Welcome to Akira Kurosawa info!  Log in or Register?

Seven Samurai: Kurosawa’s Citizen Kane?

  •   link

    Vili Maunula

    With more than a third of January gone and not a single post on Seven Samurai, our this month’s Film Club feature here on the forums, I am wondering what the reason for the continuing silence might be. The film was specifically requested to kick start the new year, so I was expecting an avalanche of posts. Yet, it is eerily quiet here.

    It may well be the fact that with the start of a new year there are more pressing matters to attend to than a small discussion forum at the outskirts of the cyberspace – in fact, I am quite certain that this is a part of the reason. But let me nevertheless offer another reason, this one from purely personal experience, and one that may prove to be controversial enough to get the discussion rolling.

    The reason for the silence, I propose, is this: Seven Samurai is not a very good film, and there is very little interesting to actually say about it. In fact, I would go as far as to agree with Noël Burch, who wrote that Seven Samurai is only “the finest of Kurosawa’s minor jidai-geki”. Slightly better than The Hidden Fortress, yes, but nowhere near the top of Kurosawa’s overall oeuvre, or even the best within its own genre.

    There, I said it.

    Of course, I wouldn’t be me if I didn’t qualify everything with lengthy explanations. So, read on.

    The fact that Seven Samurai is, in my view, not quite the masterpiece that it has often been claimed to be, is not a new realisation for me. However, I nevertheless remembered it as quite an entertaining film, and was therefore shocked to notice that I really struggled to sit through the movie while watching it again for this month’s Film Club. It simply felt… well, boring, to be honest. Especially the first half.

    In my perverted way of approaching things, this actually made me all the more curious about the film. After all, I was clearly now missing something somewhere, considering the film’s enormous popularity. I was therefore really looking forward to reading your takes on the work and it being pointed out to me what it was that I had missed, and why Seven Samurai was, if not Kurosawa’s finest film, at least a solid piece of film making. While waiting for your insights, I also delved into the related literature, and read through what others have had to say about the movie.

    The result has, so far, been somewhat unexpected. Not only have you guys, for whatever reason, been unable to provide me with interesting points to consider about the film, but after going through the literature, I came out with practically nothing that would have made the film more interesting to me. This is rare, as usually the critics make at least a few points (usually more) that I had previously not considered, and which give me interesting new angles from which to approach the work.

    Yet, there is very little to help me in there. Richie may lavish high praise on the movie (perhaps in doing so initiating the Seven Samurai cult), but there seems to be very little actual content in his essay. Perhaps most interestingly, he briefly comments on the class distinctions, which is something that also Prince talks about in length, yet in my view the film fails to put forward anything especially interesting concerning the topic. While there certainly is a clear distinction between the samurai and the farmers, which is made more complex by a character (Kikuchiyo) belonging to both, a love affair between members of each, and the fact that the existence of one group is pretty much the reason for the hardships of the other, the film in my view ultimately neither answers nor even properly poses any questions related to the class differences between the guardians and the guarded. It is true that we are shown that at times of distress the class distinctions can begin to break down at least a little, but then again that at least to me is not much of an insight. Neither is it a social problematisation of the calibre found in most other Kurosawa films.

    Joan Mellen, meanwhile, offers a solid but ultimately somewhat bland look at the historical and technical aspects of Seven Samurai, drawing especially many parallels with Eisenstein’s work and theory. While perhaps interesting on a technical level, I feel that her descriptive (as opposed to argumentative or interpretative) commentary ends up telling me very little about the film as a narrative or a philosophical project (which are my main interests), and far more so about its technical brilliance which while interesting, doesn’t really contribute much to the actual viewing or interpreting experience (more about this later).

    Finally, with Goodwin practically silent about Seven Samurai, perhaps the most interesting chapter devoted on the film can be found in Yoshimoto, but this is mainly because he ends up saying very little about the film itself and mainly talks about the jidaigeki genre as a whole. Towards the end of his treatment, Yoshimoto does offer something of an insight about Seven Samurai’s realism, noting that it is not of a historical kind, but instead “the film creates a heightened sense of realism by meticulously showing all kinds of details that are normally ignored in conventional jidaigeki films”. (243)

    That this should be the most interesting thing that I have read about the film perhaps says something about the relative lack of insights that our typically sharp commentators have had concerning the movie. Granted, I have not read everything that has been written on the subject matter – perhaps most importantly I have yet to read Desser’s much-quoted The Samurai Films of Akira Kurosawa (which I don’t have), and neither have I sat through the commentary tracks on Criterion’s new Seven Samurai release. But in the end, the film does not really speak all that much to me, and it also seems that there is relatively little that other commentators have been able to get out of it, either.

    That is, unless you consider the film’s technical aspects. Indeed, much of the more inspired commentary in the literature is focused on the film’s technical merits and its (perceived) symbolism. But while there are, no doubt, numerous interesting points to be made there there, I personally feel that when it comes down to the actual end product, much of these are trickery without much noticeable positive impact on the story telling. In fact, on the contrary many of these technical innovations, including the use of slow motion or many of the camera angles and movements, end up distracting me quite considerably.

    I would actually make a similar case about the music. However excellent the pieces on the soundtrack are, the music is fairly distracting to me, not least because of the strange overuse of it that accompanies the movie.

    All this is not to say that there isn’t a story in here. In fact, there are plenty of interesting story elements that we are presented with, but I feel that they are not put together too well. Things like Kikuchiyo’s past, Katsushiro’s romance and Rikichi’s lost wife are each potentially fascinating sub plots, but they all remain very skeletal, with no meat on their bones, well introduced but poorly executed. The film seems to be in a constant rush and yet gives us very little. And while there appears to be too much material for a three and a half hour feature, I would still argue that ten years later Kurosawa’s Red Beard actually condenses far more story (and certainly massively more intellectual content) into a twenty minutes shorter running time. Of course, at that point Kurosawa is also ten years more experienced as a director, but I don’t see that as in any ways promoting the quality of Seven Samurai.

    There is actually a similarly harsh point to be made about the main plotline concerning the bandits’ attack. Were I a bandit leader looking for farmers to take from, the village after the samurai’s defensive fortifications would be just about the last place for me to attack. There must be easier targets in the area, so why be stubborn and attack this village?

    Actually, the film hints at something of a satisfactory answer to why the bandits attack – and repeatedly so – even after knowing that this previously helpless town is now a relatively strong fortification. After all, the initial aggressors in the film are strictly speaking the samurai, who attack and burn down the bandits’ place — call it a pre-emptive strike, if you will. This perhaps also explains why the bandits rather mindlessly seem to burn down the huts on the unguarded side of the river – they are at that point no more motivated by financial gain, but simply by revenge.

    And yet, this interpretation is never actually developed in the movie, or even explicitly stated. At least on the surface of things, the confrontation remains a purely black and white affair between the samurai and the bandits, with the townspeople helplessly somewhere in between.

    Of course, it may alternatively also be Kurosawa’s own views about the lowlifes of this world, gangsters and bandits, which causes this slight narrative problem. It would, after all, not be the first or the last time that Kurosawa portrayed these people as little more than single-minded automatons with no respect either for others or for their own well being. But while in many other films this does not become a problem, it seems to me like one here.

    And it is not just the bandits who are near automatons, but the characters throughout function like underdeveloped caricatures. While, in terms of acting, most performances are even then surprisingly good, the character of Kikuchiyo as portrayed by Toshiro Mifune is a major problem for me. He, like the farmers, is far too much of a caricature, way too over-the-top, and easily too simplistic for me to take him seriously. More disturbingly, whatever illusion of realism the other samurai may be able to convey, once Kikuchiyo enters the screen I am forcibly pulled away from the film, becoming acutely and painfully aware of myself watching an artificial reproduction of something, an effect that I have previously noted as something that, in most cases, is for me the number one failure one can make as a film maker (there are exceptions to this, of course).

    I love Kurosawa’s movies for many reasons, but if I were asked to briefly sum up the basic reason for my fascination towards his works, it would be the fact that his films are almost always both highly entertaining as well as intellectually stimulating – something that, in my opinion, very few other directors have been capable of doing. Yet, Seven Samurai, I fear, is neither entertaining nor intellectually stimulating. It seems to have very little content that would actually make me think or reflect on the world or myself in a new way, and at the same time I cannot say that I find it all that entertaining, either. Instead, I feel that the film is somewhat half-baked in its execution, with many interesting narrative ideas that have far from perfect realisations on the screen.

    In the end, Seven Samurai to me is something like Kurosawa’s Citizen Kane. These two films may have been and continue to be highly influential and technically innovative, but I end up failing to really connect with either one, even after repeated viewings. I see that there is much form in them, but feel that the form holds together quite little content in the end.

    But as always, it may just be that, to borrow an internet meme, I am simply doing it wrong. Perhaps I am simply missing something?

    The stage is yours.



    Donald Richie thought it was Kurosawa’s finest, and suggested that it might the best Japanese film ever made. I am never big on ranking…I only know that I really, really love this film.

    It is a film that rewards casual viewing, careful viewing, repeated viewing and viewing over time. Isn’t that rather like a wonderful book, that rewards you every time you pick it up? I suppose that is the definition of greatness.

    How was this greatness achieved? (This is not a rhetorical question. It truly astonishes me how this film creates meaning…cutting across all boundaries of nationality, language, and culture to become a meaningful personal experience for those who view it). This creation of greatness may be a mystery, but we can point to the some features of the film’s excellences:

    The achievement:

    This simple but complexly nuanced human story, the music, the cinematography, the editing and the acting all conspire to create a world that becomes ours on a deeply personal level. It is a film which influences later films and filmmakers.

    The story:

    Based on an original concept of Kurosawa’s which began as a “day in the life” documentary of a samurai’s existence, Kurosawa developed the idea into this breathtaking film of samurai who save a village.

    The actors:

    These are characters you will love, people you need to have in your life: the characters of Kyuzo, Heihachi and the unforgettable Bokuzen Hidari as a bewildered peasant..! Takeshi Shimura, as the leader of the samurai, Gambei, is the embodiment of wisdom, and calm in the storm. And, saying that Toshiro Mifune has star power is like saying the noonday sun sheds a little warmth.

    Toshiro: It’s the cut of his jawline when he asks the village patriarch, “Got a problem, grandad?”, and the most charming look of confusion and embarassment playing over his face when he is told by Heihachi that he is the triangle on the samurai flag. It’s his energy, speed and agility and power and intelligence. Mifune sniffing out the fuse of a gun in the woods, bouncing through the brush half-naked in an abbreviated set of armor, carrying his ridiculously oversize sword on one shoulder, Mifune crying over a baby, and the incomparable scene of his embarassment that turns to rage when Mifune accuses the samurai of creating the farmer’s condition.

    Toshiro Mifune represents the very spirit of desire…the need to prove one’s self: Mifune’s got the animal sexuality, the physical response to emotional situations, the expressive face, the humorous and varied vocalisms (his drunken burblings as the last “samurai” to audition, are nothing short of hilarious, and his “fish singing” is eerie and funny, too…also the grunted “eh?” that he often uses to show confusion, and the “heh” of disgust..such wonderful sounds, and so expressive!) Mifune’s acting is wild and alive, even more than 50 years after the film’s original release.

    Fumio Hayasaka’s music is surprising and perfect, creating humor, or a counterpoint to the action, or deepening our sympathy and understanding of the characters. I sometimes hum the theme to myself without realizing it.

    The filmography is ground-breaking:

    the multiple cameras, slow-motion and attention to light and composition make each frame worthy of an 8X10 glossy. How can individual moments of such beauty be sustained throughout the movement of the film? It is an astonishing feat. And, best of all, no image degenerates into interior design or vacuous prettiness…everything forwards the movement of the cinematic experience. When the film ends, we feel as if we have lived it!



    I would side more with Coco on this one, however at no point can anything be disagreed upon with Vili’s statement.

    The flaws, the plot holes, the clear cut good and evil , doesn’t matter; it’s the ability to see great men, behaving greatly, for no real motivation, but the drive of their character. Something rarely seen in movies, and nothing to this extent.

    The general kindness and greatness of Kambei, that naturally attracts fellow great men, and then the interaction of great man, is really all this film is about. As it’s not so much the great fighting skills of the people Kambei selects, as it’s the overall goodness of them, the great personality. The kind of people you want as friends, and would happily trade your life, to spare theirs, as they would do the same.

    It’s the developing harmony of what is largely strangers, coming together for no real reason, other then to be all-around great guys, that makes the first half, so important to the point I would say the second half owns no meaning without the first.

    It’s the warriors’ bond, upon the realization of sure death that is rarely explored in movies. Fight for the sake of a good fight, fighting for what’s right, fighting along great friends-perhaps the greatest and strongest of human interactions. To see this happen from the rather comical beginning to the sad ending-well…it’s special.

    I’ll have to come back to this one, this film is no easy task to talk about, and perhaps as Vili mention, there isnt much to talk about. Indeed, I’m sure much of the silence is the inability to explore the movie, as with some of the others. For me, there is so much to talk about, but at the same time, nothing to really say.



    When I read Jeremy’s summary of the core of Seven Samurai it seemed to me that he had done in one quick paragraph everything that I had been unable to articulate myself:

    The general kindness and greatness of Kambei, that naturally attracts fellow great men, and then the interaction of great man, is really all this film is about. As it’s not so much the great fighting skills of the people Kambei selects, as it’s the overall goodness of them, the great personality. The kind of people you want as friends, and would happily trade your life, to spare theirs, as they would do the same.

    I would point to the phrase “general kindness and greatness” as something we almost NEVER see or experience-and if we are lucky enough to encounter another human being who exhibits “general kindness and greatness” we know it-we can feel ourselves in the presence of someone who makes us want to be our best-to live up to the example they have set.

    Jeremy’s other great phrase:

    “…it’s the overall goodness of them,”

    Overall goodness! Who gives a flying leap about that? Well, jaded as we are with all the world’s evils, we do. Vili, maybe the “skeletal” sketch of these samurai is exactly just enough for us to admire them, then they are gone…just enough to make us care about them, and miss them, and wish we could have known them better… I know that I wish that the film were longer (!) even though I know, in terms of cinema it is exactly the right length. hey, and how lucky we are to see it entirely (thanks, Criterion for making it whole!).

    And, Jeremy says:

    “For me, there is so much to talk about, but at the same time, nothing to really say”.

    And, I think, basically, Vili, that this is probably true on some level. I want first, before “dissecting” this film to acknowledge its special place in the works of art that have deeply affected me-in short-yes, a masterpiece of my personal pantheon (and, for once I am not alone in my appreciation-a nice thing-heartwarming!). Having made my respects to this great and good film, I am not quite ready, but am preparing and getting closer to engaging in an analysis.



    First off I wanted to say that I’m new to this AK film club and am very excited about re-viewing all these amazing films. I will watch Seven Samurai again this week as it has been about a year since I last saw it. I did want to add in…

    I believe that AK said something to the affect of two main points when making a film; one is to first and foremost be entertaining, and second have something to say about society or life. Now I’m sorry if I am way off here on that quote but as a filmmaker myself I pride my work on those values that I remember from AK somewhere along the line.

    When watching an AK film for the first time I lose myself in the screen and am haunted by the story and images for days to come.

    I see where Vili is coming from however, I feel that Seven Samurai is one of the most entertaining films I have ever seen. Filled with flowing images never letting up and a story that captivates the audience for over 3 hours (Which even to this day is a hard feat to do with essentially an action film).

    Seven Samurai is a hard film to discuss in detail. It doesn’t leave much to the imagination or to really be pondered like Ikiru, Red Beard or Dodes’ka-den. It is an almost perfect film (in my opinion).



    Vili Maunula

    Jeremy: The flaws, the plot holes, the clear cut good and evil , doesn’t matter; it’s the ability to see great men, behaving greatly, for no real motivation, but the drive of their character. Something rarely seen in movies, and nothing to this extent.

    You have a point there Jeremy, although Kambei and Heihachi (who is my personal favourite) aside, I myself wouldn’t necessarily be all that interested in befriending these samurai. Great men they may be, in one way or another, but not very interesting personalities, I’m afraid.

    It is also true what you say about the fact that this sort of altruistic behaviour is not very common in cinema. If we consider similar action films for example, you tend to have some sort of a reason for behaviour like this — saving the world, revenging a wife’s death, a kidnapped daughter, or what else have you had Bruce Willis running after. Here, the seven samurai who ultimately agree to the job, have no personal link to the village, and wouldn’t really need to care what happens to it.

    Note, however, that none of the samurai actually come to the town’s rescue solely for altruistic reasons. First, there is rice on offer, which for a hungry ronin must have been an offer hard to turn down. Yet even then none of the samurai immediately agree to join simply for the sake of helping those in need.

    Kambei has already made his mind to refuse the offer before the ape-like inn-dweller (is he a guest? the inn-keeper? I’ve never figured that out) brings the bowl of rice offered to the samurai to ridicule the poverty of these peasants (as they only eat millet). Perhaps partly because of his annoyance of the ape-man’s behaviour, or because he now has a concrete example of the peasants’ position, Kambei suddenly agrees to the task.

    Katsushiro, who has made himself Kambei’s disciple without the old man’s approval, wants to be part of the group because he wants to learn from Kambei. This offers him an opportunity to learn.

    Gorobei explicitly states that he doesn’t really care about the peasants, and only takes the job because he is fascinated by Kambei’s character.

    Shichiroji joins the group for a very similar reason. In fact, from the scene where he is introduced, I get the feeling that he agrees to join before he has even heard what he will be fighting for, and rather joins because of his old ties with Kambei.

    Heihachi’s reasons are not clear, apart from the fact that we discover him chopping wood in order to secure his next meal. Perhaps, fighting for a town looks like a less humiliating, or at least a more samurai-like option to him.

    Kyuzo first refuses to join, but later appears at the inn. His reasons are a mystery — could be the desire to help, could be the opportunity to practice his fighting skills, could be the warm rice.

    Kikuchiyo makes his way into the group because he wants to belong, and wants to prove himself worthy of a samurai status.

    I am not saying that these reasons are underlined, or that we shouldn’t see these men as unselfish and kind in their help towards the villagers. In fact, by showing us samurai who absolutely refuse to join and are never heard of later, the film makes the point that these men are special in some way. But, and rather fortunately for the realism of the film, they are not absolute saints, either.

    Snakewater: I believe that AK said something to the affect of two main points when making a film; one is to first and foremost be entertaining, and second have something to say about society or life. Now I’m sorry if I am way off here on that quote but as a filmmaker myself I pride my work on those values that I remember from AK somewhere along the line.

    First of all, welcome to the group Snakewater! You are right, Kurosawa did seem to hold that view, and actually expressed it a number of times.

    Like I noted earlier, however, I somehow fail to see how this movie would be the best Japanese ever made (as it’s so often branded), either in terms of its entertainment or commentary value.



    Your having the rice play a rather large role, nearly to the point were the movie is pivoting on the value of rice. And while I understand the value in which rice had at the time, there is nothing to suggest the samurai find the rice as reward or reason for their actions. After the presentation of rice to in hopes to entice, rice from that point on, plays little role, and with the samurai often sharing their “prize” back to the villagers.

    It is solely the attraction of Kambei in which every samurai decides to join. A great confident leader, attracts the great and confident, and it is Kambei that makes the samurai what they are. By themselves they are unguided, highly skilled, but largely forgettable. Kambei gives them a purpose and direction, an element that has been lost to them.

    Katsushiro, is far too innocent, to seek Kambei only for his benefit. It’s entirely a fellowship of admiration, and Katsushiro doesn’t attempt to become a highly skilled sword fight, and thus train off Kambei, he merely wants to be a great man and his desire for guidance, and for this he finds attractive the ways of Kambei and Kyuzo. Both not so much their skill, but of their mindset.

    Gorobei, and Shichiroji, indeed as you said an attraction to Kambei, great people quickly gain loyalty from strangers and friends.

    Heihachi, comes a bit difference, but still there is no reward motivation. He has a job, appears relatively content, but simply isn’t within his realm. The opportunity to return to his natural being, would be one anyone would seek.

    Kyuzo, is a loner, greatly skilled, and in no need of leadership. The appeal of Kambei takes time to build. He membership is too nothing more then admiration for a great man.

    Kikuchiyo, never trick anybody, the people he wanted to impress, know exactly what he is. Much like Katsushiro, he needs a foundation of leadership, the appeal of a group of samurai consumes him. He at the end, suffices himself, not for the villagers but for the love he gains for the great men he was around, and the revenge of their deaths.

    I put things simply, but that’s all they are. It’s a mixture of great people, lost in uncertain times, that all manage to come together, though their attraction of like minded people.

    I would still have to put them all as saints, to the degree in which any man can really be. Kambei, is the true leader, but without the other 6 samurai he is nothing, and without Kambei they are nothing. The signs of a true team. As I said, it’s a bond that can only be had in combat, in which love for the other team members is so deep, at no point does the one hesitate to give their lives for another. And really all that die, with Kikuchiyo being the highlight to this, die only for each other, or to revenge the deaths of each other.

    The rice, the villagers, the bandits, everything really, doesnt matter. This movie is about 7 people, no more, no less.



    I’m voting for Jeremy’s take-as representative (although, perhaps, not articulated as well by all those who love the film) as why those who “go for” Seven Samurai do so. For me, as i stated before, it is a beloved film with characters I adore.

    You can duel it out amongst yourselves as to whether or not altruism really even exists in the world. I tend to be jaded enough to think that most everything people do has the stink of self-interest. But, in this case, self-interest may be that the samurai seek to regain their sense of worth. They are trained to fight. Their job is to fight. Without their jobs, what are they?

    Perhaps they don’t want to articulate it in that way. When Kambei sees the dire situation…magnified suddenly buy his realization of the crushing poverty of the villagers, he understands that a “noble” or “right” thing to do is help them. A person who takes a risk because it is right is a rare and honorable person.

    Sure, rice. But, as Jeremy noted, Heihachi already had a job.

    I’m going to say that if true altruism doesn’t exist that the self-interest here is that the samurai will feel good about doing a good thing in their area of expertise. It gives them a job, returns their self-worth and identity, and I am not surprised that people will risk their lives for their honor. One’s self-respect cannot be underestimated.



    Since we are teaming up against Vili, I say we vote to ban him from the film club. 😛

    To be serious, I understand Vili’s viewpoint, and as I said there isnt really a way to disagree, other then to say, Vili is looking in the wrong way. Maybe even over complicated, as to why people do what they do, while I say, most people dont really know why they do what they do.

    I would agree, that most people are fueled over what can be personally gained from the ordeal. However, this doesn’t have to assume evil motives. One can gain greatly, in helping others, or being around great people, while not actively seeking any thing of material value.

    And, I still have to say, the brotherhood of friends, spawned from realization of death, and reliance on the fellow man, is so strong. Not only would great people, actively seek it(especially those raise in combat, as being samurai)but jump at the opportunity to join up with anyone that displays greatness, as did Kambei-even under complete awareness, that no reward but death is likely to be had.

    Although, I must admit, if I view from Vili’s side, everything I said can be easily torn apart. So on that, I would just basically agree with Coco’s statement.


    I’m going to say that if true altruism doesn’t exist that the self-interest here is that the samurai will feel good about doing a good thing in their area of expertise. It gives them a job, returns their self-worth and identity, and I am not surprised that people will risk their lives for their honor. One’s self-respect cannot be underestimated.


    Vili Maunula

    To be honest, I think that the view which you guys promote about the samurai’s intentions is probably closer to the intent and the spirit of the film than what I offered. Having said that, I think that we don’t necessarily disagree here quite as much as you may think.

    Coco also raises a very good point about the lack of true altruism (something that I believe in as well), to which Jeremy makes an excellent remark: self-interested motives are not by definition evil, and neither are they necessarily against and away from the others. Indeed, the best trades are those where all parties win.

    Where I would perhaps most disagree with Jeremy is the assertion that the film is “about 7 people, no more, no less”. I not only think that there is somewhat more to it, including the farmers and the overall situation, but also that these “7 people” are not really “7 people” at all, but rather a “one group of people”, within which we have only a few actual individual personalities, and even those personalities are quite simplistic, almost inhuman in their lack of complexity. Which is perhaps understandable, considering that they were modelled after historical (or more like legendary) figures.

    Jeremy: Kyuzo, is a loner, greatly skilled, and in no need of leadership. The appeal of Kambei takes time to build. He membership is too nothing more then admiration for a great man.

    I’m curious, would you be able to point at a particular scene where this is communicated to the viewer? Kyuzo’s participation remains something of a mystery to me, as we know so very little about him. He also exhibits

    what I consider not only somewhat strange behaviour, but also something that keeps him at an arm’s length from the rest of the group.

    Consider, for example, his going out into the rain to practice alone (the scene where he discovers the romance between Katsushiro and Shino), or his sudden departure to get that musket, followed by his immediately going to sleep, away from the others. There seems to be very little going on between him and the rest of the samurai.

    Finally, banning me from the club probably wouldn’t make any difference, at least considering the amount of downtime that the site has experienced lately — either way, I am blocked from my own site! 😥 I’m now actively doing something about it though. I’ll keep you updated.



    It’s 7 people working together, and to work together properly, you have reduce your individuality for the sake of yourself and others.

    If your wanting to express feelings, backgrounds, and development of characters, a movie about battle is the wrong place to do it.

    It would be unwise to me, to have the samurai sitting around a camp fire, reflecting on life. To win this battle, they most put aside themselves, and fight as a group. This being a key to any military style grouping of people in real life as well.

    The time to reflect and become individuals is after the war, in which while briefly the end of the movie, does show a bit of reflection within the characters remaining.

    However, just because they work together and they dont set themselves apart from each other, you shouldn’t consider the group as a one entity, but a group comprised of 7 people.

    And really, this is the whole point behind the 1st half, and to which I have mention, gives the value of the 2nd half. To which if there was no 1st half of the movie, I would agree they are single group, lacking individuality, and with the audience unlikely to care about any of their deaths.

    This of course is not the case, and while the 1st half is quick to introduce and doesn’t offer development, it does give the audience a chance to be around these people in a relax enviroment. A relax enviroment, with the “tough guy” characters being relax, is the only way for the audience to bond with people deemed “tough”. Something I got into with Sanjuro.

    Again, this movie has no room for the samurai to sit around and create themselves a deep character. They are samurai, their position and their display of skill, must keep them away from emotion, else you stand to lose the idea of “protectors” this movie is trying to create.

    Really, I see no need for any more personalities among the samurai then the few jokes they crack, and when they all laugh together.

    You sort of answered your own question, regarding Kyuzo.

    He is a mystery, little shown of him, and does remain at distance from the other samurai. Kyuzo, doesn’t know emotion, he maintains a stone face, but he does showing caring, as he concerns himself about Katsushiro regarding the girl, and he shown to laugh with the other from time to time. Kyuzo to me is the exact ideal I’ve always had of warrior breed Japanese- a cold exterior, but a warm inside.

    How much more information should be giving about him being a loner, then this?

    His skill is displayed in his ability to get the much feared rifles without aid. His no need for leadership is shown, in him wanting not to kill or prove himself to the other samurai he fights when we first met him. He is also the only samurai that takes abnormal time to decide to fight with the others, even dismissing the quest at first-this too points to no need for leadership or the desire to be with others.

    After he accomplishes the single most dangerous goal of capturing a rifle by himself, he goes directly asleep. If must be assumed, he cares not for fame, not for acceptance, and his mindset needs no leadership, as he likely stalked the rifled man all night, needing much needed sleep upon his return.

    Even ignoring the other scenes, the straight to sleep part, really points to a loner, greatly skilled and in no need of leadership.

    Kyuzo is also the strongest point to Kambei’s character. Kyuzo, needs nothing or no one, shows no sign of even desiring such a thing, yet he joins.



    The strange thing about love is that you invest the beloved with everything-all your emotional depth, all the attributes of beauty and intelligence and great soul and great personality. The person who loves their little dog, even, finds in it a universe of pleasure and joy…and meaning! Love is an activity in which you find ways to adore the beloved.

    So, yeah, Vili is right-we invest in the Seven Samurai like we do in our lovers-(more or less) and we do it with slight cues. Vili, maybe you are more clear-eyed, maybe cupid’s arrow missed you. For me, though, I admire, and really like these guys and the brief moments they fill the screen mean something to me.


    Vili Maunula

    Jeremy, I think that you missed the point of my question, no doubt because of the poor way in which I put it forward. What I meant to ask about was your suggestion that Kyuzo’s “membership is too nothing more then admiration for a great man.” Where do we get this information about Kyuzo’s feelings towards Kambei?

    I don’t really know why I didn’t make myself clearer when asking the question, or why I went on to talk about Kyuzo’s status as a loner, which caused the confusion. Sorry about that.

    I do agree that the first half of the film is important in developing the foundation on which the second half operates — indeed, without the first half the movie would pretty much be just like any other sword flick. I’m still amazed though how little the first half actually gives us. I’m not sure if the more than an hour of running time is necessarily justified.

    Then again, I’m starting to think that Seven Samurai was perhaps not meant for repeated viewings, and I’m simply approaching it wrong. Maybe I should get a big bowl of popcorn and try again. But then again, this doesn’t seem to be the approach taken by those praising the movie, either.

    So, I still have the feeling that I’m missing (out on) something. Just no one seems to be able to tell me what, exactly. It’s all fine and good to tell me that it’s a great film and a beautiful film and that you are all in love with it and that really I am not seeing it right, but I still haven’t seen anyone (here, or in literature) actually point their finger at anything concrete and say “look there”. Apart, of course, from the “aesthetic perfection of Mifune’s naked backside” argument, which I’m afraid while interesting still isn’t enough to make me understand. 🙂

    In any case, I don’t think that a battle is any worse place for expressing character development than any other story structure. It’s just not something that this film seems to be particularly concerned with, which of course is perfectly ok. But then, I’m still looking for what it actually is that Seven Samurai is concerned with.



    The movie doesnt offer specific scenes, regarding the supposed admiration of Kambei, by Kyuzo(the delay in joining the group does hold some value). Unlike most movies, the understanding of what is presented isn’t allowed for much consideration till after the movie ends. Kyuzo gains nothing, is shown (for me at least) not to need nor desire anything. The effort he put into the battle, up to giving his life, can’t be for more reason then admiration of the group, to which Kambei is the introduction and foundation to. With no clear, and I find purposeful lack of information of any the samurai gaining from this battle, but however with a clear display and understanding of lost that may occur from this battle. The reasons behind the joining of the group, must be assumed. Surely, the assumption can vary widely, but if Kambei’s leadership is clearly focused on to the point most of the Samurai shown open fondness towards, an assumption of just admiration, I feel is rather reasonable.

    On a battle focused film, certainly characters with no dimension should be avoided, but heavily development of character to the level of a drama, bogs down the rush of chaos battle should be shown representing on the screen. You must choose your emphases wisely, to conquer every aspect of movie making normally leads to a boring maze of information that often cant be presented fully with the time confines of a movie and/or requiring gimmicks(voice-overs, flashbacks, character explaining what’s going on, character talking to themselves-to which is used to “handhold” the audience into understanding their character,etc.) in order to convey information.

    Such movies are no simply task, and so you get the modern epic battle movies, reaching many parts and hours(Lord of the Rings, StarWars)

    They show deeper characters(largely to attract a return audience, thus grossing more money-as I dont see a need for any of the mention movies to extend past one 3hr, 3.5hr movie) however if this depth is done quickly it’s dangerous, so it’s done slowly as not to allow it to bog down the real “meat” of the story, and so you get many parts. Still none of the movies really kill off any important character, because despite their length, no real bond is created, and while we may know their history and their thoughts, few in the audience really care about them.

    Luke’s dad is Dark Vader, Yoda dies, Obi-Wan dies, sure “aww”, but it doesn’t change anything really.

    Kurosawa accomplish an epic battle, and a bond with the characters, even without great length, nor much depth. When the samurai die, you feel the blow of the their loss, and understand that 7 samurai are need, one down is a serious problem. Worse, when a samurai dies, there is not only sadness, acknowledgment of the need for them, but a sense of unjustness, with leads to anger. For me it’s a “Why did Kikuchiyo have to die, it’s not fair!” sort of thing. I’m angered by it, as a bond is created with him, and as with all the samurai.

    It’s the general accomplishment in making a very effective film in all regards of film making, while covering absolute beginning to absolute end of a epic battle, and the creation of sadness for a loss of character we only known for a short time, all done within a confines of a 3.5hrs that is the real greatness.

    This is the best I can offer; If your looking for specfic scenes, or exact moments, you’ll never find it. Certainly elements will stand out here and there, but a great film is one entity, not a few great scenes loosely stitched together with other scenes. Such movies like these are hard to talk about, there is no points to grab a hold of, no seams to interject in, they are one large slick and seamless creation.

    Seven Samurai still isnt perfect, and it’s not even my favorite Kurosawa, but outside the amazing directing shown on the screen, you too have to appreciate the skill displayed off screen. To organize such a project, execute it, and still make movie that accomplish such a large amount is too another aspect of greatness. Much too can be said about Citizen Cane, it isnt perfect, I dont exactly care for it, but all aspects must be consider, and it accomplishes a great deal on all fronts, and then to great effect.

    While it’s great to see the tree from the forest, if you don’t step back every once and awhile, your going to miss the grandness of a bunch of largely unspectacular trees, making the forest.



    The comparison with Citizen Kane is intteresting, as I share Vili’s view that it is a somewhat overrated film, but I don’t agree that this applies to Seven Samurai.

    While we know Citizen Kane is a tour de force technically, I’ve never felt that it was an important American film in the way that, for example, the Godfather movies or Chinatown are truly ‘great’ American films. The reason is simple – the latter movies (whether you agree with the sentiments or not) say important, meaningful things about the nature of America, of capitalism, of the immigrant experience. As such, they can be said to be Great American Films in the way people talk about the Great American Novel. What does Citizen Kane say? Well, it sucks to inherit unlimited wealth if you are a driven personality who is never satisfied. Thats it really. Now I know that a great film does not have to address ‘big’ philsophical questions to be great. There is nothing profound, for example, in saying we should be nice to our parents – but when expressed the way Ozu did in Tokyo Story, it is great art. But I don’t see anything similarly brilliant in Citizen Kane (or a lot of other overpraised movies i can think of, but thats another story).

    Now why is Seven Samurai the Great Japanese Movie, as I consider it to be? Leaving aside the technical merits, I believe that the story is an attempt to grapple with 500 years of Japanese history and society. Its more than just a look at a particularly interesting period of Japanese history, I believe it deconstructs the whole nature of Japan and how its people have developed their culture. It is also more universal in that it addresses face on the central paradox of all societies as they try to defend themselves – how do you fight wars without creating a monster that will destroy yourself? Twice in its history Japan created monsters. In medieval times, it allowed its warrior caste to run amok and almost destroy the country. In the 20th Century it allowed a debased version of samurai and Clauswichian ideas to destroy not just Japan, but a fair chunk of Asia. This is something I believe AK was seeking to grapple with, and I don’t believe questions come any bigger for Japanese film makers. Its something I hope to address in more detail in another post, but I’m still working on it.

    I do not agree that Seven Samurai is about a group of noble men coming to the rescue of defenseless villages. The film, for me, is a tragedy. The seven fight for the village because fighting is what they do. They are part of a warrior caste, brought up to fight wars. The fact that a combination of circumstances puts them on the side of the ‘good guys’ is largely irrelevant. In the first act of the film we see that the line between those who say ‘yes’ or ‘no’ is very thin. Some say ‘no’, because a mix of pride and greed makes them hold out for the hope of being recruited by a traditional Lord. Those who say ‘yes’ don’t do so with great enthusiasm or idealism. It is an act of resignation – they agree to it because they are warriors, they are hungry and there is a fight coming. It may not pay well, but at least they will eat. And yes, they are all ‘good’, in the sense that they are intrigued by fighting with a genuinely noble warrior and like the idea of helping out some farmers – they are not without a conscience. But they all know that what they do is futile and meaningless in the end. The farmers will keep farming, and somewhere else some bandits will raid someone else.

    I believe that Seven Samurai is AK’s greatest statement of the tragedy of life – we may try our hardest to live as we can, but we are ultimately stuck in a mould given to us by fate, accident of birth, or our our limitations. The Seven have rescued some of their nobility by reaching back to an earlier notion of the bushido code. They have lost their wars, lost their position in society, and most of all, they have lost their illusions. But they have kept some of their dignity. And ultimately, this may be all we can hope for in life.



    And to address the quality of the film itself – I agree that it has some problems. It is a little overlong and there are some beautifully shot, but rather meaningless detours. But what I find interesting in my own reaction to the film, is that each time I see it I select another part that I think is overlong. On my first viewing, it was the first act. On my second viewing, it was the second act. Next time, I thought it was perfect. I’m still astounded by just how great so many individual scenes are. No, it doesn’t knit together into as coherent a narrative as AK’s shorter movies, but I still find it to be an overwhelming experience to watch, and I do believe (and I know I’m not alone in this), is that its the greatest action movie ever made.

    One regret of mine is that I’ve not seen it in a full cinema as it was intended. I think one reason why some don’t fully like it is that we tend these days watch films alone at home on dvd. For most films, this is not a problem, but Cinema in AK’s day was a communal experience. I think Richie was astute when he wrote (I can’t quite remember where) that Seven Samurai has to be seen in a full cinema to enjoy it. This is a film where the reaction of the audience is central to its rhythms and flows.


    Vili Maunula

    Ugetsu, I’m looking forward to your post that you said would flesh out the idea that you put forward here. It certainly sounds like a very interesting take on the film!

    Jeremy, you are probably absolutely right — maybe what I need to do is step back, not dig deeper. Yet, I think that, if I have the time I will nevertheless keep digging for the next week, and then leave the movie alone for a few years, to give me the chance to later approach it anew without the baggage accumulated during my this month’s struggle against the work.



    Hey Vili, do you ever see The McLaughlin Group?

    ( http://www.mclaughlin.com/moo/) The host is famous for taking all opinions of his round table then stating “wrong!” and giving his “definitive” opinion. He’s funny, and I feel like him when I say, “Is Seven Samurai Kurosawa’s Citizen Kane? YES!”

    Yes, in the way that it is his opus magnum, as Kane was Welle’s, and yet both had other crazy-good films and both are artists well worth discovering. (Happily, Kurosawa’s only other similarity to Welle’s career is one instance of editing mahem: the butchery of The Idiot. We all know that Welles was not so lucky, and had a lot of film destroyed.)

    Ugetsusaid of Seven Samurai:

    …”In the first act of the film we see that the line between those who say ‘yes’ or ‘no’ is very thin. “

    That’s why good is such an incredible choice! And, without being all Little Miss Happy about it, I think Kurosawa in many of his films was interested in showing just how close good and evil could be! It does not make the good any less valuable….in fact, quite the opposite!

    Ugetsu said:

    “I do not agree that Seven Samurai is about a group of noble men coming to the rescue of defenseless villages.

    How do you disagree? This is, at least part of the film, no? You think the samurai are not noble? Well, then we must agree to disagree. To me they are great men.

    Ugetsu continued:

    “The film, for me, is a tragedy. The seven fight for the village because fighting is what they do.”

    Yes, it is a good point that this what samurai do. The fact that they find meaning in their careers is not surprising, is it? It still doesn’t mean their choices are not good. and yes, it is a tragedy. It’s tragic the way all life really is tragic…the fact that I love the characters and admire them and feel deep loss when we lose them…only heightens my agreement with your point. This in no way contradicts Jeremy’s point that these are great men lead by a great leader.

    Nor does it contradict your point that the film is about loss and dignity. I dare say, it agrees nicely with my owrldview: that life itself may have very little meaning other than our living life with honor, and those brief moments of friendship that bring laughter and joy. I am thinking too about Katsushiro in the flowers…fleeting, transient. But, so beautiful!

    Y’all see that, right?


    Vili Maunula

    Coco: Hey Vili, do you ever see The McLaughlin Group?

    ( http://www.mclaughlin.com/moo/) The host is famous for taking all opinions of his round table then stating “wrong!” and giving his “definitive” opinion.

    Hah! I can’t say that I’m familiar with this program, but having sat through a few literature conferences and numerous talks in linguistics, I must say that the sentiment is very familiar indeed. 😆

    Coco: Yes, in the way that it is his opus magnum, as Kane was Welle’s, and yet both had other crazy-good films and both are artists well worth discovering. (Happily, Kurosawa’s only other similarity to Welle’s career is one instance of editing mahem: the butchery of The Idiot. We all know that Welles was not so lucky, and had a lot of film destroyed.)

    Indeed. I love Welles by the way, although not necessarily so much his work as the man himself. Anyway, a little bit of a historical fact that we could add here: Seven Samurai itself was recut by the studio, and showed in a truncated 160-minute form in most theatres even in Japan (bigger cities had the full version). I think that Kurosawa remarked somewhere (I can look up the reference if someone is interested) that the cut version butchered the first half of the film, but actually made the second half slightly better.

    As for the overseas market, the version shown (and quite poorly reviewed) in Venice was also just 155 minutes, i.e. fifty (!) minutes shorter than the original. I think that the American release was about the same, while Europe (I seem to remember) got a longer cut.

    Fortunately, in this case the original survived, and we can now watch the original Seven Samurai as cut by Kurosawa himself.



    Right about the length. I think we have Criterion to thank?


    Vili Maunula

    I thought that my old Seven Samurai tape was also full length, but after a quick search around now I am fairly certain that it was actually the 190 minute version put together in the early 1990s.

    Might the original (white cover) Criterion DVD release have been the first time a full-length version of the film was made available in home video format, at least to the English speaking world?



    How do you disagree? This is, at least part of the film, no? You think the samurai are not noble? Well, then we must agree to disagree. To me they are great men.

    Yes, it is a good point that this what samurai do. The fact that they find meaning in their careers is not surprising, is it?

    Being a samurai is not a career choice, they were born to it. They could not opt out of being samurai any more than they could opt out of being Japanese. I don’t believe the men were trying to extract meaning from being a Samurai – I don’t think such a thought would occur to such men and Kurosawa would know that. If this was the intention, I think the plot would have emphasised the the characters deliberations over having chosen to fight for such humble people. In fact, having made the decision, none of them seem to regret it, or give it a second thought, even when they realise that some of the villagers had slaughtered fellow Samurai. They are warriors by birth (despite the fact that several of them are clearly not warriors by temperament), so they accept their fate with resignation.

    What I’m trying to articulate is that I think its a mistake to see the core plot of the film as being that a group of noble men come to the rescue of a village. I believe the core point is that we have a group of men who despite the ongoing collapse of their caste, their way of life, are unable to do anything but join a fight – they gain nobility not through their decision to fight, but the way they fight and the way they behave.

    If we look back to an earlier film, Stray Dog, Kurosawa emphases the dangerous rootlessness of men when the fabric of society has been torn apart. The situation in this film is very similar – the Samurai and aristocratic levels of society have torn themselves apart in warfare, and in the anarchy, some become bandits, some (probably futilely) try to keep the old way going by seeking a Lord, some become bandits (it seems clear from the weaponry and armor of the bandits that they are ex samurai), some, like Kambei, know the game is up, but are unable to find any alternative, so seek refuge in protecting their personal dignity and integrity. In this way, its a more subtle examination of how to ‘be good’ than Stray Dog, with its straightforward choice of good or evil.

    The point I am trying to make is that I think to see this film as about a fellowship of good men trying to do good, is to fall into the trap of interpreting it as a Japanesed western. I don’t think this is the central plot/theme of the movie anymore than the central plot/theme of Stray Dog was to show how a policeman will retrieve a lost gun. I think Kurosawa was much more subtle than that, and his interests was in examining the contemporary concerns of a Japan that was still trying to come to terms with the military defeat of 1945. I think the ending of the film makes this very clear. The victory won by the men was hollow – it was simply one more meaningless battle in a war they cannot win.



    I dont think samurai should be viewed simply as warriors. While they are required to have complete loyalty the their overlord, and are in charge of maintaining protection. Being samurai is less to with fighting, then the values the position holds, dictated by the bushido.

    Many were moderately educated, landowners, that went into bureaucratic services. To deem they of knowing nothing but war, and their value based not of their decision, but their fighting skills, is a bit too extreme.

    No samurai went out to fight, nor to sacrifice himself for the love of war, but for the social duty of protecting society though whatever means required.

    If any point is to be made at the end of the movie, it is the one singular truth of all wars.

    The ones that fight, and sacrifice the most, gain the least; while those that do nothing gain everything.

    To view the samurai or any solider for that matter, as simple killers, that know nothing more and desire only war, is nothing new. And goes on to this day, spawned by mass media and people that never been in war, criticizing what they do not know or understand and too scare to experience.

    Kambei’s reflection at the end, is directly pointing to this. That again he fought and won a war, in which he didn’t really win. This the exact understanding of any warrior, past or present, in that although they stand to gain nothing, they can fight with the knowledge that they have directly aided in the betterment of society, even if they never get to see it. Nobody wants death or war, but their are people brave and honorable enough to stand up to fight for those too scare and weak.

    In this case the samurai can fulfill themselves based on this, and not for the love of war, but the love of peace that often can only be created by war- even if it’s just for a bunch of farmers.



    Ugetsu said;

    “Being a samurai is not a career choice, they were born to it. “

    Right. I never said it was a career choice. I said it was a career. It is their station in society, but it is their job too! And, are you kidding me? Samurai most definitely were interested in the kinds of “career advancement” that would offer them personal wealth, privilege and power! Kambei says so! And, we are talking here about unemployed samurai-that distinction is key. They have all their training, all their values intact-but they’ve lost their masters, and are ronin. Basically, unemployed.

    Ugetsu said:

    ” I don’t believe the men were trying to extract meaning from being a Samurai – I don’t think such a thought would occur to such men…”

    I would again, disagree. Ugetsu, you, in fact agree with the idea of nobility found through their actions. You said:

    “they gain nobility not through their decision to fight, but the way they fight and the way they behave. “


    I disagree with the following:

    ” I believe the core point is that we have a group of men who despite the ongoing collapse of their caste, their way of life, are unable (my emphasis) to do anything but join a fight.”

    Wrongo. Yes, the time of the samurai may be passing, but they have other options. Their options are shown to us in the film: they can become bandits, or walk away, or chop wood…they need not fight. So, the choice to fight in this battle which will bring them neither fame nor riches, is about them finding meaning. They are samurai, what they do is fight-it is the satisfaction of using a tool for its intended purpose-it is doing one good thing even if it means they sacrifice their own lives, even if ultimately, they are doomed.

    Jeremy mentions the code of bushido, and though I am not expert in this area of study, Jeremy’s discussion of samurai as being more than mere killers and his writing about honor and values is exactly in accord with what I understand.

    Ultimately, for me, it is about these good men who decide to save the farmers of the village-and it ends up being about knowing them- however briefly-and feeling elevated by spending time with them.

    Yes, their class is doomed. Yes, the village is only saved for this moment from those bandits– not for perpetuity. Yes, the cost was really high! Yes, it is tragic.


    Vili Maunula

    Jeremy: I dont think samurai should be viewed simply as warriors. While they are required to have complete loyalty the their overlord, and are in charge of maintaining protection. Being samurai is less to with fighting, then the values the position holds, dictated by the bushido.

    I don’t pretend to be an expert when it comes to the subject, but based on my own experience and reading, I would like to suggest that Jeremy’s statement here is both true and somewhat mistaken.

    It is true that the concept of a samurai was certainly more than being a simple warrior. Much more was required of a samurai than simple swordsmanship — together with bushido lifestyle, understanding of society and knowledge of literature and arts was also assumed, among other things.

    But I would say that while this was the ideal, it was not quite the reality. The situation, I would say, is similar to the geisha, who were specifically not supposed to be prostitutes, yet so very often there was (and I guess still is) an understanding that also these services would be provided if asked. The Japanese, like we all, just are quite good at idealising our cultural totems.

    So, I would say that while the ideal samurai would not have been “simply a warrior”, I think that in the period where Seven Samurai is set most of them actually weren’t much more than that. I would further remind you that 16th century Japan was a fairly chaotic place, and you could actually go pretty far if you simply knew how to handle your sword. So, with the inner fighting between the daimyo and the ikko-ikki mounting their own opposition against the whole samurai society, I would imagine that there was a constant need for samurai who could make a mark on the battle field. In an environment like that, the hiring standards are not what they would be during peaceful times.

    I would actually also say that in my view the film is quite clear that it is warrior samurai that we have here. Which is understandable, as it is a movie about a battle. No flower arrangement or tea ceremony here, and neither can I quite see the characters engaging in any such activities. In doing so, I personally think that the film also humanizes the characters and the samurai class as a whole. I have a very superficial knowledge of samurai films before Seven Samurai (or after it, for that matter), but I always assumed that those included the type of samurai Jeremy is referring to — the ones keeping to the bushido ideal and being noble demigods.

    Finally, I’m not entirely sure where Ugetsu’s statement about the “collapse” of the samurai caste comes from. Perhaps it was the earlier discussion we had about the muskets, but while rifles certainly had an influence on the changing nature of combat in Japan, a “collapse of samurai” it wasn’t. If anything, I have always assumed the sengoku period to have been the golden era of the samurai. It wouldn’t be until a few hundred years later, around the mid 19th century, that the “collapse” would take place.

    Or am I missing something here?



    Another fair rational from Vili.



    I’m a prior lurker who hadn’t checked the site in awhile and didn’t realize January was devoted to my favorite film of all time, Seven Samurai, by my favorite director. So now I’ve joined the discussion and want to justify why Seven Samurai is a great film beyond its technique.

    In the interests of time, I’ve only read the first post. I don’t have time, or frankly the patience, to read all the other posts, so this may be duplicative.

    BTW, before I begin, I have to agree with Vili about “Citizen Kane”. It is my least favorite “great movie” but for me the reason is not so much that it’s all technique and no film but that I don’t care about the main character. He’s despicable and I really could give a rat’s ass about his pain.

    “Seven Samurai” has been my favorite film since I first saw it in my teens on PBS. I’m now 52, so it’s a long-standing love with me.

    My first reason for loving the film is that unlike “Citizen Kane”, it makes you care about the characters. Yes, there are a lot of them, but if you watch the movie carefully and repeatedly, they become more than types. Kambei is heroic and selfless; Katsushiro is a callow but caring youth in over his head; Kikuchiyo is a wild man and a liar who has good reason to lie but who in many ways is more open, honest, and alive than the samurai he wishes to emulate; Kyuzo is the epitome of the samurai as humble craftsman of death (and sensitive enough to appreciate a flower at the same time); Shichiroji is the boon companion who doesn’t mind if he’s going to his death; Heihachi is the low-key, laid-back joker; Gorobei is the sturdy second-in-command; Rikichi is the fiery fighter (of course, he has more reason to fight than, say, Manzo); Rikichi’s wife is the beautiful woman who can’t bear the shame of what she’s had to do to survive and so her village could survive; Manzo is the despicable and weak politician who brings his own tragedy upon himself (if he hadn’t cut Shino’s hair, she’d be recognizably female and would not have been scolded by Katsushiro for picking flowers); Mosuke, the peacemaker; Yohei is the bumbling coward who has more to him than it seems; Gisaku is the wise old village elder who has some of the funniest lines outside of Kikuchiyo and Heihachi (“find hungry samurai”; “don’t worry about your beard when you’re head’s about to be cut off”). The closest to a stereotype in the movie is Shino, but even she is believable. When you think you’re about to die – her father has no particular faith that this ploy is going to work – you toss caution to the winds. Her berating Kikuchiyo for not seizing the moment and taking her is completely convincing.

    My main reason for loving the film, however, is that it crosses genres. Yes, it is a jidai geki, but it’s also:

    – A war film (and as a woman, I find most war films boring and uninteresting)

    -A plea for peace

    -An action movie (and I despise mindless action movies, although I enjoy good ones; ones that make you think are even rarer)

    -A comedy

    -A romance

    -A buddy movie

    -Social commentary


    So there’s something in it for everyone.

    Some of these are obvious, but let me explain what I mean about the others:

    Philosophical. There’s a contrast among the samurai, from the wise and altruistic leader who’s never won a battle in his life to the callow, overeager youth to the elegant, taciturn swordsman who is interested in honing his craft, not glory. They each embody a philosophy of life and how it should be lived.

    The character of Kambei – willing to go beyond class stereotypes and shave his head to disguise himself as a Buddhist priest, which means sacrificing the haircut denoting his status as a samurai – is not only compassionate and selfless, traits which embody the best of Buddhist ideals, but is an existentialist, that is, doing things for the sake of doing them, not for any reward or merit it may give him. As such, he does not need the regard or approval of others, although he appreciates it when offered. Because he is the leader, and because his actions, from rescuing the child to the closing scene in front of the graves, frame the movie, the movie seems to be endorsing his worldview.

    Heihachi also challenges class stereotypes. Perhaps because he’s an indifferent samurai from a technical standpoint, he’s willing to stoop to manual labor, which most samurai, even ronin, would find degrading and beneath them.

    Social commentary. The film is set during the Warring States period (Sengoku period) at a point just before power was consolidated by and the country reunited under the Tokugawa shogunate. It’s Thomas Hobbes’ life as “nasty, brutish and short” set in an almost anarchic Japan.

    The movie is all about class structure. The samurai are at the top, but wandering, masterless samurai are not much better off than the farmers, and in fact may be worse off, as they are obliged to “keep up appearances” but don’t have the wherewithal to feed themselves that farmers do if the weather is good and bandits don’t strike. The film implies what history tells us, which is that some masterless samurai (i.e., ronin) turn to banditry to support themselves, so the line between samurai and bandit is blurred.

    And in the setpiece speech that is the heart of the whole movie, Kikuchiyo reminds the samurai that their depredations, in their role as samurai, are what have made the farmers what they are: underhanded, sneaky, and untrustworthy. If the farmers are bad, he suggest, samurai are worse; they kill, pillage, loot and rape, and shouldn’t be surprised if they are killed and pillaged in return.

    The farmers might occupy a social class lower than the samurai and higher than the bandits, but they are a wily lot. They claim – and make it look good – to be sacrificing by feeding the samurai rice while they eat millet. But it turns out they have sake and food stored away against a rainy day, which is brought out on the eve of the decisive battle. Until then, they stay assiduously separate from the samurai. Since they live in a village, and a samurai lives in his lord’s town or castle, they don’t normally interact, and at the end of the movie, everything goes back to normal, that is, being separated. So the movie is both about the power of groups working communally and cooperatively, but suggests that such cooperation only happens rarely and doesn’t last.

    Also, “Saving Private Ryan” would have been impossible were it not for the path blazed by this movie. If not the first, it was one of the first movies to portray war and fighting realistically. Even though the samurai, and even the farmers, are acting nobly, war is a nasty, brutal thing. Even the bandits deserve life. The movie, especially the last battle scene in the rain, deliberately makes the brutality of war perfectly clear.

    There are scenes in the film during which I always cry when I watch it. One is Heihachi’s funeral. Another is the closing scene, when Kambei tells Shichiroji that once again they’ve lost, that it’s the farmers who are victors, not them. If you think about it, what is unusual about Kambei, and what draws the others towards him, is that he is a living example of what it would be like to live the existentialist philosophy, that mere existence is enough, that happiness, if it is to be found at all, is found when it’s not sought, and that one should be content with that. He is also an example of a great leader who leads by example, not by fiat, although he can lay down the law too; see the scene where he challenges Mosuke over the abandonment of the few houses on the other side of the river which can’t be defended.

    I find subtlety where you find lack of depth. For example, I think the suffering and dilemma of Rikichi’s wife is beautifully conveyed, both by the music, the acting, the expensive kimono she’s wearing, and the limbs of the bandits and their concubines as they sleep. That scene also solves one of the movie’s mysteries, that is, what is wrong with Rikichi and why he has women’s clothing at his house but insists he’s not married. It also explains the conflict between him and Manzo; it’s clear that Manzo, who at heart is a worse coward than Yohei, was the one who suggested and brokered Rikichi’s wife’s body for the safety of the village. Understandably, Rikichi feels the bargain wasn’t worth it; he clearly would rather have lost his life fighting the bandits than willingly give up his wife to be raped, which is really what happened.

    You find the music intrusive. It certainly blankets the soundtrack more than in some other Kurosawa films, but I find the music absolutely perfect. I liked the samurai theme – the one played during the funerals and which ends the movie – so much that after the movie was over the first time I saw it, I picked out the melody on the piano. Personally, I find the music in Yojimbo, which had less music than Seven Samurai, more jarring because it was IMO too loud and too Western. I think this is more a matter of personal taste.

    At bottom, I think, Vili, the problem is what kind of film you like. I see subtlety in what you see as painting with too broad a brushstroke. I like epics and movies with broad sweep if they have enough social and character content. You may not. I hate pretentiously intellectual movies; in my opinion, “Rashomon” is the least interesting and enjoyable of the Kurosawa movies generally acknowledged as masterpieces; you may like it. So “Seven Samurai” can be a masterpiece and still not be a movie you particularly like, just as neither of us much like “Citizen Kane”.



    They used to show good movies on PBS? What happen, all they show now is “East Enders”.

    I wouldn’t claim Rashomon pretentious,but I do agree the broad and quick sweep of Seven Samurai is greatly effective, in that it defines each character, without spending great deals of time on this action, so not to ignore the more “epic” scales being tackled.



    Wonderful post, Lawless, I agree with everything you say.

    But I must admit that it never occurred to me that Manzo could be responsible for Rikichi’s wife being with the bandits, I always assumed she had just been kidnapped. But now that I think of it, the villagers didn’t seem worried about the idea of their women being kidnapped by the bandits. So yes, it makes sense that somehow she was sold out by them. So I think you might have a point there.



    Thank you for your kind words, Ugetsu. I’m just sorry I didn’t return to the site earlier to write about Seven Samurai before the original post!

    But I must admit that it never occurred to me that Manzo could be responsible for Rikichi’s wife being with the bandits. I always assumed she had just been kidnapped.

    I don’t have the script, so I can’t give you exact wording, but:

    -There are exchanges that pretty clearly indicate that Rikichi’s wife was what placated the bandits to leave the village relatively unscathed the last time around. She was not merely kidnapped. Some is by implication. Some is because Rikichi taunts Manzo about giving them Shino “this time”, implying someone else was given to them last time.

    -Rikichi’s taunting Manzo about Shino seems more personally pointed than just taunting him about his beautiful daughter. Rikichi is sneering when he does this, I think because he’s trying to get back at Manzo for being the one to suggest it or to convince the village to sacrifice his wife for the sake of the rest of them.

    -Manzo’s a collaborator by nature. Look at the lengths to which he goes to hide Shino’s gender. More importantly, look at the fact that he’s the one who had the clothes and equipment the farmers looted from defeated samurai, which almost certainly makes him a murderer as well as a coward. He’s exactly the kind of person who would push such an agenda.

    -An exchange explains Rikichi’s anguish and also makes his wife’s suicide even more plausible. If she was kidnapped, she might be more inclined to return, as her husband clearly wants her and forgives her.

    The full effect of the exchange aspect didn’t strike me unitl fairly recently, although I always believed Manzo had something to do with Rikichi’s wife’s capture. Maybe it takes a woman to see these things. I get the impression the rest of you are guys.

    Jeremy – The PBS program (not really a program, just a series of classic foreign movies) ran in the early 70’s. I saw The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, Metropolis, M, The Blue Angel, The Seventh Seal, Jules and Jim, The Rules of the Game, Yojimbo, Sanjuro, and Throne of Blood, among others.

    And my comment about Rashomon was meant to illustrate how different styles appeal to different people. It’s certainly a masterpiece technically, cinematographically, and conceptually – how would we have Memento or Sliding Doors without the influence of Rashomon – but the storyline leaves me fairly cold. Maybe also because I think there is such a thing as objective truth, although it is unknowable in its entirety to us humans, and a movie from which I can’t suss out the objective truth at all frustrates the hell out of me.



    Thats really interesting Lawless, I’ll have to watch it again to see those points, but from memory, I think you are right. It makes a lot of sense.

    One part of the film that always puzzled me is towards the end, where Manzo makes a huge fuss over finding Shino with the young Samurai. I was always curious that the samurai were so gentle and understanding with him, when I thought the natural reaction was to whack him for being so self centered. I guess this implies that the Samurai themselves maybe did not realise what may have been going on.

    Thinking about it, this is perhaps another level to the film. That the farmers, including Rikichi, were determined not to allow the Samurai any insight into internal conflicts within the village – i.e. they were determined from the beginning not to allow any interaction between them.

    As for Rashomon, I think you are right to say that it is a ‘cold’ film. Its impossible to empathize with characters when we are so clearly told that we don’t really know who they are.



    Lawless, welcome to the forum. I’m starting to think that Seven Samurai is a chick flick-since we clearly are the two most enthusiastic advocates. Well, not including Jeremy! (So, I guess it can’t count as a chick flick after all). I’m packing for a tour, and will be out until mid-March, but I look forward to reading more of your posts when I return.



    The damage is done coco, “not including Jeremy” only goes to actually include Jeremy. A chick by proxy; such things erode my self-illusion of manliness. I cry 🙁




    I am crying…from laughing so much! 😆

    Chick by proxy is an awesome phrase-one I intend to use!



    Ugetsu – I watched the movie again a couple of days ago and caught the ines pertinent to what happened to Rikichi’s wife. I was right, they’re in the initial scene of the villagers crying and the confrontation between Rikichi and Manzo on the way back to the village, just before they run into Kambei. Also the opening scene with the bandits.

    Opening shot with bandits: One of the leaders – the second in command, I think – points out that “We just took their rice last fall. They’ll have nothing now.” The leader responds, “Very well. We’ll return when the barley’s ripe.”

    During the scene with the crying villagers, in addition to the fact that Mosuke is restraining an extremely irate Rikichi from going after Manzo, the dialogue is as follows:

    After Rickichi says, “I’ve had enough! Better to risk it all than to live like this. Kill or be killed!” Manzo responds that “The farmer’s only choice is to endure. We can’t defy the powerful! When the bandits arrive, we’ll greet them meekly and quietly hand over all our barley. We’ll plead with them to elave just enough for us to survive. ‘That’s all we ask,’ we’ll beg on our hands and knees.”

    Rikichi responds, “What bandit will agree to that? Have you forgotten how low we had to stoop for the rice we’re eating now?” and then he stomps off. Mosuke hesitantly goes toward him and then suggests seeing the Old Man, ending the scene.

    On the road back to the village (which route they abandon once they run into Kambei), Rikichi is once more trying to assault Manzo and Mosuke is once again holding him back. Rikichi says, in response to Manzo, “I said we’d go home, not bargain with bandits!” Manzo responds, “It’s bargain or nothing!”

    To which Rikichi makes the very telling response: “Fine, have it your way! <em(long pause; Rikichi leans back and smirks)>But tell me. If we do strike a bargain, what have we got to offer this year? Are you willing to give ’em your daughter? Shino’s a fine-looking girl.”

    Manzo looks frightened; Rikichi gets up and swaggers away.

    From this, I glean that what Manzo suggests the villagers do (grovel, essentially) is more or less what they did. As Rikichi observes, however, in order to keep what rice they have now, they gave the bandits Rikichi’s wife (“how low we had to stoop for the rice we’re eating now”). Oooh, hadn’t thought of this before, but doesn’t that mean that what they are feeding the samurai was earned by prostituting Rikichi’s wife?

    It’s not a stretch to think that what Manzo advocates now is what he advocated then. Probably it was he who suggested it. This tends to be confirmed in the other scene, where Rikichi suggests that Manzo’s daughter Shino be the sacrifice this year, as Rikichi’s wife was the sacrifice last year, hoping to drive home for Manzo how unfair and cruel that bargain was. Notice how Rikichi says, “Fine, have it your way”, implying this was Manzo’s solution previously as well. This may have been one of the seeds that leads Manzo to cut Shino’s hair off, to make her less attractive to bandits as well as to samurai. We all know how that workekd out.

    And to circle back to Vili’s feelings about this film, see how a few lines pack so much meaning once you know the circumstances surrounding them? It’s so easy to let the movie wash over you and not pick up on the text hidden in the subtext. Once you think about it, what happened with Rikichi’s wife the prior year is pretty clear, but AK never comes out and says it baldly, he just makes passing references to it. That’s why this is a great film and why it may not be obvious at first blush that it’s a great film. We get distracted by the surface and never see below it. Also, what’s below it isn’t entirely cohesive or coherent, just like life itself.


    Vili Maunula

    That’s really well spotted, lawless! I never noticed the fact, myself.

    Having thought about it for some weeks now, my issue with the film is perhaps not so much with it lacking content per se, but rather with none of that content being given much attention. This is actually something that I noted already in the original post, but having watched the film again a few times, I’m starting to see a certain method behind it, and it has become the centre of my own current interest in the movie.

    If I find the time, I might explore this further in a longer post that I have been meaning to write for a few weeks now. Unfortunately, I simply lack the time these days.



    In previous films I’ve raised the issue of how a Japanese audience would respond to particular scenes or characters – the linguistic and cultural gap between us and the contemporary audience means (I assume) we will lose a lot of subtle hints and themes that would have been obvious.

    On reflection, I think Lawless is 100% correct about this – Rikichi’s wife must have been a ransom used to buy off the bandits, and Manzo is a prime suspect in organising it.

    It does offer an explanation to me for the incident I referred to above that has always puzzled me – why the Samurai were so sympathetic and supportive of Manzo, even though he was behaving so selfishly. I think that perhaps Kurosawa was showing that the Samurai, for all their intelligence and insight, were quite ignorant of what was going on in the village – they were showing great sympathy to the villager who deserved it least (and the villagers knew it). I think he was showing us (the contemporary audience) just enough hints at what actually happened the previous year, and just how cynical the villagers were, and how hypocritical Manzo is about his daughter, without making it so overt that the Samurai themselves guess it. Kurosawa was showing in the bonfire scene that even though the villages and Samurai were at their most united, there was a huge gulf of misunderstanding between them.



    Ugetsu, I read what happens at the bonfire differently. The samurai already know Manzo is, if not a murderer, a willing receiver of goods stolen from dead samurai or taken after murdering injured or defeated samurai. They display a certain amount of intuition, observation skills, and ability to read implications – witness Kyuzo’s response to seeing Katsushiro sneaking away to see Shino and the discussion about giving her rice to the old crone (forget who her male descendant was who was killed by the bandits) and Shichiroji’s noticing Katsushiro moaning Shino’s name in his sleep and then putting two and two together when Manzo calls Shino by her name, during the harvesting, if I remember correctly.

    After Kikuchiyo’s rant about the relative position of farmers and samurai, the samurai certainly have been reminded not only of the gap between them due to class differences but the way samurai have exploited that gap, including raping and otherwise taking advantage of farmer ‘s daughters. (Sounds like that old joke about the traveling salesman and the farmer’s daughter, but I digress….)

    Manzo was not only, or even primarily, concerned about rape, but about exploitation. He knew his daughter would be hot for the nearest cute young samurai (Katsushiro, to a T). The problem wasn’t rape but virginity. That’s something everyone would be aware of, because it was a societal norm: Women must be virgins before marriage or they’re soiled and no longer marriageable material. Part of the reason for this is to avoid any questions about parentage of children.

    Here, I think, we’re looking at this too much through American 21st century eyes. Anyone in Japan, and even in the U.S., in 1954 when this movie was released would understand the reference. Think of places where honor killing goes on. Japan wasn’t like that, but a high premium was still placed on virginity. That is why the samurai sympathize with Manzo, even though he is otherwise despicable and they know it. That is why Shino runs off in shame.

    And the class difference makes it worse, because it means Shino can’t even be a concubine; Katsushiro can’t bring him back with her and make her his mistress (well, he could, but then she’d have to become a courtesan). Her life is in her village, and if she lives, she’s screwed, because everyoneknows about her.

    So how to explain the final scene and why she looks unabashed? Her cutting Katsushiro is to be expected; she’s a farmer, he’s samurai, now the threat’s gone they have nothing in common anymore. Her apparent joyousness? Maybe it’s survival, but I like to think that after the movie is over, she marries Rikichi, who I think is not only the most open-minded of the farmers in this regard because of his experience with his wife – I believe he would have welcomed her back with open arms; if not, why keep her clothing? – but is the one who defended the couple to Manzo, stating that “at least they were in love” – in other words, no force or coercion was involved. I think Rikichi would respect that she did what she did out of love and the fear of death (carpe diem) and not want her treated as trash because of it, just as he would not have treated his wife as trash for what was done to her.

    I also think that Rikichi’s leading the singing during the rice harvest may presage that he will replace the Old Man as the village head. After all, fighting – hiring the samurai, as the Old Man suggested – was his idea in the first place. If they’d listened to Manzo, they’d be in the same position as before and subject to future raids. And who else in the village has any leadership skills? Although Mosuke, to me, is the perfect peacemaker and plays that role throughout the film.



    Lawless, thats a fantastic analysis, thank you for that, very thought provoking.

    Just one question – I’m not exactly an expert on the subject, but I’d always assumed that in Japanese society (like a lot of Asian societies) an emphasis on the value of female virginity was more of an aspirational one than one that was really taken seriously. In other words, in reality a blind eye was turned, so long as no visible pregnancy occurred. Maybe I was influenced by some reading I did a few years ago about Cambodian village life, where frequently girls returned after working as prostitutes in the city – despite the fact that everyone must know deep down that they could not have earned as much money working in factories or offices, they were treated as if they were virgins on their return and would marry local boys without it being an issue. Do you think Japanese peasant society at the time was more judgmental? Or, to be more precise, would a 1950’s Japanese audience have assumed so?



    Yes and yes.

    First of all, Cambodia is different from Japan. Different culture. Also, I assume you’re talking about something contemporary, or at least 20th century. People have to live, have to eat. As long as the activity didn’t happen in the village, they could turn a blind eye to it.

    In this case, we’re talking 16th century Japan, not 20th century Cambodia, and the activity took place right in front of everybody. They can’t turn a blind eye. Kurosawa puts it in as another signifier of the class gap. Samurai can’t/don’t want to be farmers and farmers, for the most part, can’t become samurai. Farm girls can’t marry or sleep with samurai, and to do so would probably be considered overreaching as well as slutty and injurious to social order for the reasons given in my prior post (mostly uncertainty about legitimacy of offspring)..

    Once Tokugawa consolidated power around 1600 and the civil war ended (actually, I think the decisive battle took place in 1602), he set the class system in stone. No one could change classes anymore.

    Japanese peasant society would be very judgmental. She would be viewed as trying to change classes and disrupting the community (injuring the community’s wa, to use a term used in the miniseries <i>Shogun</i>. However cheesy you might consider it, <i>Shogun<./i>, which is set around 1600, was fairly historically accurate, and it indicated the price a married samurai woman would pay for infidelity (seppuku and disgrace, possibly also disgracing her son); certainly a peasant girl would normally pay a higher price.

    That said, I think this particular village might be more sympathetic than usual to arguments such as Shichiroji’s, that these trysts are common on the eve of battle when people fear they won’t survive, and to the fact that a lot of this is her father’s fault to begin with for worrying too much about keeping her away from the samurai. If they’d known she was female and Manzo’s daughter to begin with, I’m certain they would have treated her with kid gloves and made it clear to each other that she was off-limits.

    As I said, I like to think that she and Rikichi married. She certainly seemed to be taking a lead, albeit tardy, part in the singing as they harvested the rice the samurai helped save for them. Of all the farmers, Rikichi, who defended her, is the most likely to forgive or overlook her indiscretion, and clearly as a practical matter he needs a wife to help him farm and run his household.

    I’m fairly certain that not only would this cultural history be known to a 1950s Japanese audience but that virginity was still important then. With such developments as compensated dating, in which teenage girls make appointments by cell phone to go on dates with older men which often end in sex for which the material reward can be the date itself, purchase of an expensive item such as clothing, a bag, the latest game or cell phone, or cash that is considered a “gift” rather than payment, less importance is now placed on actual virginity (except I imagine the reward for sex with a virgin would be higher than with someone else). Most of these girls are not troublemakers or in trouble, they just want material goods and feel this is an easy way to obtain them (this originated when the bubble of the 80s burst and families no longer had the income for children to enjoy the same standard of living as before). Their parents work and aren’t home most of the day (or evening). As long as they do their school work and don’t get into trouble in school, their parents are satisfied.

Viewing 40 posts - 1 through 40 (of 40 total)

Leave a comment

Log in or Register to post a comment!