Sunday, June 10, 2012

The Seven Samurai

Originally Written and Posted at on 11/18/07 w/ Additional Edits & Revisions.

Directed by Akira Kurosawa with a script he co-wrote with Hideo Oguni & Shinobu Hasmimoto. The Seven Samurai tells the story of poor 16th Century farmers whose village is often attacked and ransacked by bandits. To combat the bandits for the upcoming harvest, one of the farmers finds help in seven samurai swordsmen. While the plot is simple, Kurosawa's tale is very complex in unveiling how seven man, who are flawed but are willing to help out the helpless despite their lack of mastery in the art of samurai. With an all-star cast that includes Kurosawa regulars Takashi Shimura and Toshiro Mifune along with Daisuke Kato, Yoshio Inaba, Minoru Chiaki, Isao Kimura, and Seiji Miyaguchi as the title characters. The Seven Samurai is an enduring and epic film from Akira Kurosawa.

With a civil war brewing as a group of village farmers are living in fear due to bandits who threaten their lives and steal their food. A young farmer named Rikichi (Yoshio Tsuchiya) wants to fight back but many fear about dying as they turn to the oldest villager in Gisaku (Kuninori Takado) who agree that they should fight back with some help from samurai warriors. Rikichi and a few farmers go to the city to find samurai warriors where at first, they're unsuccessful until they see a man named Kambei Shimada (Takashi Shimura) saving a child from a thief by posing as a priest. Also watching is a hot-headed samurai named Kikuchiyo (Toshiro Mifune) and a younger samurai named Katsushiro Okamoto (Isao Kimura) who yearns to be Kambei's disciple. Kambei takes in Katsushiro as the villagers ask for Kambei's help who takes the job for three square meals a day as he and Katsushiro recruit various samurai warriors including Kambei's old friend Shichiroji (Daisuke Kato) while Gorobei Katayama (Yoshio Inaba) wants to help out. Gorobei brings in a woodcutter named Heihachi Hayashida (Minoru Chiaki) to the team as a stone-faced yet skilled swordsman named Kyuzo (Seiji Miyaguchi) also joins while Kikuchiyo wants to be part of the gang despite his crazed personality and claims to come from a long line of samurai families.

When Kikuchiyo follows them as Kambei reluctantly lets him be part of the team as they arrive to the village where a farmer named Manzo (Kamatari Fujiwara) decides to turn his daughter Shino (Keiko Tsushima) into a boy to hide from the samurai. Upon their arrival, Kikuchiyo bangs the alarm wood to get the villagers' attention where Kambei meets Gisaku to discuss the defensive plans with Gorobei and Katsushiro helping out while the rest of the samurai warriors train the villagers. After learning about a samurai who had fled the village to leave the villagers in fear, Kikuchiyo reveals to the team about being a farmer's son as the samurai learn about their plight. Katsushiro meanwhile, has caught the attention of Shino as he learns about her identity while the samurai warriors learn about about some flaws in the defense as Kambei makes some decision as he decides to ease the tension by having the villagers and farmers working together for the next harvest. Things start to go well as the farmers become more confident in defending themselves as a wall is built along with new water gaps. After finding three horses outside of the village, Katsushiro and the samurai attack the three bandits while learning where they're hiding.

A plan to attack their home base with Rikichi leads to a great discovery where the attack was a success but at great cost. With the bandits coming, Kambei and the samurai warriors get ready for battle with the villages helping out as the three-day battle leads to dire consequences forcing the samurai warriors to ponder what got gained and lost.

For a film as epic and grand as this film, Kurosawa definitely raised the bar high on what he wanted to achieve. While the film is about farmers hiring samurai warriors to protect their village from bandits. The plot maybe simple but the story and complexity of it is far more ambitious. Really, it's a study of both the farmers and samurai warriors where they each have some kind of tension whether its class ruling or their perception of each other that at first, becomes stereotypical. Once the story develops, Kurosawa and his writers find depth in both the farmers and samurai warriors. They're flawed yet human for the audience to relate to their struggles and such. The samurai warriors each have a different personality trait that distinguishes them from another. You have a leader, a planner, a morale booster, a skilled warrior, a teacher, a hot-headed comic relief, and a young apprentice.

The complexity of Kurosawa's script shows that despite their skills and personalities, the samurai warriors are there for a reason. They're not fighting for some reward, some gold, or anything that they could really gain from. Instead, they fight for doing the right thing, even if it's tough on them. Then there's the farmers, they start out as people who fear for their lives but know they couldn't do something. Once they develop, they become more confident yet have individual problems to deal with. Manzo is fearing that his daughter would fall for a samurai while Rikichi is avoiding any issue that dealt with his wife. There's these rich characters in the film and through the script, it slowly develops the characters and the momentum of what's to come. Yet, its deliberate pacing pays off right in the third act for the battle scenes.

Kurosawa's direction is superb in every way. From the theatricality he stages for some of the film's interior sequences to the more epic, Western-like scale for the battle scenes. The interiors at the place where the farmers stayed in the city to find samurai that shows both their sad nature and the comical taunts of its residents. A lot of the acting, though stylized, has a theatrical sense as if they're doing something like Shakespear where they observe both the drama and tension that goes on. Kurosawa's use of compositions are very hypnotic to the way he presents scenes, notably a funeral scene that is then followed by Kikuchiyo to raise the banner. That scene presents a shift in emotions from something sad to something inspirational despite the tragedy while it was a way for the hot-headed Kikuchiyo to display his own emotions privately.

Then comes this big battle scene where Kurosawa is at the height of his presentation. With help from his longtime cinematographer Asakazu Nakai, the tension and look of the battle scenes are wonderfully presented while the coverage of the attacks are bigger than anything captured on screen. With Kurosawa, serving as editor, the cuts aren't quick but captures the intensity and manic tone of the battle. The best sequence of those battles is the final day with rain drenched and everything is black, white, and gray as the drama and chaos that ensued is wonderfully presented. With Kurosawa also using his side-wipe trademark cuts to shift scene to scene, the result is extremely solid in every way.

For the film's ending, Kurosawa and his writers definitely bring ambiguity to the film. Instead of who won the battle, it becomes about the gain and loss. Therefore, a few survivors is forced to ponder what was gained and lost. So in many respects, someone did won but someone else also lost and it therefore presents this moral ambiguity in the end. Overall, credit goes to Kurosawa for not just his presentation but also challenging his audience into bringing more depth into a film that just could've been another typical samurai picture.

Cinematographer Asakazu Nakai does some amazing work that just doesn't capture some of Japan's beauty in the forest and village but also the contrasting world of the city that's very industrialized and modern. Nakai's interior work is brilliant for its shadow-like tone to bring the tension and intimacy surround the samurai warriors and villagers while a lot of the exteriors in the day time is very spacious and peaceful with a dreamy look for the sequences involving Katsushiro and Shino. The black-and-white photography of Nakai is exquisite while adding style to the action that included slow motion camera shots to convey the drama of the action. The battle sequence feature some of Nakai's finest work including the final day in the rain as the bleak tone captures the fervent chaos and troubling aftermath of the battle. The result is just some of the best cinematography captured on film.

Production designer So Matsuyama does great work in creating 16th century Japanese housing and villages that are in line with traditional Japan that also includes some great costumes of samurai uniforms and robes by costume designers Kohei Ezaki and Mieko Yamaguchi. Sound recordist Fumio Yanoguchi and effects editor Ichiro Minawa do excellent work in creating the atmosphere and intensity of the film’s battle sequence. Music composer Fumio Hayasaka creates an amazing film score that mixes a wide variety of tones to accompany the film's mix of emotions and themes. From traditional, orchestral, dream-like score to accompany the romance of Katsushiro and Shino to the intense, Japanese-percussion music for some of the film's tense moments and battle sequence. Overall, the score is truly one of the best.

The film's cast is definitely unique that includes several small performances from Shinpei Takagi and Shin Otomo as the leading bandits who appear briefly in the opening but they return near the end as they reveal more about their motivation. In the role of the villagers, Kuninori Takado is great as the village's patriarch while Bokuzen Hidari is great as Yohei, one of the film's comic reliefs who has a lot of fear while having funny scenes with Toshiro Mifune. Kamatari Fujiwara is excellent as the fearful Manzo whose belief that his daughter being in love with a samurai will spell dishonor for him and his daughter. Yukiko Shimazaki appears briefly as Rikichi's wife while Keiko Tsushima is good as Shino, Manzo's daughter who falls for Katsushiro while in conflict over her role and honor to her father. Yoshio Tsuchiya is great as the young farmer Rikichi who hides a painful secret about his wife while hoping to fight back against the bandits.

In the roles of the seven samurai warriors, the performances Daisuke Kato as Shichiroji, Minoru Chiaki as Heihachi, and Yoshio Inaba as Gorobei are very memorable with each actor having individual moments. Kato as Kambei's old associate who, despite his paunch feature, is a skilled warrior and teacher while Chiaki is the film's good-hearted soul who brings hope in dark moments, and Inaba as an experienced organizer at battle-planning. Seiji Miyaguchi gives a powerful, stoic performance as the emotionless, skilled Kyuzo, a warrior who amazes his fellow warriors, notably Katsushiro who is impressed by his bravery. Isao Kimura is great as the young samurai Katsushiro who is trying to learn the ways of being a samurai while falling for Shino, as he tries to figure out the role of being a samurai.

The film's two best performances come from Kurosawa regulars Takashi Shimura and Toshiro Mifune. Shimura is extremely brilliant as the brave, wise Kambei, a warrior who knows what to do while is the voice of reason for everyone including the village. Shimura, who previously played the dying Watanabe in Ikiru, displays a sense of humor and command that is really unforgettable while his performance is also inspirational in how he views things and the ways of the world. Toshiro Mifune is brilliant as the hot-headed, comical Kikuchiyo who is hoping for some excitement and proving himself to be a samurai. Mifune's performance is mostly used for humor yet he manages to show his range in scenes involving death and the hardships of the farmer as Mifune's performance is truly memorable in every frame he's in.

While it's no doubt that The Seven Samurai isn't just one of the greatest films ever made or one of the best movies made by Akira Kurosawa. The Seven Samurai is a must-see for anyone who loves movies. While it is a long film, it is also a worthwhile for how people get ready for battle with a team to help lead the way where it would have characters audiences can root for. With fantastic performances from Takashi Shimura and Toshiro Mifune, it's a film that is no doubt inspiring and fun to watch. In the end, for a movie that has excitement, humor, drama, and great battle scenes, The Seven Samurai is the film to go see.

Akira Kurosawa Films: (Sanshiro Sugata) - (The Most Beautiful) - (Sanshiro Sugata Part II) - (The Men Who Tread on the Tiger's Tail) - No Regrets on Our Youth - (One Wonderful Sunday) - Drunken Angel - (The Quiet Duel) - Stray Dog - Scandal (1950 film) - Rashomon - The Idiot (1951 film) - Ikiru - (I Live in Fear) - Throne of Blood - (The Lower Depths (1957 film)) - The Hidden Fortress - The Bad Sleep Well - Yojimbo - Sanjuro - High and Low - Red Beard - Dodesukaden - Dersu Uzala - Kagemusha - Ran - Dreams (1990 film) - (Rhapsody in August) - (Madadayo)

Related: The Magnificent Seven - A Bug's Life

© thevoid99 2012


Chip Lary said...

I agree with you on how great this film is. I consider it nothing less than the greatest non-English language movie ever made.

thevoid99 said...

It's probably the film that everyone should see not just in terms of what Kurosawa is but what a foreign film could do.

It's still my favorite Kurosawa film.

Diana said...

I've never had a huge interest for foreign films, especially Asian ones, so I didn't get to see this one, but I've heard so many things about it, I must watch it soon! Amazing review, as always Steven!

thevoid99 said...

@Diana-See this film now. There's a lot of Kurosawa films that could be great intros to the man.

This film is pretty much a door that will open up new worlds of what action films and ensemble films should be. It's long but worth seeing. SEE IT NOW!!!