the 2012 Sight & Sound critics' poll.[14] Seven Samurai has also been ranked number one on Empire magazine's list of "The 100 Best Films Of World Cinema" in 2010.[15] It was also voted the "Best Japanese Film ever" in a 1979 Kinema Junpo critics’ poll.[16]

The film was voted number one in an audience poll of greatest films conducted by MovieMail in 2000.[17] It is also the highest-ranked Asian film on the Internet Movie Database's "Top 250 movies" list.[18]

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.[19]

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, 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. 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.[20]

Awards and nominations[edit]

Venice Film Festival (1954)
Mainichi Film Award (1955)
British Academy Film Awards (1956)
Academy Awards (1957)[21]
Jussi Awards (1959)

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ 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.
  2. ^ Fujiwara, Chris (2002-08-29). "Canon fodder - What it means to call Seven Samurai a great film". The Boston Phoenix. 
  3. ^ a b "The Sight & Sound Top Ten Poll 2002". Retrieved 2010-12-28. 
  4. ^ Toho Masterworks. Akira Kurosawa: It Is Wonderful to Create (DVD) (in Japanese). 
  5. ^ Heuberger, Sean. "The Campbellian and Musashian Samurai". Topics in Literature. Retrieved 2013-05-19. 
  6. ^ Toshiro Mifune interview, August 25, 1993. Criterion Collection DVD pamphlet
  7. ^ a b "Behind the Camera on THE SEVEN SAMURAI". 
  8. ^ "An Appreciation of Akira Kurosawa's 'Seven Samurai'". 
  9. ^ Roger Ebert (2001-08-19). "The Seven Samurai (1954)". Chicago Sun-Times. Retrieved 2008-10-17. 
  10. ^ "Zack Snyder to direct a Star Wars movie". 3 News NZ. January 15, 2013. 
  11. ^ Collura, Scott. "Zack Snyder Developing a Star Wars Film?". IGN. 
  12. ^ "Rotten Tomatoes best reviewed action movies.". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved November 2, 2011. 
  13. ^ "Top 100 Art House & International Movies". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved September 13, 27. 
  14. ^ "The Top 50 Greatest Films of All Time". Sight & Sound. British Film Institute. 1 August 2012. Retrieved 5 August 2012. 
  15. ^ "The 100 Best Films Of World Cinema - 1. Seven Samurai". Empire. 
  16. ^ "Seven Samurai". Film Forum. Retrieved 2009-05-29. 
  17. ^ "Lists". Film Journey. Retrieved 2009-05-29. 
  18. ^ Shichinin no samurai (1954) at the Internet Movie Database
  19. ^ "The Hours and Times: Kurosawa and the Art of Epic Storytelling". 
  20. ^ "Seven Samurai (1954) - The Criterion Collection". Criterion.com. Retrieved 2011-06-02. 
  21. ^ "NY Times: Seven Samurai". NY Times. Retrieved 2008-12-22. 

External links[edit]