Director: Akira Kurosawa
Writers: Akira Kurosawa, Shinobu Hashimoto, and Hideo Oguni
Stars: Toshiro Mifume, Takashi Simura
A small farming community is terrorized by marauding bandits that arrive seasonally. After a recent raid the villagers decide to take action and send two farmers in search of samurai to hire in defense of their village. They arrive at a city and stay in a stable–the only place they can afford.
Their initial attempts at hiring samurai fail as all they have to offer is three meals a day. But their fortunes change after witnessing an older samurai, Kambei (Takashi Simura) rescue a boy kidnapped by a bandit. The farmers approach the masterless warrior with their offer and he accepts. Over the next few days Kambei recruits his troop of ronin to defend the farmers. On their trek to the village they are joined by Kikuchiyo (Toshiro Mifume), a samurai Kambei rejected.
Once at the village, instead of being welcomed with open arms the samurai are greeted by fearful farmers cowering in their homes. Insulted by the villagers lack of hospitality, Kambei asks for an explanation. Before one is given the alarm sounds. Terrified the bandits have returned the cowards in their homes run out begging the samurai for protection. All quickly discovered Kikuchiyo rang a false alarm to draw everyone out. Impressed with Kikuchiyo’s quick thinking Kambei formally invites him into the group.
With Kambei as leader and the other samurai as his lieutenants, the group enlists the farmers to fortify the village. At the same time they also train the farmers in the art of war and sacrifice. Undefendable sections of the village must be abandoned in order to save the whole. An easy means of access into the village is created in order to lure the bandits into a controlled path to not only defend the farmers but also attack the bandits.
Seven Samurai is a well shot and acted film, but at a whopping 207 minutes (3 hrs 27 mins) it is overlong. The initial setup of the story, recruitment of the samurai, and journey to the village could have all been trimmed without damage to the story. The siege of the village eventually becomes repetitive until the final assault.
Aside from the length, there are no real negatives to Seven Samurai. The story is surprisingly thoughtful and insightful. Kambei’s final thoughts come full circle with his early statement of never wining a battle. Kikuchiyo’s prejudice against the farmers ties into his own personal shame and desire to elevate himself above his station. Though for the most part all the other samurai our basic caricatures, they each have their unique motivations and voice.
The look of the film is gorgeous with the use of high-contrast black & white film. Both the set design and costumes are well executed.
The two principal leads both give very good performances. Simura as Kambei conveys the experience and tiredness of his character–a man who has seen too many wars and too many deaths. Mifume as Kikuchiyo has a louder and showyier role but never goes over the top.
While researching the film on IMDb to confirm the actor’s name and spelling I learned the original international release version was 160 minutes long, which to me seems the right length of time to convey the full scope of the story while eliminating the fat from the story. I will say you should watch this on the biggest screen you can find. Your enjoyment of the cinematography and composition of the shots will be the better for it.
Grade = B+(3.5 Bishop Review Scale)
Fun Fact (in honor of Bishop Review): The simultaneous production of Seven Samurai and Godzilla nearly forced Tôhô Kabushiki Kaisha, the studio, into bankruptcy.
Fun Fact 2: Spell Check had fun with this one.
Classic movie week is currently filled with writers, but if you would like to take part in a future film week, email me at Bishopthereviewer@gmail.com.