Seven Samurai (七人の侍 Shichinin no Samurai?) is a 1954 Japanese Jidaigeki adventure film co-written, edited, and directed by “The Emperor” Akira Kurosawa. This is also one of the most copied films in cinema history. Films like The Magnificent Seven, Zhong yi qun ying (the seven warriors) and Samurai 7 (the anime television series) are all based on this movie. Clearly this movie has had a major impact on movie makers since it release. Perhaps Kurosawa’s Hidden Fortress is the only film remade more than the Seven Samurai.
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. These ronin work only for food, though at the end of the movie, the “miserly” farmers do offer their protectors jewelry and other valuable items before the final conflict.
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 saying in one of my favorite quotes “even a bear will come down from the mountain if it’s hungry enough.”
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 some old friends as well as three other samurai: the friendly and strategic Gorobei; the good-willed Heihachi; and Kyūzō, a taciturn master swordsman whom Katsushirō regards with awe (and is apparently based on the legendary Miyamoto Musashi). Although inexperienced, Katsushirō is taken as a sixth recruit because time is short. Kikuchiyo (Torisho Mifune), 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. However the six samurai are angered when Kikuchiyo brings samurai armor and weapons; equipment that the villagers had most likely acquired from killing other injured or dying samurai. But Kikuchiyo explodes and points out that samurai are responsible for battles, raids, taxation and forced labor that devastate the lives of villagers thereby revealing his origins as a farmer.
When the bandits attack the village they are confounded by village’s new fortifications, including a moat and wooden fence. During a torrential downpour, the villagers are ordered to let in all remaining bandits where they are killed but not before taking some villagers and samurai with them. With the fighting over, Kambei and Shichirōji observe that they have survived once again. In a moving 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.
Some interesting facts about the film include Kurosawa refusing to shoot the peasant village at Toho Studios, instead having a complete set constructed at Tagata on the Izu Peninsula, Shizuoka. Acts like this eventually lead to Kurosawa’s nick-name “the Emperor.” 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.”
Boy he was right. Anyone who thinks of themselves as any sort of film buff Seven Samurai is a must see. And if you just like movies, watch it anyways, it’s long but worth every minute of it.