A village is constantly attacked by well armed bandits. One day after an attack they seek the wisdom of an elder who tells them they cannot afford weapons, but they can find men with weapons, samurai, who will fight for them, if they find samurai who are in down on their luck and wondering where their next meal will come from. They find a very experienced samurai with a good heart who agrees to recruit their party for them. He selects five genuine samurai and one who is suspect but the seven return to the village to protect it from the forty plus bandits.
Well, if you haven't seen Seven Samurai then you're not really qualified to call yourself a film fan, basically. One of the most influential movies of all time, that still holds up extremely well nearly 50 years later.
The archetypal action film, Seven Samurai is also one of the richest works to ever be committed to celluloid. Each of its characters is extraordinarily realized; each has his or her own arc, his or her own vital part to play in the film's slow progression towards its dramatic finale. Typically, Kurosawa has put the film together using an exceeding degree of artistry; each and every shot, each action sequence, is exquisitely composed; and yet none seems contrived or out-of-place within the overall fabric of the work. Everything is beautifully conceived and in focus, both literally and figuratively.
When watching Seven Samurai, movie lovers will immediately recognize that several of its key elements can be readily detected in countless similar films made during the last half-century. The audition scenes, in which several samurai are recruited for the difficult task of defending a farming town from a group of bandits, strikes a particularly familiar chord, as do those showing the samurai training the lowly villagers to fight and use weapons. Indeed, the theme of a highly experienced group of "tough guys" taking up the cause of the disenfranchised has become something of an action film cliche, portions of which echo throughout the American western, as well as its progeny (think The Dirty Dozen, The Road Warrior or even television's The A Team).
But what really stands out in Seven Samurai are its characters. They run the gamut, from elder teacher to hopeful youth, stoic warrior to undisciplined brigand. Kurosawa even finds room for a youthful romance, not to mention the mix of poor and beleaguered townspeople he depicts within the setting of the town. Perhaps its no wonder the enemy bandits are virtually faceless-- there is so much conflict and passion present within the group of protagonists, the villains need not be more than a vague threat.
Through it all Kurosawa never forgets who these people are and where they stand in comparison to one another. Obviously, the samurai are, for the most part, samurai, while the townspeople are merely peasants, lacking even in funds to pay their noble defenders. Kurosawa deftly illustrates these class differences by having one peasant fear horribly for the honor of his daughter, who he suspects will be lured by the wealth of the samurai; and also by giving us one samurai who is no samurai at all, but merely a peasant himself whose own farming village was in his youth destroyed by marauding warriors. The film thus wraps a a portrait of class conflict in a cloak of solidarity. The samurai unite to defend the poor peasants, but the ending is not exactly happy for them. Nor are the peasants completely honorable. We learn, for instance, that they have in the past murdered defeated samurai and looted their bodies, and it becomes apparent late in the film that their claims of poverty are perhaps not as truthful as at first seemed apparent.
So why do the samurai defend them so valiantly? For honor? For love of adventure? The answer to this question is left intentionally vague; it is up to each viewer to draw his or her own conclusions. It is to the film's credit that it forces such questions upon us while never allowing them to cause the motivations of its characters to seem untrue.
Modern viewers will find the action sequences of Seven Samurai to be restrained. There are, for instance, no "Gladiator" or "Braveheart" moments in which limbs are visibly hacked off, blood flies and speakers pound with booming audio. But the action is wonderfully filmed and there is some early use of slow motion to accentuate key moments. The 3 1/2 hour running time may also deter some, but I find the length to be one of the film's charms; it takes its dear sweet time in exposing its riches, and no single moment feels underdeveloped or awkward. Don't miss it.
Akira Kurosawa's masterpiece... The Japanese equivalent to Orson Welles' Citizen Kane.. I say it's just as good, if not even better. Not only Kurosawa's most well known film, but the most widely recognized Japanese film ever made. This movie will forever be known as a milestone in motion picture history.
The story revolves around a village that has become a group of bandits' common looting and pillaging ground. The villagers cannot take this any longer and go to town to hire warriors to defend the village from the bandits. A wandering ronin, Kambei (Takashi Shimura) agrees to help them and with his help, they recruit six others that agree to take the job. The seven samurai teach the villagers how to stand up to the bandits and defend themselves. Finally, when the time comes, they engage in a fierce battle with the attacking bandits.
About once in every 20 years or so we are gifted with a film that has the meaning, power, richness, and technique that The Seven Samurai has. I cannot urge anyone enough to see this film, the images are true cinematic poetry rich with so much emotion that I cannot even describe them in words. If you have never seen any of Kurosawa's works, then please see Seven Samurai... you will witness the true beauty, excellence and magic that the art form known as film is capable of.
I discovered 16 of Kurosawa's best known films before returning to the which is commonly thought of as his masterpiece. Seven Samurai is unlike any other grand classic ever produced. It's basic plot can be summed up in a single easy sentence, yet its refinement and execution rival any movie you've ever seen.
The premise: in chaotic 16th century Japan, as marauders threaten raid villages, one village hires samurai to defend it from a group of bandits. Yet Kurosawa (also co-writer) developed these characters in a way unheard of for what might pass as an epic action film. To its astonishing credit, through all of its 207 minutes running time, Seven Samurai never falters or bores. And if the script is a marvel in itself, the acting and production design than derive from it are nothing short of superlative. It is said that Kurosawa forced the villagers (from supporting role to mere extra) to live together as a community during production and be their characters, each and every one of which he had drawn out specifically. This unusual technique gave Seven Samurai a feel of authenticity unparalleled in film history.
The samurai themselves are so richly given life to in the screenplay that little more would have been needed to make them memorable characters, yet the main cast pay off at every turn, and though every one of the seven main actors give in perfect performances (never as I had feared before watching it do you confuse them, even in the chaotic battle scenes), two immortal roles have a particularly resounding effect: Takashi Shimura (Kambei Shimada), who plays the leader of the ragged band of samurai, gives his sage and venerable warrior a god-like intensity that makes the magnetic charisma of his character unquestionable. One of the easiest leaders to root for in all the history of film-making. Stealing the show however, albeit by a very thin margin, is longtime Kurosawa favorite coworker Toshiro Mifune (Kikuchiyo) as the rogue seventh, the black sheep of the herd, giving the bravura ultimate performance of a lifetime paved throughout with great roles.
The story follows them and the villagers, equally nuanced and developed, through their encounter, training, eventual bonding and the big inevitable fight for survival. Unlike subsequent very successful remakes (i.e. Magnificent Seven), seven Samurai transcended excellency by having many layers (nothing or no one is white or black: everything exists in shades of gray) and thus being very real and human. Even without the menace, its interpersonal dynamics would have made it perfect human drama, subtle, balancing comedy, intensity, realism, drama and a deep philosophy with astonishing ease, yet the menace does materialize and thus Seven Samurai unleashes its violence in a series of action scenes crafted with such vision and ingenuity as has ever reached an action film (the frenetic battle scenes at the end rather evoke Saving Private Ryan in their relentlessness).
In the end, what made this into solid gold was, at the core, Akira Kurosawa, who would, despite directing many further masterpieces (Throne of Blood, Yojimbo, Red Beard, Dersu Uzala, Kagemusha, Ran), would never top this one. Throughout his life, Kurosawa kept confirming his status as perhaps the greatest director ever. If so, Seven Samurai is the ultimate proof of that truth. One of the very best films ever made and personal all-time favorite.
* Filming had to be stopped several times due to a shortage of horses for the final battle sequences.
* Seiji Miyaguchi, who played the taciturn samurai Kyuzo, had not touched a sword at all before this movie. Editing and careful cinematography were both used to give the impression that he was a master.
* Toho pulled the plug on the project several times when it ran over budget, forcing director Akira Kurosawa to go back and personally argue with the board of directors who were convinced they were making a flop.
* Was voted the 12th Greatest Film of all time by Entertainment Weekly, being one of two films in the magazine's top 20 greatest films not in English. Federico Fellini's Dolce vita, La (1960) is No. 6.
* The movie is set in 1586. We learn during the scroll scene that the real Kikuchiyo was born in year two of the Tensho era (1574) and is now 13 years old. Japanese convention considered a child to be one year old when he was born and advanced his age one year each new year.
* First use of a scene which is now commonplace in cinema: The approaching horde coming into view as they crest a hilltop, specifically when Kikuchiyo sees the mounted bandits approaching.
* The simultaneous production of this film and Gojira (1954) nearly forced Tôhô Kabushiki Kaisha into bankruptcy.
* Often credited as the first modern action movie. Many now commonly used cinematographic and plot elements - such as slow motion for dramatic flair and the reluctant hero to name a couple - are seen for perhaps the first time. Other movies may have used them separately before, but Akira Kurosawa brought them all together.
* According to a Japanese film scholar, one of the things that inspired this film was an account that director Akira Kurosawa read about a village that actually did hire samurai to protect them from marauding bandits.
* Akira Kurosawa's original idea for the film was to make it about a day in the life of a samurai, beginning with him rising from bed and ending with him making some mistake that required him to kill himself to save face. Despite a good deal of research, he did not feel he had enough solid factual information to make the movie, but came across an anecdote about a village hiring samurai to protect them and decided to use that idea. Kurosawa wrote a complete dossier for each character with a speaking role. In it were details about what they wore, their favorite foods, their past history, their speaking habits and every other detail he could think of about them. No other Japanese director had ever done this before.
* One of the samurai who is seen walking through the town was played by a young Tatsuya Nakadai. This uncredited bit part is believed to have been only the second film appearance by Nakadai, who would quickly become one of Japan's most accomplished actors, and who had a long working relationship with Akira Kurosawa. His active career continues more than 50 years after this film was released.
* Kikuchiyo is a girl's name made up of two parts, like Betty Sue in America. That's why the samurai laugh so hard at the name. Obviously Toshirô Mifune's character is illiterate, and it's a very subtle thing that the other samurai choose to tease him about the age and not choosing a girl's name! Kiku translates to Chrysanthemum and Chiyo to one thousand generations.
* Early in the writing process, six of the samurai were conceptualized, all loosely based on historic figures. Originally Toshirô Mifune was meant to play Kyuzo, the extremely stoic master swordsman. However, Kurosawa and his collaborating writers decided that they needed a character they could more identity with who wasn't a fully-fledged samurai, so Kikuchiyo was created. Since Kikuchiyo didn't have a historic basis, Mifune was allowed, for a Kurosawa film, to do an unprecedented amount of improvisation in the part.
# SPOILER: Heihachi is the first of the Seven Samurai to die in the film. Minoru Chiaki, who played Heihachi, was the last of the title character actors to die in real life (in 1999).
# SPOILER: The only three samurai survivors, Shichiroji, Katsushiro and Kambei, were the first three title character actors to die in real life: Daisuke Katô; (Shichiroji) died in 1975, Isao Kimura (Katsushiro) died in 1981 and Takashi Shimura (Kambei) died in 1982.
# SPOILERS: None of the seven samurai are bested in sword-fights, archery or spear-fighting by the bandits. All of the four samurai who are killed in the film are shot by a musket. The only one of the seven who fires a musket in return is Kikuchiyo, who is not technically a samurai and doesn't kill anyone with the shot.