Summary of Some Scenes from The Seven Samurai
"Farmers are born to suffer. Its our lot." (Rikichi)
On the suggestion that the villagers hire unemployed samurai to help them fight the bandits:
"Never heard of such a thing. Will samurai fight for just food? They are awfully proud."
"Find hungry samurai." (Granddad)
18:00 minutes into the film, Kambei, a wily veteran, shaves his head and poses as a priest in order to free a kidnapped child from a robber. By cutting his topknot off, and putting his long samurai sword aside for the sake of his disguise, he dispenses with the two primary symbols of his samurai status. According to Prince, he dissolves hius samurai identity in order to become heroic. After performing this selfless act, Katsushiro,
a young samurai who is in the crowd watching evetns unfold, is in awe of him and asks to become his "montei,"
his pupil, his follower or disciple. Kambei tries to dissuade him:
"Im not a man with any special skills. Ive fought lots of battles.
All of them losing battles."
"I dont have the status or wherewithal to have a disciple."
On the peasants proposition to help them:
"Its difficult. Im tired of fighting. Maybe its my age."
The peasants weep; the coolie/gambler points out that while the samurai eat
rice, the farmers are eating millet. "Theyre giving you their best,"
Kambei understands: "I wont waste your food." Its his
Selecting the Samurai:
Kambei asks Katsushiro to hide behind the door with a wooden stick and hit any samurai who walks through the door in order to test their mettle. The first samurai tested in this manner reacts swiftly to the blow and diverts it.
Kambei is delighted, "Omigoto!"(Beautiful, well done!). But this samurai has larger ambitions than working for peasants for food only.
1. Katayama Gorobei is the next to be lured in to speak with Kambei; but wary and smart, he stops well before the threshold and smiles. "No jokes, please."
Kambei is even more delighted. Gorobei thinks over the proposition and eventually
says, "Yarimashoo." (Lets do it!). He explains his reasoning:
He is interested in Kambeis character. "The deepest friendships often
come from chance meetings."
2. Then, Kambei returns to the lodgings with his former "mate" Shichiroji, who used to be Kambei's "right hand man," [the Japanese is
actually "furui nyobo," my old wife]. Delighted to see that each other
survived, they swap stories about how they escaped. When asked how he felt when
the castle wall nearly fell on him, Shichiroji just says,
"Nothing in particular." When he hears the proposition ("Neither
money nor fame"), he responds immediately with a "Yes."
"We might die this time." Shichiroji just smiles. His eyes shine.
3. An old man tells Gorobei that a peculiar samurai, characterized by "gay indifference,"named Hayashida Heihachi,
is splitting wood for him in his yard. Gorobei goes to check him out. He compliments
him on his skill; Heihachi claims hes better at killing enemies with his sword.
"Have you killed many?"
"Well, there are always too many enemies to kill so I usually just run
Gorobei laughs, "A splendid principle!" Heihachi becomes much loved in the group of seven for his humor, his self-deprecating nature and his genuineness. He is down to earth, warm and sincere. "Good company in adversity."
The master swordsman who is only interested in perfecting himself,
is the next member to join the band. Initially we seem his engaqge anopther samurai in a sword fight with bamboo staffs. After they position themselves and attack the challenger says, "It's a tie," "I won," replies Kyuzo. His opponeent insists of a rematch with real blades this time. Kyuzo tires to warn him: "It is no use. Can't you see, if we use real swords you would be dead." The warning goes unheeded. As Kambei and Katsuhiro watch Kambei comments:
"What a waste. It is so obvious." He can tell a master swordsman when he sees one!
5. Kikuchiyo, drunk, comes to the group next. Hes been solicited by one
of the laborers but he is the first and only one to get whacked by Katsushiro when he enters the door. He
has his "family history" with him to prove he is a samurai by birth
but if he is who he claims, he would only be thirteen years old.
Kikuchiyo's character provides a lot of comic relief in Seven Samurai.
The six samurai leave for the village.
Kikuchiyo follows and finally becomes accepted by the group. He will
prove his worth later .
Arrival in the Village:
The samurai are not well received. "They expect us to do something for
them, why do they fear us?"
Kikuchiyo sounds the alarm and upbraids the villagers. His colleagues admire him
for this and for what he had to say, and his sense of humor.
"So now we are seven."
Scene with the hidden armor:
The Samurai are appalled at Kikuchiyos discovery: that the villagers have
salted away weapons and armor from stray samurai they hunted down and killed.
They are furious. Kikuchiyo responds with a key speech in the film:
What do you think of farmers? You think theyre saints?
Hah! Theyre foxy beasts. They say theyve got nothing but they
have stuff hidden all over the place. They even hide fields back in the canyons.
The have salt, beans, sake.
They smell a battle; they hunt the defeated. They are stupid. They murder.
But who made them such beasts? You samurai did!! You burn their villages, steal thier food, force them
to work, take their women. And kill them if they resist. So what should they do?
Kikuchiyo breaks down and weeps inconsolably. Kambei understands:
"Youre a farmers son, arent you?"
Kikuchiyo goes off by himself in a huff. When Katsushiro comes up to him, he
is rebuffed. Kikuchiyo goes off to join Rikichi and sleep in the barn. He does
not want to be around the samurai. Lying down in the hay, memories flood back.
Heihachi makes a flag for the group. At the bottom, it bears the phonetic symbol ta standing for tambo or rice field. It symbolizes the farmers.
At the top are 6 circles in two columns and a triangle underneath them.
explains that the circles symbolize the samurai. Kikuchiyo counts them up and
says, "Hey, there are only six circles. Am I out?" "No, the triangle
symbolizes you, Sir Kikuchiyo!" replies Heihachi. Everyone laughs. Kikuchi is different, an anomoly.
The Defense Plan:
They talk about when the harvest will occur and how afterwards, they need to
flood the fields, dig a ditch/moat around the perimeter and fill it with water.
The 3 houses outside the perimeter will have to be evacuated. The farmers are
appalled. It cant be helped.
One of the farmers whose home must be evacuated bolts and takes others with
him. Throws down his spear. Lets not risk our homes for this. Kambei yells
at them "Matte!!" [Wait!!]. He draws his sword and forces the
peasant back into the center of the village and addresses them all:
Three houses are outside the perimeter; twenty are within it.
We cannot sacrifice 20 for 3. You are all in one boat. He who thinks only
of himself will destroy not only himself, but others as well.
"Such selfishness will not be tolerated," he
Everyone is merry. The women are out. Kikuchiyo is acting up. When Gorobei jokingly
tells Rikichi that married couples seem to be the most efficient and shouldnt
he get married, Rikichi reacts strangely. Heihachi tries to get him to talk
about it later on but Rikichi wont reveal what is bothering him.
Kikuchiyo tries to ride Yoheis horse.
Katsushiro and Shino lie down together in a field of flowers. She wished she
was a samurais daughter so they could be together. She first puts her
face close to his, then lies down in a most suggestive pose. She keeps her legs
slightly spread apart, but Katsushiro does not pick up the signal. She calls
him a chicken and cries. Then they hear sounds of a horse neighing. They check
it out: its three outriders from the bandit group. They are scouts. The
samurai dont wish to be seen but clueless Kikuchiyo blows the secret so
they have to go after and secure the three scouts. Kyuzo kills two and they
bring one back to the village. The villagers, a ferocious mob, want to kill
him. The samurai try to hold them back saying he is a prisoner of war. But the
old Granny of Kyuemon comes with her own pitchfork to get revenge for the death
of her son. The samurai dont like it, but they must relent.
The Raid on the Bandits Lair:
They decide they need to even the odds by raiding the bandits camp and
reducing the numbers by 10 or so. Kyuzo, Rikichi, Kikuchiyo, and Heihachi go.
They catch the bandits asleep in their house with their women draped over them.
A fire is started and the plan is to kill the bandits as they run out. The camera
comes in for a close up on one woman who awakens, sees the fire but strangely,
does nothing to move or warn anyone. Eventually, the bandits awaken, rush out
and are cut down. When the strange woman comes to the door of the burning building,
Rikichi rushes to her. It is his wife whom the bandits took on their last raid.
She runs back into the fire to her death. Now we know what has been bothering
Rikichi, why he claimed he had no wife. In the confusion created by Rikichis
actions, poor Heihachi is shot trying to rescue him. So the first samurai dies.
The cemetery is the scene for mourning Heihachi. It is a somber moment. He is
the one they counted on to cheer them up when the battles got rough. They will
miss him. Kikuchiyo is furious. He rushes back to get Heihachis banner
and places it atop on of the farmers houses. Then, there is a horizon
shot of the bandits on horseback coming to attack the village. Let the fighting
There will be three days of battles. The final battle will be fought in the
rain and mud, a less than glorious end to it all.
Review by Kenneth Turan:
"The Hours and Times: Kurosawa and the Art of Epic Storytelling"
by Kenneth Turan
The great German composer Richard Strauss was conducting his three-hour-plus Der Rosenkavalier when—or so the story goes—he turned to his concertmaster and said, “My, this is a long opera.”
“But maestro,” the man replied, aghast, “you wrote it.”
“Yes,” the imperturbable Strauss answered, “but I never thought I’d have to conduct it.”
In artistic matters, as in everything else, length is relative. Clocking in at three hours and twenty-seven minutes, Seven Samurai was to be the most popular—and longest—film of director Akira Kurosawa’s extensive career, but that didn’t stop it from making people uneasy. In fact, Toho Studios cut fifty minutes before so much as showing the film to American distributors, fearful that no Westerner would have the stamina for its original length. And the New York Times’s august Bosley Crowther did contend that “it is much too long for comfort or for the story it has to tell.” Yet, paradoxically, more than any other kind of cinema, long films done right have the potential to envelope you completely in character and experience.
The longest hit film since 1939’s three-hour-and-forty-two-minute Gone with the Wind, Seven Samurai came by its length honestly. The script took six intense weeks to write, with the screenwriters—Kurosawa, Shinobu Hashimoto, and Hideo Oguni—forbidden visitors and even phone calls for the duration. Preproduction lasted three months, and the film’s 148 shooting days were spread out over an entire year, four times the span that was originally budgeted.
Unlike the often self-indulgent long films of today’s Hollywood auteurs, Seven Samurai uses its length creatively, not merely to burnish egos. Confident of his powers and not in any kind of a rush, Kurosawa proceeds like a master chef, allowing his ingredients to simmer and become tastier, tastier, and tastier still. And this particular story, the tale of a group of masterless samurai coming together to defend a village of farmers against the depredations of roving bandits, seems to demand just that kind of treatment.
Seven Samurai unrolls naturally and pleasurably, like a beautiful scroll or valuable rug, luxuriating in its elongation—it takes an entire hour just for the basic task of choosing the titular seven. Rather than try to ignore time, the film emphasizes its passage, underlining key scenes with a quiet but insistent drumbeat that could almost be a clock ticking off the inexorable seconds.
The film’s length works in its favor in ways both big and small: It allows the samurai leader, whose head is shaved in an opening scene, to gradually grow his hair back. It allows the eternally uneasy bond between the samurai and the villagers, as well as the villagers’ martial confidence, to believably grow over time. It also allows us to observe each of Seven Samurai’s many characters in the round, from every angle, to view them as individuals with their own back stories, philosophies, martial-arts skills, and reasons for being there. We get to know them naturally, the way we get to know our friends: by putting in the time. We get to experience the emotional arc of the youngest samurai and to understand where the fury of Toshiro Mifune’s ragtag battler Kikuchiyo comes from. When the bandits finally do attack, our hearts are in our throats—we know the defenders so well, and we can sense that not everyone will survive.
The passage of time has one final advantage: it reflects the entirety of the agricultural year, from planting to gorgeous blossoming to final harvesting. That’s critical, because the film’s final message is to reinforce the endurance of this kind of life, its toils and struggles. “In the end, we’ve lost this battle too,” one of the survivors says. “The victory belongs to those peasants, not to us.” By showing us nature’s passage as well, Kurosawa ensures that this message comes through loud and clear.
Kenneth Turan is the chief film critic for the Los Angeles Times and the author of the book Never Coming to a Theater Near You.
Kurosawa's Early Influences
by Peggy Chiao
The themes, symbolism, and aesthetic forms of Akira Kurosawa’s films owe their origins to the ideas and sensibilities that captured his imagination as a young man. They include Marxism, which caught the attention of the Japanese intelligentsia in the twenties and thirties; classical Russian novels, which mesmerized the country’s cultural elite; impressionist painting, which rocked the contemporary art world; and the sport of kendo, which Kurosawa practiced as a young boy.
In 1928, when Kurosawa was eighteen years old, Japan attacked Manchuria and assassinated the warlord Zhang Zuolin. Society was in turmoil. A year later, the Great Depression struck, and as Marxist thinking carried the day, Kurosawa joined the Proletariat Artists’ League. Though he later renounced his belief in political organizations and actions as effective means to correct social ills, Kurosawa never denied the populist slant of his films. He said it was youthful passion that brought him to join a left-wing organization, but his compassion for the plight of the lower classes and his practice of engaging class differences as dramatic structure are readily discernible in Seven Samurai (1954), Ikiru (1952), High and Low (1963), and Dodes’ka-den (1970).
Another major influence on Kurosawa was his elder brother, Heigo, who was addicted to the novels of Fyodor Dostoyevsky and Maksim Gorky. Additionally, he introduced Akira to Western art and the auteur cinema of Fritz Lang, John Ford, Vsevolod Pudovkin, and Sergei Eisenstein. Heigo, however, was to commit suicide when Akira was twenty-three years old. In his memoir Something Like an Autobiography, Kurosawa wrote about his brother’s profound influence on his development in art and literature, and especially in nurturing his passion for Dostoyevsky. Their only difference, he wrote, was that “my brother was pessimistic and negative, and I was optimistic and positive.” One time, Kurosawa met an actor who knew his brother, and the actor told him, “You are exactly like your brother, only he’s the negative, and you’re the positive print.”
From Dostoyevsky, Kurosawa inherited the concept of redemption. As had Dostoyevsky’s czarist Russia, Kurosawa’s Japan was going through momentous economic changes and had to brace itself against an impending catastrophe. The tortures of historical change produced in the artist a humanitarian ideal, to seek redemption through acts of self-sacrifice. In Seven Samurai, the samurai display great perseverance in protecting the farmers, their social inferiors. In the closing sequence, as the farmers joyously plant rice seedlings and sing, the surviving samurai stand by their comrades’ grave, on a mound, and sigh, “The victory belongs to those peasants, not to us.”
Besides Dostoyevsky (whose novel The Idiot Kurosawa adapted to the screen in 1951), Gorky was also a significant influence. Kurosawa penned an adaptation of his The Lower Depths, bringing to the screen Gorky’s insights on lowly human behavior born out of evil, cruelty, and poverty. The warmth and moderation in human nature, so celebrated in Yasujiro Ozu’s films, have no place in Kurosawa’s works. There is instead much affinity with Gorky in matters concerning the contradictions and innate antagonism in human nature, as well as the fierce struggle for survival. This also explains why Kurosawa was fond of the films of Kenji Mizoguchi, particularly those of the 1930s.
Kurosawa’s early training in Western painting and kendo, both under his father’s supervision, was also instrumental to his creative life. Van Gogh’s and Gauguin’s dense, layered brushstrokes and sensitivities find their glorious way into Kurosawa’s screen images, evident in their composition, outline, and emotional vibrancy. His is a strong and robust emotion that favors the seasons of winter and summer and the plain flavor of daily life.
Meanwhile, the sport of kendo endowed Kurosawa with a high-spirited heroism, complete with an unbending faith in the pursuit of perfection. An individual hero, powerful and carrying within him a humanitarian ideal bequeathed by literature and politics, goes on a quest to put society on a just path: such is the philosophical backbone of Kurosawa’s Bushido (the way of the warrior) cinema.
Taiwanese film scholar and critic Peggy Chiao has published more than forty-five books and founded the China Express Film Awards in 1989. She has also produced and written many Taiwanese films, including Betelnut Beauty (2001) and Beijing Bicycle (2001).