An Appreciation – Seven Samurai

One of the big accomplishments that he had here was how well he was able to realize each of the main and supporting characters, giving them traits and qualities that are completely their own. This falls in line with many other movies that incorporate a group or band of individuals brought together with a specific intention in mind; the same kind of idea would be put to use in countless heist films. I was surprised how well the characters were brought to life, given that the film was so ambitious and had such a large cast. We remember many of them: Shichiroji (Daisuke Kato), Kambei’s close friend and once his lieutenant; Gorobei (Yoshio Inaba), Kambei’s second in command; Heihachi (Minoru Chiaki), a charming character who often plays the role of comic relief; Kyuzo (Seiji Miyaguchi), the master swordsman. Of all the supporting characters we have, Kyuzo is arguably the most remembered. With a very serious demeanor about him, Kyuzo is a quiet yet deadly warrior. His use of the sword is unmatched, and often he would rather go off to practice than do anything else. A particular scene comes to mind: in the middle of the night, with all the men fast asleep, Kambei worries about the opposition still having a rifle in their possession. Without a second thought, Kyuzo sprints into the forest alone. The next morning, he returns, rifle in hand, and tells Kambei that there are two bandits they will no longer have to worry about. An action scene that didn’t even take place on screen, and yet that is all we need to know about Kyuzo and his abilities.

And then, there is Kikuchiyo, played by the great Japanese actor Toshiro Mifune. Mifune and Kurosawa were constant collaborators, with the actor appearing in sixteen of the director’s projects. This is arguably their best effort together, and Kikuchiyo one of their most unique characters. Kikuchiyo is a loud, temperamental, scene-chewing kind of person. He makes large gestures, often times shouts his dialogue, puffs his chest proudly while wielding an enormous sword. It’s easy to say that this character is exaggerated and more like a caricature, but I would argue that there is much more nuance here than what is simply seen on the surface. Clearly, the broad strokes that Kikuchiyo gives us are a defense mechanism, used to cover a more painful and heartbreaking background. He did not start out as samurai, but instead jumped social classes to become one. Kikuchiyo was born and raised as a villager, just like the people they have been hired to protect, and has falsified his noble birth in an attempt to gain the samurai notoriety. This gives him a much more unique perspective compared to the other men: Kikuchiyo identifies with the villagers and understands their plight, and wants to help them not out of duty, but because he wants them to have the protection that he did not.

This makes Kikuchiyo the heart and anchor of the film. One of the best scenes is when Kikuchiyo, after taking the armor and weaponry of dead samurai killed by the villagers, chastises the other men for not recognizing the hardships that they have gone through. In a scene filled with passion, energy, and heartbreak, Kikuchiyo (played amazingly by Mifune) describes the terrible tragedies that farmers have experienced at the hands of the samurai, revealing his background to the others. Not only do we learn that Kikuchiyo was born as the son of a farmer, we also come to realize that he had become orphaned, his family killed. What an interesting character development this is, to see a man become that which has brought such misfortune in his life, in hopes of preventing something like that happening to another innocent child. This makes him the bridge between the samurai and the villagers, and often times we see Kikuchiyo playing and joking around with the children of the town, because he sees himself in them. He is the spark that keeps the men going, even if he is reckless and unpredictable. When one of their own falls, he is the one to climb to the top of a house and raise their banner. He keeps them going when adversity gets in their way.

With all that I’ve said about this movie, I have yet to talk about the action. If there is one thing that Kurosawa knew how to do and do well, it was staging and filming an action sequence. Whether it be the villagers running around in unison, the bandits swarming the village in a wave of horseback riders, or the fight scenes between individual characters, there is not a moment of action that is not exquisitely filmed. What Kurosawa was able to do (that a lot of modern action directors fail at) is have the ability to recognize space and continuity within an action scene. There is not a moment here where I did not understand what was going on. Every shot has a purpose, and each contributes to efficiently telling us the sequence of events amongst the controlled chaos in the village. There is no shaky cam here, and because of that we know why the men hide to the side and allow only one rider to enter. We can see how they have blocked off all escape routes, leaving the one rider alone against the entirety of the town. We know where all of the samurai are located, and what their responsibilities are in protecting the people. And because of all these bits of information given to us masterfully by Kurosawa, the action scenes are all the more thrilling, intense, and suspenseful. Because we understand what is at risk, we come to identify with who is in the middle of the action, and we know the terrible consequences if one of these samurai were not able to fulfill his responsibilities.

In the end, Seven Samurai is the epitome of epic storytelling done right. Akira Kurosawa was an expert filmmaker, making a handful of well-told stories dealing both with high-octane action and the morality of human nature. This is one of his best accomplishments, a grandiose vision that has influenced countless other filmmakers and even helped mold the very genre it has become a part of. And the key to his success lays in the questions he raises within these stories. Take a look at the very end of the movie. The bandits have been defeated, and peace has been restored to the countryside. Some villagers sing and beat drums, while other plant crops to the rhythm. They are happy and content. But where are the samurai? Those who have survived stand back, away from the joy and near the graves of their fellow comrades. Was what they did worth it? They have no money; the villagers no longer have a use for them, and whatever ties were made seem to have been broken. The samurai act on a belief of honor and duty, and whatever tragedy is set before them, they must face it, because that is their nature.

Pages: 1 2


Allen is a moviegoer based out of Seattle, Washington. His hobbies include dancing, playing the guitar, and, of course, watching movies.

You can reach Allen via email or Twitter

View all posts by this author