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 thoughts on “Shichinin no samu­rai [The Seven Samurai]

  1. 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.

  2. 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.

  3. 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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