Seven Samurai (1954)

Movie


Seven Samurai (1954)
Shichinin no samurai (original title)

A veteran samurai, who has fallen on hard times, answers a village's request for protection from bandits. He gathers 6 other samurai to help him, and they teach the townspeople how to defend themselves, and they supply the samurai with three small meals a day. The film culminates in a giant battle when 40 bandits attack the village.
Japan
IMDb   8.6 /10
Metacritic   98 %
TheMovieDb    8.5 /10
RottenTomatoes
FilmAffinity   8.4 /10
Information
Release Date1954-04-26
Runtime3h 27mins
GenreAction, Adventure, Drama
Content RatingNot Rated (Not Rated)
AwardsTop Rated Movies #19 | Nominated for 2 Oscars. Another 5 wins & 6 nominations.
CompanyToho Company
CountryJapan
LanguageJapanese
Kikuchiyo (as Toshiro Mifune)
Kambei Shimada
Wife (as Yukio Shimazaki)
Katsushiro (as Ko Kimura)
Farmer Mosuke
Gorobei Katayama
Farmer Rikichi
Old Man Gisaku (as Kuninori Todo)

Seven Samurai

Seven Samurai (Japanese: 七人の侍, Hepburn: Shichinin no Samurai) is a 1954 Japanese epic samurai drama film co-written, edited, and directed by Akira Kurosawa. The story takes place in 1586 during the Sengoku period of Japanese history. It follows the story of a village of desperate farmers who hire seven rōnin (masterless samurai) to combat bandits who will return after the harvest to steal their crops.

At the time, the film was the most expensive film made in Japan. It took a year to shoot and faced many difficulties. It was the second-highest grossing domestic film in Japan in 1954. Many reviews compared the film to westerns.

Since its release, Seven Samurai has consistently ranked highly in critics' lists of the greatest films, such as the BFI's Sight & Sound and Rotten Tomatoes polls. It was also voted the greatest foreign-language film in BBC's 2018 international critics' poll. It has remained highly influential, often seen as one of the most "remade, reworked, referenced" films in cinema.


Plot

Part 1

In 1587, bandits discuss raiding a mountain village, but their chief decides to wait until after the harvest as they had raided it fairly recently. They are overheard by a farmer, whereupon the villagers ask Gisaku, the village elder and miller, for advice. He states that he once saw a village that hired samurai and remained untouched by raiders, and declares they should also hire samurai to defend them. Since they have no money and can only offer food as payment, Gisaku advises them to find hungry samurai.

After having little initial success, the scouting party watches Kambei, an aging but experienced rōnin, rescue a young boy who had been held hostage by a cornered thief. A young samurai named Katsushirō asks to become Kambei's disciple. The villagers then ask for help, and after initial reluctance, Kambei agrees. He recruits his old friend Shichirōji and, with Katsushirō's assistance, three other samurai: the friendly, wily Gorobei; the good-natured Heihachi; and Kyūzō, a taciturn master swordsman whom Katsushirō regards with awe. Although inexperienced, Katsushirō is accepted because time is short. Kikuchiyo, a wild and unpredictable man who carries a family scroll that he claims proves he is a samurai (though the birth date on it is for a teenager), follows the group 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, prompting the villagers to come out of hiding and beg for protection. The samurai are both pleased and amused by this, and they accept Kikuchiyo as a comrade-in-arms. Slowly the samurai and farmers begin to trust each other as they train together. Katsushirō forms a relationship with Shino, a farmer's daughter, who is masquerading at her father's insistence as a boy for protection from the supposedly lustful samurai. However, the six professional samurai are angered when Kikuchiyo brings them armor and weapons, which the villagers most likely acquired by killing injured or dying samurai. Kikuchiyo retorts in a rage that samurai are responsible for battles, raids, taxation and forced labor that devastate the villagers' lives. By so doing, he reveals his origin as an orphaned farmer's son. The samurai's anger turns to shame. Kambei divides the villagers up into squads to prepare defences and train. Some villagers whose houses lie outside the protected zone complain and decide they will not fight. As they leave, Kambei draws his sword and demands they pick up their arms and return to their units immediately. Kambei explains the out-lying houses must be sacrificed for the greater cause and that desertion will in future be punished. The units are lined up in an orderly fashion as the intermission arrives.

Part 2

Three bandit scouts are spotted. Two are killed; the survivor reveals the location of their camp. Against the wishes of the samurai, the villagers kill the prisoner. The samurai burn down the bandits' camp in a pre-emptive strike. Rikichi, a troubled villager who helps the samurai, breaks down when he sees his wife, who had apparently been kidnapped and made a concubine in a previous raid. On seeing Rikichi, she runs back into the burning hut. Heihachi is killed by musket fire while trying to save Rikichi, whose grief is compounded.

When the bandits finally attack, they are confounded by new fortifications, including a moat and wooden fence. Several bandits fall victim to Kambei's tactic of allowing only one horse-mounted foe to enter the village at a time, to be trapped and killed by groups of farmers armed with bamboo spears. Gisaku's family tries to save the old man when he refuses to abandon his mill on the outskirts of the village. All perish but a lone baby rescued by Kikuchiyo, who breaks down in tears, as it reminds him how he was orphaned.

The bandits possess three matchlock firearms. Kyūzō ventures out alone and returns with one. An envious Kikuchiyo abandons his post—and his contingent of farmers—to bring back another. He is chastised by Kambei because, while he was gone, the bandits killed some of his farmers. The bandits attack again, and Gorobei is slain. That night, Kambei predicts that, due to their dwindling numbers, the bandits will make one last all-out attack. Meanwhile, Katsushirō and Shino's relationship is discovered by her father. He beats her until Kambei and the villagers intervene. Shichirōji calms everyone down by saying the couple should be forgiven because they are young and passions can run high before any battle.

The next morning in a torrential downpour, Kambei orders that the remaining thirteen bandits be allowed into the village and then attacked. As the battle winds down, their leader, armed with a gun, hides in the women's hut and shoots Kyūzō. An enraged Kikuchiyo charges in and is shot, but kills the bandit chief before dying. The rest of the outlaws are slain.

The three surviving samurai (Kambei, Katsushiro and Shichirōji) later watch from the funeral mounds of their comrades as the joyful villagers sing whilst planting their crops. Kambei reflects to Shichirōji that it is another pyrrhic victory for the samurai: "We’ve lost yet again. With their land, the farmers are the victors, not us"


Cast

The seven samurai

  • Toshiro Mifune as Kikuchiyo (菊千代), a humorous, mercurial and temperamental rogue who lies about being a samurai, but eventually proves his worth and resourcefulness
  • Takashi Shimura as Kambei Shimada (島田勘兵衛, Shimada Kanbei), a war-weary but honourable and strategic rōnin, and the leader of the seven
  • Daisuke Katō as Shichirōji (七郎次), Kambei's old friend and former lieutenant
  • Isao Kimura as Katsushirō Okamoto (岡本勝四郎, Okamoto Katsushirō), the untested son of a wealthy, land-owning samurai, whom Kambei reluctantly takes in as a disciple
  • Minoru Chiaki as Heihachi Hayashida (林田平八, Hayashida Heihachi), an amiable though less-skilled fighter, whose charm and wit maintain his comrades' morale in the face of adversity
  • Seiji Miyaguchi as Kyūzō (久蔵), a serious, stone-faced and supremely skilled swordsman
  • Yoshio Inaba as Gorōbei Katayama (片山五郎兵衛, Katayama Gorōbei), a skilled archer, who acts as Kambei's second-in-command and helps create the master-plan for the village's defense

Villagers

  • Yoshio Tsuchiya as Rikichi (利吉), a hotheaded villager
  • Bokuzen Hidari as Yohei (与平), a timid old man
  • Yukiko Shimazaki as Rikichi's wife
  • Kamatari Fujiwara as Manzō (万造), a farmer who disguises his daughter as a boy to try to protect her from the samurai
  • Keiko Tsushima as Shino (志乃), Manzō's daughter
  • Kokuten Kōdō as Gisaku (儀作), the village patriarch, referred to as "Grandad"
  • Yoshio Kosugi as Mosuke, one of the farmers sent to town to hire the samurai

Others

  • Shinpei Takagi as the bandit chief
  • Shin Otomo as the bandit second-in-command
  • Haruo Nakajima as a bandit scout killed by Kyūzō
  • Eijirō Tōno as a thief
  • Atsushi Watanabe as a bun seller
  • Toshio Takahara as Samurai with a Gun
  • Jun Tatara as a coolie
  • Sachio Sakai as a coolie
  • Takeshi Seki as a coolie
  • Tatsuya Nakadai (uncredited) as a samurai wandering through town

Production

Writing

Akira Kurosawa had originally wanted to direct a film about a single day in the life of a samurai. Later, in the course of his research, he discovered a story about samurai defending farmers. 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. During the six-week scriptwriting process, the screenwriters were not allowed visitors or phone calls.

Kurosawa and the writers were innovative in refining the theme of the assembly of heroic characters to perform a mission. 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.

Set design

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."

Filming

Long before it was released, the film had already become a topic of wide discussion. After three months of pre-production it 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.

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 guerrilla unit". This method made for very complicated shoots, for which Kurosawa choreographed the movement of all three cameras by using diagrams.

The martial arts choreography for the film was led 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.

Editing

During filming Kurosawa quickly earned a reputation with his crew as the "world's greatest editor" because of his practice of editing late at night throughout 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

Soundtrack

Kurosawa had a heightened interest in the soundtracks of his films. For The Seven Samurai, he collaborated for the seventh and penultimate time with friend and composer Fumio Hayasaka. Hayasaka was already seriously ill when Kurosawa visited him during the filming of the Seven Samurai and he died prematurely of tuberculosis on October 15, 1955, at the age of 41, while Kurosawa was filming I Live in Fear, Kurosawa's next film, which Hayasaka was unable to complete.

Track list
No.TitleLength
1."Title Backing (M-1-2)"3:17
2."To the Water Mill (M-2-1)"1:00
3."Samurai Search One (M-3-1)"0:49
4."Kambei and Katsushiro ~ Kikuchiyo's Mambo (M-6-2)"3:43
5."Rikichi's Tears ~ White Rice (M-7-1)"2:09
6."Samurai Search Two (M-8-2)"1:30
7."Gorobei (M-9-1)"2:18
8."Let's Do It (M-10-1)"1:04
9."A Fish That Was Caught (M-11-2)"1:43
10."Six Samurai (M-12-2)"2:51
11."Unconventional Man (M-13-2)"1:13
12."Morning of Departure (M-14-1)"1:02
13."Travel Scenery ~ Our Castle (M-15-1)"2:51
14."Wild Warrior's Coming (M-17-2)"0:35
15."Seven Men Complete (M-18-1)"1:24
16."Katsushiro and Shino (M-19·20-3)"2:43
17."Katsushiro, Returning (M-21-3)"0:12
18."Bed Change (M-22-1)"0:57
19."In the Forest of The Water God (M-23-4)"1:34
20."Barley Field (M-24-1)"0:20
21."Kambei's Anger (M-25-2)"2:15
22."Interlude (M-Interlude)"5:18
23."Harvest (M-26-1)"2:05
24."Rikichi's Conflict (M-27·28-3)"1:51
25."Heihachi and Rikichi (M-28-5)"0:57
26."Rural Landscape (M-29·30-1)"2:35
27."Wimp, Samurai's Habit (M-31-1)"1:49
28."Omen of Wild Warriors (M-32-4)"0:26
29."To the Night Attack (M-35, From Film)"0:55
30."Flag (M-39, From Film)"0:20
31."Sudden Reunion (M-40-1)"0:25
32."Magnificent Samurai (M-41-2)"2:29
33."Invisible Wild Warriors (M-43-1)"1:00
34."Kikuchiyo's Rouse (M-44-1)"0:49
35."Compensation (M-45-1)"1:07
36."Tryst (M-46-1)"1:02
37."Manzo and Shino (M-47-4, M-48)"1:02
38."Rice Planting Song (PS. From Film)"1:22
39."Ending (M-49-2)"0:43
Total length:62:14

Themes

In analyzing the film's accuracy to sixteenth century Japan, Philip Kemp wrote, "to the farmers whose crops were pillaged, houses burned, womenfolk raped or abducted, the distinction between samurai warriors and bandit troupes became all but meaningless." Kemp notes how Kikuchiyo is "A farmer’s son who wants to become a samurai, he can see both sides: yes, he rages, the farmers are cowardly, mean, treacherous, quite capable of robbing and killing a wounded samurai—but it’s the samurai, with their looting and brutality, who have made the farmers that way. And the shamefaced reaction of his comrades makes it clear that they can’t dispute the charge."

Kenneth Turan notes that the long runtime "reflects the entirety of the agricultural year, from planting to gorgeous blossoming to harvesting."


Release

At 207 minutes, including a five-minute intermission with music, Seven Samurai would be the longest picture of Kurosawa's career. Fearing that American audiences would be unwilling to sit through the entire picture, Toho Studios originally removed 50 minutes from the film for U.S. distribution. Similar edits were distributed around the world until the 1990s; since then the complete version is usually seen.

Home media

Prior to the advent of DVD, various edited versions were distributed on video, but most DVDs and Blu-rays contain Kurosawa's complete original version, including its five-minute intermission. Since 2006, the Criterion Collection's US releases have featured their own exclusive 2K restoration, whereas most others, including all non-US Blu-rays, have an older HD transfer from Toho in Japan.

4K restoration

In 2016, Toho carried out a six-month-long 4K restoration, along with Kurosawa's Ikiru (1952). As the whereabouts of Seven Samurai's original negative is unknown, second generation fine grain positive and third generation duplicate negative elements were used. As of 2020, this version has not been released anywhere on home video. It is available as a Digital Cinema Package from the British Film Institute.


Reception

Box office

Seven Samurai was well received by Japanese audiences, earning a distribution rental income of ¥268.23 million, within the first twelve months of its release. It was Japan's third highest-grossing film of 1954, exceeding the 9.6 million ticket sales of Godzilla the same year. 9.6 million Japanese ticket sales are equivalent to gross receipts of ¥605 million at an average 1955 ticket price, or equivalent to an inflation-adjusted $170 million at an average 2014 Japanese ticket price.

Overseas, the box office income for the film's 1956 North American release is currently unknown. The film's 2002 re-release grossed $271,841 in the United States and $4,124 in France. At the 2002 Kurosawa & Mifune Festival in the United States, the film grossed $561,692. This adds up to at least $833,533 grossed in the United States.

Other European re-releases between 1997 and 2018 sold 27,627 tickets.

Home media

As of 2017, Seven Samurai is the best-selling home video title ever released by the British Film Institute.

Critical response

On the review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes, the film holds a perfect approval rating of 100% based on 86 reviews, with an average rating of 9.60/10. The site's critical consensus reads: "Arguably Akira Kurosawa's masterpiece, The Seven Samurai is an epic adventure classic with an engrossing story, memorable characters, and stunning action sequences that make it one of the most influential films ever made". It currently ranks 18th on their action/adventure voting list, and seventh on their top 100 art house and international films.

Many critics outside of Japan compared the film to westerns. Bosley Crowther, writing for The New York Times, said the film "bears cultural comparison with our own popular western High Noon. That is to say, it is a solid, naturalistic, he-man outdoor action film, wherein the qualities of human strength and weakness are discovered in a crisis taut with peril."

In 1982, it was voted number three in the Sight & Sound critics' poll of greatest films. In the 2002 Sight & Sound critics' poll the film was ranked at number eleven. 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). It also ranked at number seventeen in 2012 Sight & Sound directors' poll. In 1998, the film was ranked at number five in Time Out magazine's Top 100 Films (Centenary). Entertainment Weekly voted it the 12th Greatest film of all time in 1999. In 2000, the film was ranked at No.23 in The Village Voice's 100 Greatest Films list. In 2007, the film was ranked at No. 3 by The Guardian's readers' poll on its list of "40 greatest foreign films of all time". The film was voted at No. 57 on the list of "100 Greatest Films" by the prominent French magazine Cahiers du cinéma in 2008. In 2009 the film was voted at No. 2 on the list of The Greatest Japanese Films of All Time by Japanese film magazine Kinema Junpo. Seven Samurai was ranked number one on Empire magazine's list of "The 100 Best Films of World Cinema" in 2010. Film critic Roger Ebert added it to his list of Great Movies in 2001.

Kurosawa both directed and edited many of his films, including Seven Samurai. In 2012, the Motion Picture Editors Guild listed Seven Samurai as the 33rd best-edited film of all time based on a survey of its members. In 2018, it was voted the greatest foreign-language film of all time in BBC's poll of 209 critics in 43 countries. In 2019, when Time Out polled film critics, directors, actors and stunt actors, Seven Samurai was voted the second best action film of all time.


Legacy

Seven Samurai was a technical and creative watershed that became Japan's highest-grossing movie and set a new standard for the industry. It is largely touted as what made the "assembling the team" trope popular in movies and other media. This has since become a common trope in many action movies and heist films.

It has remained highly influential, often seen as one of the most "remade, reworked, referenced" films in cinema. The visuals, plot and dialogue of Seven Samurai have inspired a wide range of filmmakers, ranging from George Lucas to Quentin Tarantino. Elements from Seven Samurai have been borrowed by many films. Examples include plot elements in films such as Three Amigos (1986) by John Landis, visual elements in the large-scale battle scenes of films such as The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers (2002) and The Matrix Revolutions (2003), and borrowed scenes in George Miller's Mad Max: Fury Road (2015).

Sholay (1975), a "Curry Western" Indian film written by Salim–Javed (Salim Khan and Javed Akhtar) and directed by Ramesh Sippy, has a plot that was loosely styled after Seven Samurai. Sholay became the most commercially successful Indian film and revolutionized Bollywood.

There have been pachinko machines based on Seven Samurai in Japan. Seven Samurai pachinko machines have sold 94,000 units in Japan as of March 2018, grossing an estimated $470 million.

Director Zack Snyder said, "Bruce is having to go out and sort of ‘Seven Samurai’ the Justice League together” in the 2017 film Justice League. According to Bryan Young of Syfy Wire, the Marvel Cinematic Universe films Avengers (2012) and Infinity War (2018) also owe "a great debt to" Seven Samurai, noting a number of similar plot and visual elements.

One of the visual elements from Seven Samurai that have inspired a number of films is the use of rain to set the tone for action scenes. Examples of this include Blade Runner (1982), The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers, and The Matrix Revolutions. Other examples of films that reference Seven Samurai include the Australian science fiction film Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior (1981), Mani Ratnam's Indian films such as Thalapathi (1991), the Bollywood film China Gate (1998), the American comedy film Galaxy Quest (1999), and the 2016 remake of The Magnificent Seven.


Remakes

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 an interview with R. B. Gadi, Kurosawa expressed how "the American copy of 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.

The Invincible Six (1970), an American action film directed by Jean Negulesco, has been described as "a knockoff of the Seven Samurai/Magnificent Seven genre set in 1960s Iran."

Battle Beyond the Stars (1980) is an American science fiction film directed by Jimmy T. Murakami and produced by Roger Corman. The film, intended as a "Magnificent Seven in outer space", is based on the plots of The Magnificent Seven and Seven Samurai. The movie acknowledges its debt to Seven Samurai by calling the protagonist's homeworld Akir and its inhabitants the Akira.

The plot of Seven Samurai was re-worked for The Seven Magnificent Gladiators (1983), an Italian sword-and-sandal film.

The steampunk anime series Samurai 7 (2004) is based on Seven Samurai.

Some film critics have noted similarities between Pixar's A Bug's Life (1998) and Seven Samurai.

Several elements from The Seven Samurai are also argued to have been adapted for Star Wars (1977). Plot elements of Seven Samurai are also used in the Star Wars Anthology film Rogue One (2016). The Clone Wars episode "Bounty Hunters" (2008) pays direct homage to Akira Kurosawa by adapting the film's plot, as does The Mandalorian episode "Chapter 4: Sanctuary" (2019).

Seven Swords (2005), a Hong Kong wuxia film produced and directed by Tsui Hark, has a plot revolving around seven warriors helping villagers to defend against mercenaries in homage to Seven Samurai.


Awards and nominations

  • Winner - Silver Lion - Akira Kurosawa
  • Nominated - Golden Lion - Akira Kurosawa
  • 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 - Kohei Ezaki
  • Winner - Best Foreign Director - Akira Kurosawa
  • Winner - Best Foreign Actor - Takashi Shimura