Akira Kurosawa’s Masterpiece – Seven Samurai

7 07 2012

It is one of cinemas all-time Greats. It is rated as one of the Greatest films in the history of cinema by Reviewers and Audiences and that is not just a statement, here is the proof:

  • “voted number one in an audience poll conducted by MovieMail in 2000”
  • “the highest reviewed movie at Rotten Tomatoes with the highest number of votes that is listed as an action movie on the site”
  • “Cited as the greatest Japanese film ever; at number 12, it is the highest-ranked Japanese and Asian film on the Internet Movie Database‘s “Top 250 movies” list. It ranked, for the first time, at number 3 in the 1982 Sight & Sound Critics’ Top Ten Poll, appeared on the Sight & Sound Directors’ Top Ten Poll in 1992 (ranked number 10), and tied for the highest-ranked Japanese and Asian film in 2002 (ranked number 9). It is ranked number 2 on Rotten Tomatoes‘ top 100 foreign films, and number 1 on their top 100 action/adventure films. It was also voted the “Best Japanese Film ever” in a 1979 Kinema Junpo critics’ poll”
  • “It is now regarded by some commentators as the greatest Japanese film ever made, and in 1979, a poll of Japanese film critics also voted it the best Japanese film ever made”
  • “Ranked #1 in Empire magazines “The 100 Best Films Of World Cinema” in 2010”
  • 96% Audience Rating on Rotten Tomatoes
  • 100% Rating on Rotten Tomatoes

I myself have known about this film for many years but it was usually only in passing, I did not know what the film was about at all. Then when I heard about it more and more I decided that I wanted to see it. It has been many years since that time but at long last I have seen it. The film came at in interesting point for Japanese Cinema. It had only been a couple of years since the occupation of Japan by American forces had finished and as such restrictions on what films Japan could do had been lifted. Film Company TOHO were very successful during WW2 making propaganda films but when Japan lost they could not do that anymore. In 1954 TOHO would once again make a name for themselves with the release of not 1 but 2 films which would become legends in their own rights. The first one was Seven Samurai; the second was the original Godzilla.

The film’s director Akira Kurosawa was already an internationally acclaimed director after his 1950 film Rashomon. In 1952 he took his writing team to a 45 day secluded residence to write Seven Samurai, the plot was really simple, production was difficult. The film spent 3 months in pre-production and 1 month in rehearsals. The films rising production costs were a continuous issue with TOHO wanting Kurosawa to shoot the film at the studios while Kurosawa was adamant to shoot the film on location. The film took a year to shoot with the mixed issues of costing’s, production and the director’s health. The film opened half a year after it was supposed to be released, but as soon as the film was released all these issues did not matter thanks to the films instant success. The film was later remade in 1960 in America with a western style, the film in question was called  The Magnificent Seven.

Akira Kurosawa

The film is set 400 years ago (from 1954 at least) when a group of bandits who ransacked a village earlier in the year have decided to return to it when the village harvests its barley. When one villager hears this he tells the other villagers. The villagers are greatly upset at this and consider many ideas of what to do including suicide. They go and speak to the village patriarch Gisaku (Kokuten Kodo) who tells the villagers to get Samurai. The village is poor and unable to afford warriors but Gisaku has the idea of paying them with rice because they will eventually have to eat. A group of villagers go to the town but are initially unsuccessful until they see a Samurai who kills a thief who kidnapped a child. They follow him into the town but he too is followed by a younger warrior and a warrior acting very strangely. The Samurai Kambei (Takashi Shimura) is a ronin (master less) and initially unsure of the idea and states that he can’t do it by himself. He eventually agrees when he realises that the villagers are sacrificing their rice for the Samurai.

Kambei and his new young warrior Katsushirō (Isao Kimura) start looking for Samurai and test them by hitting them on the head. They eventually recruit Gorōbei (Yoshio Inaba) who is a skilled archer and acts as the second in command, Shichirōji (Daisuke Katô) who is a former lieutenant for Kambei, Heihachi (Minoru Chiaki) who is a less skilled fighter but keeps their spirits up and Kyūzō (Seiji Miyaguchi) who declined originally and only really cares about perfecting his skill but later changes his mind. Kambei tries to get rid of Katsushirō for being too young but his mind changes after the other Samurai talk to him. The night before they set out, a group of men from the town say they have seen an incredible fighter who also got drunk. This fighter turns out to be the strange acting Samurai from earlier, he shows the others his nobility papers but it becomes obvious that he has stolen them. As the Samurai leave for the village the drunken Samurai follows them. He is later inducted into the group and is given the name (Toshiro Mifune) Kikuchiyo.

The Samurai train the villagers with Bamboo spears and look through the village to figure out the best way to defend it. Kikuchiyo finds a large amount of Samurai equipment which was taken from a killed Samurai. Six of the Samurai don’t like this but Kikuchiyo tells the other six that the farmers have hard lives and the Samurai class makes life hard for them, it is here that Kikuchiyo early life as a farmer is revealed, as a result of his words the other six turn their anger into shame. Katsushirō begins to fall in love with a girl called Shino (Keiko Tsushima) who has had her hair cut to make her look like a boy so the Samurai will be fooled. Heihachi creates a banner for the Samurai to help raise their spirits which includes the symbol for Farmer, six dots and a triangle (the triangle is for Kikuchiyo).

The harvest of the barley begins and 3 bandit’s scouts are discovered. The bandit’s camp is reveled and 3 of the Samurai go to it. Many bandits are killed but Heihachi is killed to. The Samurai feel a bit down until they remember his banner which rallies their spirits. The bandits arrive to attack the village but are originally overwhelmed by the defenses and several die. Kambei leaves an opening to tempt the bandits into it; several more bandits are killed in this way. Kikuchiyo heads outside the village and manages to grab on of the bandits guns, however a couple more Samurai are killed. The night before the final battle it is revealed that Katsushirō has had relations with Shino and her father is enraged by this. On the day of the final battle the remaining bandits are let into the town to be slaughtered. However Kikuchiyo gets mortally wounded when he is shot by the bandit leader; however he keeps going long enough to kill him before he dies. With the bandits killed the Samurai have saved the village from the bandits. However, when the villagers plant their new crop, Kambei notes that it is a loss for them; the villagers still have their village while the Samurai have lost a few friends and gained nothing as well as the fact that the Samurai are merely just Hired Guns and don’t come from the village. The last shot of the film observes the burials of the 4 fallen Samurai.

While the story does look quite long it is a long film but it does not get boring for one second. Overall the film is over 3 hours long (207 minutes if you are lucky enough to have seen the entire thing although I like most people have only seen the 190 minute version – anyway the full length is longer than all 3 Lord of the Pants films, Hopefully one day I will be able to see the full 207 minute version) which is a long time to watch a film however it is worth every minute and every penny (and possibly some more pennies). The films length is also the key to its story as if it was any shorter the story would have been hard to tell in such a short space of time, this would also mean that the film would not have been as Amazing as it was. All the sitting down, numb bum is all worth it by then end.

The film’s effects are all nicely put together. While audiences today are spoilt rotten by 3D and CGI this film uses good old stunts. When the swords are used not much stabbing appears to take place but you need to remember that the swords being used are the sharpest swords in the history of the world and so if you were to simply get cut by one, it does not matter if it was just a cut because it is more than likely that you are already dead. The films set is also well made and benefits from being on location as a studio would not have the same effect. Some people today may not like the fact that it is in Black and White and not Colour, however you don’t even notice the Black and White presentation because you become so engrossed in the film you don’t even notice (STOP RELYING ON CGI, 3D, HD AND COLOUR – THESE THINGS DON’T MAKE A FILM GOOD IN ANY WAY AT ALL). The film’s soundtrack (Produced by Fumio Hayasaka) is a nice blend of traditional styles in Japan with old-fashioned instruments from the period, with particular mention going to the Big Drums. The films main theme is has a nice heroic essence about it and uses traditional instruments to make it a real part of the film, it is a piece you will want to hear over and over again.

The cast chosen for the film is a nice mix of actors who do an excellent job of looking and acting like the characters in the story. Takashi Shimura is well-chosen as the lead Samurai; the way he portrays his character is with a level head and as such is an important part for the leader of the group. Also the way he manages to plan how they will defend the village and his caring nature to the younger Samurai in the group (Shimura would also star in the Original Godzilla film seven months later along with Kokuten Kodo). Kyūzō’s (Seiji Miyaguchi) character is another excellent portrayal as a master swordsman who also appears to have a level head and when he is fighting appears to be in the moment and not straying his head mind thinking about what has past or is to come. Keep special notice of both Gorobei (Yoshio Inaba) and HeiHachi, these 2 are like the jokers of the group and their scenes are very good, but keep special watch for when they smile, they both have really happy smiles.

For me Toshirō Mifune’s character Kikuchiyo is my favourite character. While Kikuchiyo starts off a bit odd and strange it is this that draws your attention to him and then as the film progresses you start to warm to him more and more as his caring side for the villagers and for the other Samurai starts to reveal itself. So it is hard at the end when he gets killed because you want him to survive the whole course of the film but when he does get killed by the chief bandit you can still see his heart as a warrior when he fights dying long enough for him to kill the bandit chief. To me he is like the muscle of the group, while the others have their own skill in battle; Kikuchiyo is a Ferocious Wildman in combat. Kikuchiyo is one of the reasons why the film should not be dubbed. While it may be hard to constantly have to read the dialogue, dubbing can’t bring out the passion. When Kikuchiyo talks about the farmers being murderers but have been forced to do it by the Samurai, he shows the angry passion and in a way talks sense. The farmers have killed Samurai which is not noble but the Samurai burn their villages, steal crops and rape women, the farmers are not just going to let them do this, they have to defend themselves somehow and so while it may not be noble it is self-defense, and when Kikuchiyo explains this in an Angry Rage, he makes the six other Samurai see sense. But while he does have this side to him, he has another more caring side. In the early stages of the Samurai training the villagers, Kikuchiyo strikes a friendship with a farmer called Yohei (Bokuzen Hidari). As the film progresses there are several comic scenes with Yohei and Kikuchiyo and a couple of scenes with Yohei’s horse, Kikuchiyo also helps the farmers out when they harvest their rice. Kikuchiyo cares about the farmers and in some way the other Samurai despite being seen as a somewhat joke by them earlier in the film. When Heihachi dies there is some sadness at the loss of the one who keeps their spirits up but Kikuchiyo remembers his banner and thrusts it onto one of the houses for the Samurai and the villagers to look at and raise their spirits in battle. While Kikuchiyo is rather odd, he is by far the merriest of the group and in some way one of the most caring and so while he is this fierce warrior he is a Good person, a Great Friend and a Fantastic Warrior.

All of these things are brought together in a brilliant story by the fantastic directing of Akira Kurosawa. Perhaps this is why Seven Samurai is regarded as his masterpiece. Seven Samurai while coming out in 1954 is the best film I have seen this year. In the space of about 3 months I have seen 3 incredible films and all of them are in my top 3 favourite (Non-Godzilla) films with Seven Samurai taking the top spot. While I could talk about this some more I don’t want to spoil it for you and me. Seven Samurai is an EXCELLEANT Film that does not get boring, it is everything you would want in a film and more, so if the recommendations at the top of the post are not big enough for you to watch it, a recommendation from me definitely is, so no excuse, GO AND WATCH IT, SERIOUSLY, STOP STALLING AND WATCH IT, WHAT ARE YOU WAITING FOR, WATCH IT, WATCH IT, WATCH IT, SO WHAT IF IT’S LONGER THAN LORD OF THE RUBBISH, SO WHAT IF IT’S IN BLACK AND WHITE, WATCH IT, IT IS ONLY £12 FROM HMV, JUST LOOK IN THE WORLD CINEMA SELECTION OF HMV AND IT WILL BE THERE AND IF IT’S NOT JUST GO TO THE DESK AND DEMAND A FREE COPY FROM THEM FOR INCONVENIENCING YOU, STOP STALLING AND BUY IT AND WATCH IT, WATCH IT, WATCH IT, HOW MANY TIMES DO I HAVE TO TELL YOU, WATCH IT, IT’S ONLY £8.38 ON AMAZON, £14.99 IF YOU BUY THE AKIRA KUROSAWA SAMURAI COLLECTION WHICH INCLUDES OTHER GREAT AKIRA KUROSAWA FILMS, YOU CAN WATCH THE FULL 207 MINUTE VERSION IF YOU BUY THE CRITERION COLLECTION BOX SET, IT’S £9.29 WITH FREE DELIVERY WITH PLAY.COM, WHY ARE YOU STILL READING THIS, YOU COULD HAVE ORDERED IT ON AMAZON BY NOW, WATCH IT, WATCH IT, WATCH IT, WATCH IT, WATCH IT!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Places Where you can buy Seven Samurai on DVD:



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