Shichinin no Samurai, or Seven Samurai, is a film directed by the late Akira Kurosawa. He gained initial fame with “Rashomon,” which won the Golden Lion award at Venice in 1951 and brought him international acclaim. The film is action based, character driven with well-developed individuals, and shows the struggles of two opposite groups working to fight together for a common cause.
The film itself was made nine years after WWII and three years after the end of US occupation of Japan. During the US occupation, films like Seven Samurai were banned due to themes of feudal culture and militarism. However, this film was a huge international and domestic success. The film spent well over budget as Akira Kurosawa preferred to focus on perfecting the film first and then the budget. Because the film was so long, he was able to take the time to fully develop his characters. The film has many main characters which Akira Kurosawa meticulously describes and never over-simplifies. This is exemplified as each character is introduced to the audience one by one, and through their various introductions we see their personalities, further developed, refined, and expanded on throughout the rest of the film.
The movie begins with a group of bandits about to raid a small farming village that is on the verge of starvation. This prepares the audience for a vast range of emotions that are sure to follow such a striking setting. With the blessing of the village elder, three farmers go to a neighboring village to try to hire samurai to help protect their village. They meet Kambei, who becomes the leader against the bandits. He tricks a kidnapper to save the life of a young child and through this act, the audience sees that Kambei is smart and able man who is very resourceful. Kambei then recruits young and naïve Katsushirō, an old comrade called Shichirōji, two skilled and friendly fighters named Gorobei and Heihachi, and perfection-driven Kyūzō. Lastly there is Kikuchiyo, who is not a samurai, but relentlessly follows the rag tag group to the village and eventually is allowed into the group due to his resilience and reckless charm.
Throughout the movie Kikuchiyo plays the role of a bridge as he connects the samurai to the farmers, as his father was a farmer. He often soothes the irritation that arises from the contradicting value and goals of the samurai and farmers. A bond is formed between the lethal samurai and the, at first, timid and confused farmers. The bond is seen when a gaggle of young farm kids follow Kikuchiyo around the village or when the farmers share their meager portions of food with the samurai. The film focuses on the group over the individual, but individuality is still important for the dynamic of the group.
This unlikely bond forms a tight barricade against the raiding bandits. The classic theme of the weak helping the poor takes a twist as the farmers learn to help and defend themselves and play key roles in the final battles. Akira Kurosawa effectively portrays different groups and peoples in feudal Japan, from the farmers to the bandits who are both starving, and how they interact with each other. The similarities and differences between the groups and peoples that pushes them together and pulls them apart is also well-presented.
This film has something for everyone which helps add to its allure and explains its appeal to its far-reaching audience. Romance and passion blooms between Katsushirō and Manō’s daughter Shino. Action and violence occur, especially in the final skirmish, as the farmers, bandits, and samurai, clash on the battlefield. Comedy is present, especially surrounding Kikuchiyo, who constantly makes a fool of himself and makes funny faces mocking people that the farming children love. Sadness and loss also permeate the film for war is not without its price. In short, whatever you are looking for, “Seven Samurai” is sure to have it and it will be delivered in a masterful way that only Akira Kurosawa can do.