Seven-Samurai-hd.jpg

Shichinin no Samurai (人の侍) (Seven Samurai)



Seven Samurai or Shichinin no Samurai(七人の侍)is a masterpiece film by Akira Kurosawa(黒澤 明). It was filmed in 1953-54 and released in Japan in 1954, and later in the western world in 1955. Though the film went over budget and was thought to fail, it has become a Japanese cultural icon and has become one of the most influential works in film. It is often cited by film critics as one of the greatest films.



The film is set around the late 1850's in Japan during the demilitarization era. The film is about a group of Ronin( 浪人) (Master-less Samurai) who set out to save a village from a destined attack from a group of forty bandits. With the warriors' rich personality and wonderful cinematic techniques, the film is an emotional epic that defines Japanese culture and relationships.

Contents
  • Plot Summary
  • Production
  • Influences
  • Cinematography
  • Themes
  • References

Plot Summary


Untitled1.jpg

A remote village has been raided by a group of bandits, and have said they will return to plunder the village after the harvest. The villagers, hearing this, become scared and must prepare and plan for the attack on their village, come the harvest season. After a heated debate, they decide to go quest and hire a samurai to protect their village. On the way, they discover Shimada, (島田勘兵衛) played by a re-occuring Kurosawa actor, Takashi Shimura(志村 喬). Shimada, a nameless Ronin (浪人), sets out to gather a team of Samurai(excellent warriors). He estimates it will take a total of seven in order to lead the town and defeat the forty bandits.

Along the way, he is fallowed by Okamoto (岡本勝四郎), a young man who is looking to be trained into the way of the samurai by Shimada. At first, Shimada disagrees but later allows him to join the team. Shimada also recruits Katayama (片山五郎兵衛), a skilled bowman, who gets a woodcutter named Hayashida (林田平八), who is not much of a warrior but rather a moral booster. Shimura then gets an old lieutenant he stumbles upon in town to join his team, followed by a serious skilled swords man named Kyuzo (久蔵). As they are about to leave town, a man previously seen following Shimura appears- a drunk would-be samurai named Kikuchiyo (菊千代) played by one of Kurosawa's most used actors, Toshiro Mifune (三船 敏郎).

After the teams sets off for the village, they try multiple times to rid themselves of Kikuchiyo by asking awkward tasks of him. Slowly, he becomes one of the group, serving as their comic relief. Upon arriving to the village, the peasants begin to cower and begin to hide in fear of the samurai. This disgusts Shimada and his team and right as they are about to speak to the village elder about their rude welcome, the alarm is raised. As the samurai run to their defensive posts, Kikuchiyo comes forth and explains that he raised the alarm and that the villagers need to treat their saviors with more respect. As they begin to trust one and another the samurai lose respect for the villagers, learning that they have murdered a past group of samurai and had kept their gear as a trophy.

The village begins to train in order to prepare themselves for the fight to come. Along with this, the samurai set up defenses around the village to aid against the attack. Okamoto falls in love with a peasant's daughter, who inspires him to become more of a "samurai." The village is then spied on by the bandits, but the samurai slay them before they are able to return to their fort to report the news of the village. This gives the team an idea to counter attack at night, sending in three of their warriors who can take on "ten" men per person. As they attack, Heihachi is killed by gunfire- an unworthy way to die.

Though the strike killed many of the bandits, the next day they raid the village. Confused by the barricades established, many of the bandits slay themselves on the laid traps. However, the bandits had a trick up their sleeves- three muskets. The samurai fight the bandits by splitting themselves into small groups leading a squad of trained villagers. The battle lasts for three days as the bandits come on and off. Slowly after each attack, one by one, three more samurai are killed by gunfire. Katayama at his post, Kyuzo attacking the bandit leader, and Kikuchiyo, who after being wounded, kills the bandit leader. With only three remaining samurai Shimada is ashamed to be one of the only survivors after nearly giving up fighting entirely.

Production


Seven Samurai started off as a authentic piece, as Kurosawa was looking to create a true 時代ー劇 (jidai-geki, a time period piece). At the time, nearly all of the Japanese films were jidai-geki films(Donald 97-103,237). Kurosawa wanted something more, something with more emotion and more accurate when it came to costumes and characteristics. As the film was being written, Kurosawa only planned on a movie with six samurai to help and aid the villagers. However, he did not want the movie to end up like Roshomon which Kurosawa found blan and boring. To accommodate this, he changed the film to seven samurai and re-cast his beloved actor Mafuni into the role of foolish outsider looking to join the samurai. When given the role, Kurosawa directed Mafuni to do what he wanted with the character, and as a result we are able to see Mafuni at his very bes(Donald 97-103,237)t.

The film was commissioned around 166 thousand dollars. However, as the filming was beginning, the film quickly went over budget. As a result of the enlarging budget, the studio producing the film went into bankruptcy and was forced to close twice. While the studio was closed, Kurosawa would often go fishing or go on relaxing hikes knowing that the studio had invested too much money(all of it's money) into the film. Seven Samurai ended up costing $500,000 in 1954. However, with it's worldwide profit, Kurosawa's studio was able to grow and continue to fund and produce his films; more importantly his later jidai-geki films(Donald 97-103,237).

The increase of cost came from the costumes and the increased length of the picture. However, the major cost came from the production of the set. Toho Studios insisted that Kurosawa built the village on set, to lower the cost, Kurosawa refused and demanded that it would look "fake" and needed to be built off-set to make the set "believable." After a great deal of debate the village was built off-set, a trait Kurosawa would use throughout the rest of his cinematic life(Donald 97-103,237).

Influences



Already debuting Roshomon to the world, Kurosawa was becoming well known to the western world, which allowed him more access to films developing around the world, such as Citizen Kane, and other American masterpieces. However, Kurosawa took more influence from Soviet films at the time (Yoshimoto 205-40). The greatest influence for Seven Samurai was The Battleship Potemkin by Russian director Sergei Eisenstein. The film features some of the most revolutionary techniques to film, including epic montages and new cinematic cuts. Among the techniques it used, it also was a film with a great deal of symbolism and hidden themes. Being an artist, Kurosawa was looking to make a period piece that featured ideas that related to modern times, specifically post-war Japan or English occupied Japan. After the release of the film, it soon spread across the world, influencing many filmmakers into creating period based films. More importantly, it changed the jidai-geki films in Japan, making the films focus more on story, emotion, and cinematography instead of being a costume gimmick. Seven Samurai also revolutionized cinematic structures. It was the first film to feature a soldier who seeks out a team in order to solve a problem. This same structure can be seen in The Magnificent Seven (1960) and other American films (Yoshimoto 205-40).

Cinematography


2.JPG
Figure. 1
Kurosawa was an artist long before he was a director and with this artistic background, he understood how to arrange a frame and to balance it perfectly while utilizing artistic rules and traits such as the rule of thirds, or the diagonal set-up. Along with this, he used different camera moments and placements in order to help set the tone of the film(Mellen 1-83).

If we look at figure 1, we can see how Kurosawa utilizes the diagonal set-up throughout the film. Originally, this was used in painting to help move ones eyes across the canvas in order to focus on one point, in this case Kikuchiyo. Kurosawa does this throughout the film when he wants the audience to focus their attention to one particular person or object.

Also using figure 1, we can see the the rule of thirds, if we drew two parallel lines vertically and horizontally, splitting the image into nine even sections, we can see everything is balanced, and it allows the eye to move easily though the image. Balancing out the samurai is the mountain in the background, which is cutting the frame in the opposite direction. It is also the same hight as the tallest appearing character in the frame.
3.JPG
Figure. 2
Even the hilt of their swords and their ends fall on the lines, creating a balance effect. Within the rule of thirds, there is also the triangulation effect, which is when all of the subjects in the image can be evenly distributed into triangles. Another aspect that Kurosawa uses in this film is how he cuts the scenes
(Mellen 1-83).

Normally in film, we have scenes that are cut based on time and the movement of the film; however, Kurosawa took a different approach. In Seven Samurai, the scenes are cut based on subject matter. When characters are talking to one and another, the film will cut to the person they are speaking about (Mellen 1-83). This was one of the first times film had been cut in this fashion and would help pave the way for films in the future to use non-traditional cuts.

Seven Samurai is noted as one of Kurosawa's films that focuses heavily on close ups. Though we have seen it before in his films, the close up is heavily relied upon to show the emotion of the characters(Price 205-355). Even in figure 2, we can see the close up of the sword representing their fallen soldier. We also can see the great deal of emotion on the characters faces. This comes from Kurosawa's silent period, giving him the knowledge that the face is the most important tool when conveying emotion.

Themes


s1.JPG
Seven Samurai, Storm Scene

Frequently, Kurosawa uses themes in his films as another way of storytelling. In movies like Roshomon, scholars have noted the use of light to determine the morality of the characters. In Seven Samurai, we see the use of movement to show the constant change in the world. Everything in the film is shown as moving (Yoshimoto 205-40). There is never a still moment, whether the movement is in the camera or even wind rustling the plants in the background. This movement helps show the change that is occurring. We see the lack of trust in the samurai as they fall out of favor,like Mafuni becoming a samurai with his uncivilized attitude, etc. Along with this, Kurosawa said it was to help give the impression of action and quick pace, and motion; trying to break the barrier of "boring" of his boring films of the past (Cardullo and Kurosawa 23,62-65).

An element seen in Kurosawa's films before Seven Samurai and after, is an extreme weather element. For example: Stray Dog focused on the heat of Japan, while Roshomon focused on the heat, as well as the tropical storms of the Pacific (Mellen 1-83). Seven Samurai uses then seasons as well, as the movie is based around the barley crop cycle. Thus, the movie shows the seasons of spring and fall, the extreme heat, rain, and more.

The film was also made to show the effects of post war Japan and the loss in Japanese culture, as it was becoming heavily influenced by the western world. Many Japanese at the time saw it as a death to their culture. Throughout the film, we are given the impression that the samurai are falling out of favor and we are given constant reminders of this with the slain samurai's armor, the cowardly village, etc. Even at the end, as there are only three samurai left, we learn that they sacrificed themselves for the aid of village, with nothing in return but rice.

References


Cardullo, Bert, and Akira Kurosawa. Akira Kurosawa: interviews. 1st ed. MI, US: University Press of Mississippi, 2008. 23, 62-65. Print.

Donald, Richie. The Films of Akira Kursawa. 3rd ed. Los Angeles, CA: University of California Press, 1998. 97-103, 237. Print.

Mellen, Joan. Seven Samurai. 1st ed. London, UK: British Film Institute, 2002. 1-83. Print.

Price, Stephen. The Warriors of Camera: The Cinema of Akira Kurosawa. 3rd ed. Princeton, NH: Princeton University Press, 1998. 205-355. Print.

Yoshimoto, Mitsuhiro. Kurosawa: Film Studies and Japanese Cinema. 3rd ed. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2002. 205-40. Print.