Shichinin no samurai [The Seven Samurai]

A part of this view­ing list: Cri­te­ri­on Col­lec­tion Spine #2: Aki­ra Kurosawa’s Shi­chinin no samu­rai.


I’ve seen this film four times now, so it’s kind of hard to believe that I haven’t real­ly writ­ten about it at all. This movie is so very very good and very very enter­tain­ing that peo­ple who absolute­ly hate for­eign films should still give it a try. While Kam­bei [Takashi Shimu­ra, who I’ve seen pre­vi­ous­ly in Inagaki’s ver­sion of The 47 Ronin] is the leader of the rat-tag ronin, the show is always stolen by Toshi­ro Mifune’s char­ac­ter: Kikuchiyo.

It should be pret­ty obvi­ous why this occurs. Kikuchiyo is the only char­ac­ter in the film that is com­pli­cat­ed. Kat­suhi­ro is basi­cal­ly just a horny young man, Kam­bei [who dear­ly miss­es his chon­mage] is an old war-dog, Man­zo is just wor­ried about his daugh­ter, et cetera. Kikuchiyo how­ev­er, well, he has unwit­ting­ly made him­self into an exis­ten­tial hero by his inabil­i­ty to rec­on­cile his past and his ambi­tion.

So he’s an ex-farmer whose par­ents were killed by ban­dits, and some­how he grew up, for­got his own name, got his hands on a samu­rai lin­eage scroll [sort of a patent of nobil­i­ty in a sense, I think] got him­self a bigass sword and then tries con­tin­u­al­ly to become the very thing he hates, a samu­rai. Kikuchiyo basi­cal­ly hates the world, but his per­son­al­i­ty is such that, instead of being all depressed about it [although he does have man­ic-depres­sive ten­den­cies] he fights and fights and fights. His pos­tur­ing and swag­ger around the samu­rai he is try­ing to impress do lit­tle to his cred­it. His fierce indi­vid­u­al­i­ty is a lia­bil­i­ty to the defense of the vil­lage. Yet.

When he for­gets him­self we see his con­sid­er­able strengths. He is intu­itive­ly intel­li­gent despite hav­ing no edu­ca­tion, valiant, and an excel­lent source of moti­va­tion. As an out­cast, he acts as an inter­me­di­ary between the farm­ers and the samu­rai, and his com­pas­sion for the farm­ers is obvi­ous, despite his dis­gust at the life they lead.

His death is nec­es­sary and inevitable. If he sur­vived, Kurosawa’s mes­sage would be over­shad­owed by the per­son­al­i­ty of Kikuchiyo. In death, the path is cleared for Kam­bei [still sans top­knot] to reflect on the ulti­mate tragedy of bushi­do. A samu­rai can live with hon­or, but always fails in his goals. Kikuchiyo’s death becomes a vic­to­ry then, for it was on his own terms, com­plete­ly per­son­al, not bound by any code or debt.

David Ehrenstein’s Cri­te­ri­on essay.
Some artist ren­der­ings of shots from the film.
The Cri­te­ri­on Contraption’s review.

4 Replies

  • An excel­lent movie, I also like the West­ern ver­sion The Mag­nif­i­cent Sev­en. Also Adam, if you’ve not seen the mini-series or read the book Shogan (by James Clavall, I think), you might find it some­what inter­est­ing. I think it is sort of where they got the idea for The Last Samuri from. I think that author also had some inter­est­ing his­tor­i­cal fic­tion books about Hong Kong and Japan. I remem­ber read­ing a lot of his books 10–15 years ago when I was real­ly inter­est­ed in East-Asain Cul­tures.

  • The 47 Ronin almost killed me. 4 hours of basi­cal­ly debat­ing whether or not to com­mit harikiri (sp?).

    I like your taste, Adam. C’est tres bien.

  • It sounds like you watched the black and white, pre-WWII ver­sion of the film by Ken­ji Mizoguchi. I’ve seen that one too, and reviewed it here. The ver­sion with Mifu­ne is almost as long, but much more watch­able.

    I sup­pose I should men­tion that when a samu­rai com­mits rit­u­al sui­cide it is called sep­puku, say­ing harakiri is con­sid­ered poor taste. 😉

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