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How many samurai are there in Seven Samurai?

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    Yingzhe

    “Seven, obviously.”

    Since I’ve gotten the obvious answer out of the way, I wanted to ask about this. Excluding the samurai we see in the town, is there any information available regarding the total number of samurai in the conflict between the seven and the bandits? Presumably at least some of the bandits are samurai or former samurai (I would imagine the two leaders). No concrete indication is given in the film (at least not that I have noticed over the years), but perhaps secondary material exists that I am as of yet unaware? Are all 40 bandits samurai? Only some of them? Just the leaders?

    Thoughts?

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    Ugetsu

    Its an interesting question – I’d leave a definitive answer to someone who knows more about the period than I do, but from my limited knowledge of the time, most ‘bandits’ were considered samurai gone bad, but the at the same time the term ‘samurai’ had become quite fluid, extending from the traditional officer and retainer staff of nobility to pretty much any man under arms. I think it was only in the later period (17th Century onwards) when the term ‘samurai’ applied strictly to the retainers of the most senior noble families.

    The bandits of course did have some samurai armour and weapons, but the haphazard distribution would suggest it was loot rather than genuine family weaponry. There is nothing I recall from the film (there may of course have been subtleties in the original Japanese script which are beyond me) to suggest the ‘seven’ considered themselves to be fighting ‘equals’ in that sense. One of the themes of the film of course is that the breakdown of societal order had made such distinctions somewhat pointless.

    In a tactical sense (I think this is important because the film treats military strategy very seriously), there is nothing in the bandits attacks to suggest they realised that they were against a more sophisticated enemy, and so should adjust their tactics accordingly – which suggests they were not ‘officer class’ material.

    So on balance I would conclude that the bandits were most likely drawn from the lower levels of professional soldiers at the time who would not have been considered as ‘samurai’ (or by extension, ronin), by the samurai themselves.

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    periklis

    A tricky question, if not a semantic trap. Brings to mind the, “how many were the three musketeers”, question. Three if you count the three protagonists, four if you count in D’artagnan. It probably reflects the individuals embracing the values of the certain warrior caste in each piece of work, more than refer to the sworn members of that cast. So I’d guess, counting Kikuchiyo (Mifune) as a samurai, regardless of not been sworn one, that’ d make the seven samurai… seven. And every other character in the film not a samurai, as they don’t seem to reflect or embody the values of that particular warrior caste.

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    Yingzhe

    I ask the question because during the Sengoku period the classes weren’t fixed the way they were during the Tokugawa period, and therefore it would be inaccurate to refer to it as a “caste system.” For example, Toyotomi Hideyoshi–one of Oda Nobunaga’s top generals, and later the Shogun. But he started out as a peasant warrior, not even a samurai (much like Kikuchiyo).

    Does anyone know if Kurosawa ever made any specific notes regarding the status of the bandits? It seems most likely to me that they were (at least partially) former footsoldiers who were on the losing side at one point or who had abandoned their liege. Although perhaps it doesn’t matter, to Kikuchiyo’s point, they’re the product of the samurai, even if they aren’t samurai themselves.

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    Ugetsu

    Kurosawa of course was very knowledgable about the period and the history of the Samurai in general and he always worked hard for historical and military authenticity in his films, so I think we can take it as read that he and his scriptwriters did give some active thought as to who the bandits were and whether they were ronin/samurai.

    I would guess that if the decision had been made that at least some were genuine samurai (in the way understood in later eras), then I think it would have found its way into the script. I don’t know much Japanese so I can’t comment on the type of speech and dialect given to the bandits (not that they say much in the film), but there would surely be a hint there as to Kurosawa’s intentions. The bandit leader (the one with the crescent moon helmet) seems at times to me to behave in a samurai-like fashion.

    But in the absence of other evidence, I’m inclined to think that if Kurosawa thought that one or more of the bandits shared the background of the ‘seven’, it would have found its way into the script in some way. And that its not there indicates to me that he deliberately decided that the ‘bandits’ were just that – criminals and ex foot soldiers gone bad.

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    lawless

    I’m not convinced that the status of the bandits would have found its way into the script, particularly since Kurosawa deliberately did not flesh them out as characters. Although my assessment of the film and Vili‘s differ, we both agree that many important points, like how Rikuchi’s wife wound up as a concubine to the bandit leader and the role Manzo played in that, are conveyed indirectly. Also, wouldn’t a Japanese audience likely know the answer without having to be told?

    All this is to say that I have assumed at least some of the bandits were desperate or disgraced ronin. Heihachi wasn’t exactly an accomplished samurai, either. Part of what Kurosawa seems to be saying is that a group formed for right and humane reasons, using proper tactics and strategies and with an altruistic motivation rather than a selfish and destructive one, will outperform a group composed of those only interested in survival through the use of brute force even if their origins are similar.

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    Vili Maunula

    This is a very interesting question indeed, albeit one whose answer I feel depends on your definition of a “samurai”. In addition to the answers already given by periklis and Ugetsu, I suppose one could argue that outside of the town, there are in fact no samurai, at least if our definition of samurai goes back to its original meaning, which I understand to specifically refer to servants of nobility. But I don’t know nearly enough about the historical context to really argue for this, and it has already been pointed out that the definition has changed over the centuries anyway. And this answer would clearly go directly against the film.

    I have always somehow assumed that the film intends the bandits to be a counterpart to the samurai who are nobly defending the village, creating a dualism that is so typical of many of Kurosawa’s films. In particular, it would be similar to the situation between Murakami and Yusa in Stray Dog, where a world in turbulence has given birth to one ethical agent and one unethical one. Because of this, I have considered the bandits a type of failed samurai. However, off the top of my head, I cannot really think of any evidence for them actually being samurai. And whether they should be counted as samurai once they become bandits, I don’t know. In a sense, I suppose that is a very core question in the film.

    To add to my non-answers to the question, when discussing the film with Joan Mellen in the mid-70s, Kurosawa seems to identify only the seven samurai as the real samurai in the entire film:

    Mellen: But some samurai had refused to help the group of peasants.

    Kurosawa: I was revealing there the worst side of the samurai class. Some ambitious samurai were naturally intent on only advancing their own careers and did not pay any attention to the weak an the needy. At the time there were many samurai who were traveling all over Japan in order to find better employment under more powerful lords. These seven samurai are the real samurai, but in the worldly sense there was something missing in them because they couldn’t get jobs and further their careers.

    (Cardullo 62-63)

    In a footnote, Mellen then explains that “Many unemployed samurai, no doubt with low moral discipline and status, became bandits out of the sheer struggle for survival.”

    Seven Samurai was one of Kurosawa’s most meticulously planned films, not least because it was built on top of two unfilmed screenplays — A Samurai’s Day and The Lives of Japanese Swordsmen — that Kurosawa and Hashimoto had initially been working on but discarded. If someone has the time and the language skills, the Digital Archive has over a hundred pages of handwritten notes by Kurosawa that flesh out the characters, their backgrounds and the world that they inhabit. Somewhere in there may also be information about the bandits, although I cannot be sure.

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