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Kurosawa Adaptations: Samurai 7

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    lawless

    Copied from here. Date of original post: September 15, 2011

    A friend lent me the entire series of 26 episodes [of the anime adaptation of Seven Samurai, Samurai 7] on 7 DVDs. These are my thoughts based on viewing the first disc, containing the first four episodes, and reading the inteviews accompanying the first two discs:

    – This is not a remake. A remake in any medium would be unnecessary and boring. Unlike others, though, I’d call this an adaptation — a loose one, maybe, but still an adaptation. It’s set in a schizo tech, cyperpunk version of Japan, in which the bandits are former samurai with mechanical upgrades and technology. It is not set in historical Japan. It is not even set in our reality; it is set in an alternate reality or alternate universe with similarities to historical Japan.

    – As is generally the case with adaptations from one medium to another, the story and characters have been altered. So far, the characters serve the same function and do many of the same things as before, but their looks, personalities, and relationships with each other are different. For example, Rikichi is the only farmer who looks for samurai; he is joined by Kirara, a young Shinto priestess from the village with a water pendant that tells her when they’ve found a candidate, and her younger sister, Komachi. Komachi provides some of the comic relief; she and Kikuchiyo bond almost from the beginning, harking back to later scenes in the original in which Kikuchiyo charms the village children.

    – The best analogy I can make is to the current BBC series Sherlock, which is an alternate reality/alternate universe version of Sherlock Holmes set in 21st century England. It also retains the characters from the original, but their personalities and backstory run the gamut from somewhat different (Sherlock himself, although we see him at an earlier stage in his life than usual) to a lot different (Lestrade, Mycroft), and the stories themselves mostly only nod at canon.

    – In addition to being conceived of as something that could stand by itself, it was in part conceived as a gateway to the original for Japanese youth. I suspect that the desire to appeal broadly to both boys and girls explains the inclusion of Kirara and Komachi. I also suspect, but don’t yet know for sure, that Shino has been excised from the narrative and that Kirara, whom Katsushiro clearly admires, substitutes for her in some aspects of the story. While I find Kirara and Komachi less interesting than the movie characters, and the anime Rikichi, who so far is more of a plot device and chorus than anything else, less interesting than the Rikichi of the movie, I can understand why they were included. Kirara drives much of the plot, whether carried over from the original or entirely new to the anime.

    – Even though this is an alternate reality/universe Japan, there’s still social commentary. We learn more about the city where the samurai are recruited, which is ruled by the now-ascendant merchant class, and a subplot has been added about corrupt merchant politicians. In addition, we see the inception of Kambei and Shichiroji’s last battle. The warring period, while set further in the past than in the original, forms a backdrop to the anime. By making Kikuchiyo a cyborg, the similarity between him and the bandits, and the differences between him and the other samurai, are underlined. He still bears an outsized weapon, but is played even more broadly; how much this undermines the connection between him and the farmers, or whether the connection is made at all, isn’t clear yet.

    -Despite the changes, there is some carryover from the movie. The writing is probably the weakest part of the anime (the adaptation itself, and the changes driven by it, don’t bother me as much as they seem to bother most of the other people who have commented), but a not inconsiderable number of lines and scenes from the movie show up in the anime.

    -Visually, it’s well-done, especially in comparison to other anime series. (Whether it’s to one’s taste or not is another matter. I’ll concede that the art style and color palette are eclectic.) For me, anime works well in movies by artist-directors such as Hiyao Miyazaki and Satoshi Kon, but is less satisfying as a method of adapting manga. Samurai 7 follows the convention of anime TV shows by including opening and closing songs that are not always that clearly tied into the story, recapping the previous episode, and previewing the next one, but its artwork is lightyears ahead of most anime series. This was treated more like an anime movie. Also, by using completely new character designs and by being based on a live-action source, the series completely avoids altering or degrading the original character designs, one of the biggest complaints fans of the manga [like me] have about using anime to adapt manga.

    I’ll return to this when I finish the next disc.

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    lawless

    Copied from here. Date of original post: approx. November 7, 2011.

    All right, if I don’t do this soon, I will completely forget what I watched and have to watch it over again, so here goes. I watched the second disc (episodes five through eight) of Samurai 7 over a week ago now; as some of you know, an internet outage due to a freak snowstorm when I planned on posting about this led to this delay.

    I am starting to get impatient with the slow pace and the side plots. While a lot of the dialogue from the film made its way to the anime, there’s a lot in the anime, which runs approximately 600 minutes in total over 26 episodes (that’s almost three times the length of the movie), that isn’t in the movie. While the first disc (four episodes) gave me hope that the additional storylines would be tied together and make some sense — the fact that the city or town where the villagers search for samurai is shown to be a threatening place run by a cabal of merchants, a class historically looked down on (according to Stephen Prince’s commentary on Yojimbo, they were the lowest recognized class) seemed promising — now I’m not so sure. The plot meanders, there are fights that seem to exist just for the sake of having set pieces, and elements seem thrown together.

    As for the development of the story: We’ve met all of the seven eventual samurai by now: Kambei, Kikuchiyo, Katsushiro, Gorobei, Kyuzo, who works for the merchant government and hasn’t joined the group yet, Heihachi, who’s more sheer comic relief and made to seem stupidly goofy rather than quirky (though the dialogue from the scene in which Gorobei finds him is almost word-for-word from the movie), who we encounter in episode 5, and Shichiroji, who we encounter in episode 7 and whom Kambei calls “his old wife.” No wonder some people I know slash the characters.

    With the exception of the semi-mechanical Kikuchiyo and Heihachi, who is red-haired, goofy, and wears aviator goggles (I don’t know why, other than for the cyberpunk vibe), they are all younger and better-looking than their movie counterparts and, as is the norm with anime, with hair colors all over the place. Be thankful they’re all hair colors that exist in nature and don’t come out of a bottle. There is a lot of anime in which the characters have pink and green and blue hair, and not all of it is set in alternative universes. To a large extent, though, this is driven by aesthetics and identifiability, not plot.

    Shichiroji’s backstory is the same as in the movie, except that instead of masquerading as a peddler (or maybe he really was a peddler?) he’s paired up with a beautiful young woman who runs a place on the outskirts of the city called the Healing Village. It’s an entertainment complex, with women resembling geisha, food, and drink — kind of a PG-rated version of the officially sanctioned red light districts of historical Japan. She took him in after the battle in which he almost lost his life, and he’s grateful, although it’s not clear if he loves her. She, on the other hand, is clearly in love with him, and is angry and heartbroken when, after promising her he’d stay by her side (before Kambei showed up), he leaves. The episode that introduces him is probably the best of the four on this disc, and it’s visually stunning. In fact, the artwork is one of the best and most consistent things about this series.

    I’m starting to get tired of the ways in which some of the characters are dumbed down or changed, especially Heihachi and Rikichi, who is something of a spineless wimp. However, that’s not true of all of them. This will probably seem like heresy, but I find this Kikuchiyo, other than being more broadly a buffoon than the one in the movie — in part because he tries to pull off heroics without thinking through the consequences, and thus is constantly getting in trouble, captured, etc., which the others have to get him out of — pretty faithful in terms of personality and function (though clearly not in terms of looks!) to the original. I also like this Katsushiro a lot. Yes, it’s now clear that they’re setting up a romance between him and the priestess Kirara, which seems to confirm my guess that there’s no Shino in this version (there’s no identifiable Manzo either, although there is a farmer who argues his position about the bandits and the samurai) [I’ve since learned that there is in fact a Shino and that Manzo becomes an identifiable character later on], but they make a cute, typical anime couple. And he is in many ways a less complex character than the Katsushiro of the movie. But he’s also more likable and appealing; while Ko Kimura’s Katsushiro is a callow hero worshiper who’s a bit immature and afraid, this Katsushiro, while clearly a beginner in terms of skill, has more gumption.

    The disc ends with them making a daring escape from the city using an unexpected route and with Kikuchiyo someone’s captive again. He’s like a damsel in distress. The creatures that capture him, the moribito, or guardians, are mysterious critters that look half-mechanical, half-animal (they hang upside down by tails or string or something). Refugees from villages destroyed by bandits work for them as farmers. This all takes place in the eighth episode, and I felt like too much was being thrown at me at once because frankly, I don’t know what’s going on or how this ties in with anything other than that the moribito have some connection with the merchants who rule the city.

    It might be of some interest that I was frustrated enough to pull out my Seven Samurai DVD and rewatch it — alas, before the storm forced me to watch DVDs for lack of any other form of visual entertainment. More later.

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    lawless

    It’s been awhile since I watched Samurai 7; my viewing has restricted by the fact that my husband, who doesn’t like subtitled video, is home during the day watching TV. I wind up watching other things, like the current film club movies, in the limited amount of time I have when he’s not watching the TV. But I did want to note that I know at least one person who watched Seven Samurai for the first time after watching Samurai 7, so it is true that Samurai 7 functions as a gateway to Seven Samurai for some people. It’s doubtful she would have ever watched the movie if she hadn’t seen the anime.

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    Greasy Rat

    “I find this Kikuchiyo, other than being more broadly a buffoon than the one in the movie — in part because he tries to pull off heroics without thinking through the consequences, and thus is constantly getting in trouble, captured, etc., which the others have to get him out of — pretty faithful in terms of personality and function (though clearly not in terms of looks!) to the original. I also like this Katsushiro a lot. Yes, it’s now clear that they’re setting up a romance between him and the priestess Kirara, which seems to confirm my guess that there’s no Shino in this version (there’s no identifiable Manzo either, although there is a farmer who argues his position about the bandits and the samurai) [I’ve since learned that there is in fact a Shino and that Manzo becomes an identifiable character later on], but they make a cute, typical anime couple. And he is in many ways a less complex character than the Katsushiro of the movie. But he’s also more likable and appealing; while Ko Kimura’s Katsushiro is a callow hero worshiper who’s a bit immature and afraid, this Katsushiro, while clearly a beginner in terms of skill, has more gumption.”

    I personally prefer the original Kikuchiyo, but I find the 2004 version pretty likable in itself, particularly Christopher Sabat’s performance. I agree wholly on the 2004 Katsushiro as well.
    The fact that they made Manzo even uglier than he was in the original is annoying and yet somehow laughable as well.
    I like the subtle nod to The Magnificent Seven where Kikuchiyo carries Shino in on his shoulders, much the same way Chico (who’s a blend of Kikuchiyo and Katsushiro) did with Petra when he first met her.
    Heihachi is much nicer in the 2004 series, which is a contrast to his gleeful bullying of Kikuchiyo in the original film.
    The anime version of Gorobei is too weird for me to like. Sure, he’s more attractive in a conventional sense, but to me Yoshio Inaba had more of an appealing face.

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