Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai

Seven Samurai by Akira Kurosawa

Seven Samurai by Akira Kurosawa

七人の侍 Shichinin no Samurai is the one movie at least some Americans are aware of, at least pre-anime Americans. Seven Samurai is described as one of the greatest and most influential films ever made, and it is the subject of both popular and critical acclaim; it was voted onto the top three of the Sight & Sound critics’ list of greatest films of all time in 1982, and onto the directors’ top ten films lists in the 1992 and 2002 polls.

Made in1954, the film was the first samurai film that Akira Kurosawa had ever directed. He had originally wanted to direct a film about a single day in the life of a samurai but later discovered a story about samurai defending farmers in his research. According to actor Toshiro Mifune, the film was originally going to be called Six Samurai, with Mifune playing the role of Kyuzo. During the six-week scriptwriting process, Kurosawa and his screenwriters realized that “six sober samurai were a bore—they needed a character that was more off-the-wall.”[6]

Kurosawa recast Mifune as Kikuchiyo and gave him creative license to improvise actions in his performance. After three months of preproduction, the film had 148 shooting days spread out over a year, four times the span covered in the original budget, which eventually came to almost half a million dollars (in real money). Toho Studios closed down production at least twice.

Each time, Kurosawa would calmly go fishing, reasoning that the studio had already heavily invested in the production and would have to allow him to complete the picture. The film’s final battle, originally scheduled to be shot at the end of summer, was shot in February in near-freezing temperatures. Mifune would recall later that he had never been so cold in his life.

Kurosawa refused to shoot the peasant village at Toho Studios and had a complete set constructed on the Izu Peninsula. Although the studio protested the increased production costs, Kurosawa was adamant that “the quality of the set influences the quality of the actors’ performances…. For this reason, I have the sets made exactly like the real thing. It restricts the shooting but encourages that feeling of authenticity.”[7] He also began using multiple cameras to shoot his scenes in order to capture action sequences from various angles, a practice he would continue for the rest of his career.

He was on the money with his creative demands. Seven Samurai was a technical and creative watershed that became Japan’s highest-grossing movie and set a new standard for the industry. Its influence can be most strongly felt in the western The Magnificent Seven (1960), a film specifically adapted from Seven Samurai, with the Samurai replaced by gunslingers, which several sequels and there was also a short-lived 1998 television series.

According to Michael Jeck’s DVD commentarySeven Samurai was among the first films to use the now-common plot element of the recruiting and gathering of heroes into a team to accomplish a specific goal, a device used in later films such as The Guns of NavaroneOcean’s ElevenThe Dirty DozenSholay, the western remake The Magnificent Seven, and Pixar’s animated film A Bug’s Life.

Look it up on Netflix to see some interesting spinoff of this classic film.

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5 Responses to Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai

  1. Thank you! I usually don’t go for that genre; but you have intrigued me; I am going to check it out this weekend!

  2. Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai is a classic and an amazing movie! I have watched it and excerpts of it at least 10 times. My son is a NYU film school grad and he was constantly watching this, his favorite movie of all time. Great blog on the history of this movie. Thanks for sharing it.

  3. Thanks. I was very amused by all the different spin-offs and remakes abailable on Amazon, including a space-opera version.

  4. Akira Kurosawa’s masterpiece… The Japanese equivalent to Orson Welles’ Citizen Kane.. I say it’s just as good, if not even better. Not only Kurosawa’s most well known film, but the most widely recognized Japanese film ever made. This movie will forever be known as a milestone in motion picture history.The story revolves around a village that has become a group of bandits’ common looting and pillaging ground. The villagers cannot take this any longer and go to town to hire warriors to defend the village from the bandits. A wandering ronin, Kambei (Takashi Shimura) agrees to help them and with his help, they recruit six others that agree to take the job. The seven samurai teach the villagers how to stand up to the bandits and defend themselves. Finally, when the time comes, they engage in a fierce battle with the attacking bandits.About once in every 20 years or so we are gifted with a film that has the meaning, power, richness, and technique that The Seven Samurai has. I cannot urge anyone enough to see this film, the images are true cinematic poetry rich with so much emotion that I cannot even describe them in words. If you have never seen any of Kurosawa’s works, then please see Seven Samurai… you will witness the true beauty, excellence and magic that the art form known as film is capable of.

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