Shichinin no samurai AKA Seven Samurai


Seven Samurai tells the tale of a 16th century Japanese farm community that, led by a band of seven warriors, defends itself against a gang of pillaging robbers. When several of the village’s men, lead by a hot-head named Rikichi (Yoshio Tsuchiya), grow weary of the annual raids of the bandits, they decide to act. Since the citizens do not have the martial ability or skill to fight, Rikichi seeks mercenary samurai who are willing to defend the settlement in return for food and lodging.

The seven men who accompany Rikichi home are a diverse lot. They include the sage Kambei (Takashi Shimura), a great leader of men; Kikuchiyo (Toshiro Mifune), a burly clown whose prowess with a sword does not match his arrogance; Kyuzo (Seiji Miyaguchi), a quiet master swordsman who lets his weapon speak for him; and young Katsushiro (Isao Kimura), who idolizes Shichiroji and Kambei. Also in the party are Heihachi (Minoru Chiaki), Shichiroji (Daisuke Kato), and Gorobei (Yoshio Inaba). After teaching the men of the town how to fight and preparing the village for its defense (building fences, flooding the rice fields, and tearing down a bridge), the seven samurai await the inevitable coming of the 40-odd bandits and the battle that will determine the peasants’ future.

Roger Ebert Review

Akira Kurosawa’s “The Seven Samurai” (1954) is not only a great film in its own right, but the source of a genre that would flow through the rest of the century. The critic Michael Jeck suggests that this was the first film in which a team is assembled to carry out a mission–an idea which gave birth to its direct Hollywood remake, “The Magnificent Seven,” as well as “The Guns of Navarone,” “The Dirty Dozen” and countless later war, heist and caper movies. Since Kurosawa’s samurai adventure “Yojimbo” (1960) was remade as “A Fistful of Dollars” and essentially created the spaghetti Western, and since this movie and Kurosawa’s “The Hidden Fortress” inspired George Lucas’ “Star Wars” series, it could be argued that this greatest of filmmakers gave employment to action heroes for the next 50 years, just as a fallout from his primary purpose.

That purpose was to make a samurai movie that was anchored in ancient Japanese culture and yet argued for a flexible humanism in place of rigid traditions. One of the central truths of “The Seven Samurai” is that the samurai and the villagers who hire them are of different castes and must never mix. Indeed, we learn that these villagers had earlier been hostile to samurai–and one of them, even now, hysterically fears that a samurai will make off with his daughter. Yet the bandits represent a greater threat, and so the samurai are hired, valued and resented in about equal measure.

Why do they take the job? Why, for a handful of rice every day, do they risk their lives? Because that is the job and the nature of the samurai. Both sides are bound by the roles imposed on them by society, and in To the Distant Observer, his study of Japanese films, Noel Burch observes: “masochistic perseverance in the fulfillment of complex social obligations is a basic cultural trait of Japan.” Not only do the samurai persevere, but so do the bandits, who continue their series of raids even though it is clear the village is well-defended, that they are sustaining heavy losses, and that there must be unprotected villages somewhere close around. Like characters in a Greek tragedy, they perform the roles they have been assigned.

 

 

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