The Seven Samurai


2h 40m 1956
The Seven Samurai

Brief Synopsis

Japanese villagers hire a team of traveling samurai to defend them against a bandit attack.

Film Details

Also Known As
7 Samurai, Les Sept samourais, Los siete samurais, Sept samourais, Seven Samurai, The, sju samurajerna
Genre
Drama
Action
Adventure
Foreign
Period
Release Date
1956
Production Company
Janus Films; Toho Company Ltd.
Distribution Company
Cowboy Pictures/Kino International; Connaissance Du Cinema; Cowboy Pictures; Kino International; Nelson Entertainment; Orion Home Video; Toho Company Ltd.
Location
Japan

Technical Specs

Duration
2h 40m
Sound
Mono
Color
Black and White
Theatrical Aspect Ratio
1.37 : 1

Synopsis

A Japanese farming village, constantly beseiged and pillaged by an army of bandits, recruits seven independent samurai to defend it.

Photo Collections

The Seven Samurai - Movie Poster
Here is the original Japanese-release movie poster for The Seven Samurai (1954), directed by Akira Kurosawa.

Videos

Movie Clip

Seven Samurai, The (1954) - Got A Problem, Gramps? As the grandfather (Toranosuke Ogawa) tries to explain the villager's fears to Kambei (Takashi Shimura), Kikuchiyo (Toshiro Mifune) figures a way to get their attention, in Akira Kurosawa's The Seven Samurai, 1954.
Seven Samurai, The (1954) - Don't Waste Your Life The master Kambei (Takashi Shimura) and his would-be colleague (Ko Kimura), beginning their recruiting mission, watch as Seiji Miyaguchi (as Kyuzo), who had never handled a sword before, performs his introductory scene in Akira Kurosawa's The Seven Samurai, 1954
Seven Samurai, The (1954) - He's Still Following Us Kikuchiyo (Toshiro Mifune) taunts his would-be comrades, en route with the peasant farmers to their village, and stages a fishing demonstration in Akira Kurosawa's The Seven Samurai, 1954.
Seven Samurai, The (1954) - Stop Crying! Kambei (Takashi Shimura) and Kikuchiyo (Toshiro Mifune) offer differing comments at the funeral for the fallen Samurai Heihachi, which is interrupted as the bandits attack, in director Akira Kurosawa's The Seven Samurai, 1954.
Seven Samurai, The (1954) - I'm Just A Monk The ruffian Kikuchiyo (Toshiro Mifune) and the protegè Katsushiro (Ko Kimura) watch the master Kambei (Takashi Shimura), disguising himself as a monk, rescue a hostage child, early in Akira Kurosawa's The Seven Samurai, 1954.
Seven Samurai, The (1954) -- There Are 13 Left Takashi Shimura (as Kambei) issues orders and directs archers, while Toshiro Mifune (as Kikuchiyo) leads swordfighters, as the Samurai and the villagers face the bandits in this portion of the climactic battle sequence from Akira Kurosawa's The Seven Samurai, 1954.

Trailer

Film Details

Also Known As
7 Samurai, Les Sept samourais, Los siete samurais, Sept samourais, Seven Samurai, The, sju samurajerna
Genre
Drama
Action
Adventure
Foreign
Period
Release Date
1956
Production Company
Janus Films; Toho Company Ltd.
Distribution Company
Cowboy Pictures/Kino International; Connaissance Du Cinema; Cowboy Pictures; Kino International; Nelson Entertainment; Orion Home Video; Toho Company Ltd.
Location
Japan

Technical Specs

Duration
2h 40m
Sound
Mono
Color
Black and White
Theatrical Aspect Ratio
1.37 : 1

Award Nominations

Best Art Direction

1954

Best Costume Design

1954

Articles

The Essentials - Seven Samurai


SYNOPSIS

A village of poor, struggling farmers decides to hire samurais to protect them from marauding bandits who attack their homes and families and steal their food. They find a solo samurai named Kambei who, like most of his compatriots, has no master and wanders the country fending for himself. Despite his circumstances, Kambei is an honorable and compassionate man who recruits five other samurais, including the worshipful young Katsushiro, the master swordsman Kyuzo, and Kikuchiyo, a peasant posing as a warrior.

Director: Akira Kurosawa
Producer: Sojiro Motoki
Screenplay: Akira Kurosawa, Shinobu Hashimoto, Hideo Oguni
Cinematography: Asakazu Nakai
Editing: Akira Kurosawa
Production Design: So Matsuyama
Original Music: Fumio Hayasaka
Cast: Takashi Shimura (Kambei Shimada), Toshiro Mifune (Kikuchiyo), Yoshio Inaba (Gorobei Katayama), Seiji Miyaguchi (Kyuzo), Minoru Chiaki (Heihachi Hayashida), Daisuke Kato (Shichiroji), Isao Kimura (Katsushiro Okamoto).

Why THE SEVEN SAMURAI is Essential

The Seven Samurai holds a position occupied by few other films––completely grounded in its culture and the periods in which it was set and produced but global in its themes, its appeal, and, most important where this film is concerned, its impact. Some critics have debated how much Kurosawa was consciously seeking to imitate the Westerns of directors like Howard Hawks and John Ford (whom Kurosawa reportedly idolized). There can be no doubt, however, about the impact The Seven Samurai has had on action films made since its release.

As New York Times film critic Bosley Crowther said in 1956, "It is a solid, naturalistic, he-man outdoor action film, wherein the qualities of human strength and weakness are discovered in a crisis taut with peril. And although the occurrence of this crisis is set in the 16th century in a village in Japan, it could be transposed without surrendering a basic element to the nineteenth century and a town on our own frontier." In looking closely at The Seven Samurai, then, we naturally consider the characters, styles, and techniques of any number of other works, from those of Ford and Hawks to Spielberg and Lucas.

Kurosawa was the first Japanese director to break through to the international film audience, but he also broke new ground in his own country; part of it was his use of Hollywood cinematic techniques such as musical motifs to introduce and represent different characters. Through much of its history, at least until the late 1960s, a large percentage of Japan's cinematic product was jidai-geki or period films, particularly those centered on the samurai warrior class. In the postwar era, fewer of these films were made, partly because the genre was frowned upon by Allied occupation authorities who wanted no glorification of a feudal, militarist past. Those that were created tended to be simplistic swordfight films with stock characters, comparable to the later Steve Reeves sword-and-sandal epics in their glancing relationship to real history. What Kurosawa created was something quite different from the usual jidai-geki set in the Tokugawa or Edo period (17th to mid-19th centuries), a time when central authority had been re-established in Japan. He chose to set his story in the Sengoku or Warring States period of the 16th century, a chaotic and violent time of civil war, social upheaval, and political intrigue. His samurai, then, are not well-heeled, noble heroes but wandering ronin (warriors without a master), their days of glory behind them. And instead of the usual ballet-like choreography of the fight scenes, he went for in-the-mud realism, emphasizing the chaos and horror of battle.

The Seven Samurai has been called an ultimate example of an auteurist work because, although there were plenty of collaborators, artists, and technicians involved, it is Kurosawa's film all the way. Known for being demanding, domineering, and a perfectionist in all his productions, he orchestrated every aspect of this film - the performances, music, set, editing, and even the weather. The Japanese film industry was known for giving directors a great deal of autonomy, especially compared to Hollywood, but Kurosawa's eminence by this point in his career and his stubborn personality assured him complete control over the final product to make exactly the film he envisioned.

What he envisioned was put on screen with techniques that opened the eyes of audiences, critics, and other film artists to startling ways of telling a story: telephoto shots that put the action right in your lap; pacing that allowed slow, contemplative scenes to build tension for the inevitable violence to come; single shots of exquisite beauty that were never there for mere pictorial flourish; and perhaps most influential in the years to follow, slow motion shots of violence and death. The result was an immensely popular movie full of rich characterizations, exciting action sequences, and wry humor that, despite its length, was both rousing entertainment and a deeply felt and fully realized "art" film.

by Rob Nixon
The Essentials - Seven Samurai

The Essentials - Seven Samurai

SYNOPSIS A village of poor, struggling farmers decides to hire samurais to protect them from marauding bandits who attack their homes and families and steal their food. They find a solo samurai named Kambei who, like most of his compatriots, has no master and wanders the country fending for himself. Despite his circumstances, Kambei is an honorable and compassionate man who recruits five other samurais, including the worshipful young Katsushiro, the master swordsman Kyuzo, and Kikuchiyo, a peasant posing as a warrior. Director: Akira Kurosawa Producer: Sojiro Motoki Screenplay: Akira Kurosawa, Shinobu Hashimoto, Hideo Oguni Cinematography: Asakazu Nakai Editing: Akira Kurosawa Production Design: So Matsuyama Original Music: Fumio Hayasaka Cast: Takashi Shimura (Kambei Shimada), Toshiro Mifune (Kikuchiyo), Yoshio Inaba (Gorobei Katayama), Seiji Miyaguchi (Kyuzo), Minoru Chiaki (Heihachi Hayashida), Daisuke Kato (Shichiroji), Isao Kimura (Katsushiro Okamoto). Why THE SEVEN SAMURAI is Essential The Seven Samurai holds a position occupied by few other films––completely grounded in its culture and the periods in which it was set and produced but global in its themes, its appeal, and, most important where this film is concerned, its impact. Some critics have debated how much Kurosawa was consciously seeking to imitate the Westerns of directors like Howard Hawks and John Ford (whom Kurosawa reportedly idolized). There can be no doubt, however, about the impact The Seven Samurai has had on action films made since its release. As New York Times film critic Bosley Crowther said in 1956, "It is a solid, naturalistic, he-man outdoor action film, wherein the qualities of human strength and weakness are discovered in a crisis taut with peril. And although the occurrence of this crisis is set in the 16th century in a village in Japan, it could be transposed without surrendering a basic element to the nineteenth century and a town on our own frontier." In looking closely at The Seven Samurai, then, we naturally consider the characters, styles, and techniques of any number of other works, from those of Ford and Hawks to Spielberg and Lucas. Kurosawa was the first Japanese director to break through to the international film audience, but he also broke new ground in his own country; part of it was his use of Hollywood cinematic techniques such as musical motifs to introduce and represent different characters. Through much of its history, at least until the late 1960s, a large percentage of Japan's cinematic product was jidai-geki or period films, particularly those centered on the samurai warrior class. In the postwar era, fewer of these films were made, partly because the genre was frowned upon by Allied occupation authorities who wanted no glorification of a feudal, militarist past. Those that were created tended to be simplistic swordfight films with stock characters, comparable to the later Steve Reeves sword-and-sandal epics in their glancing relationship to real history. What Kurosawa created was something quite different from the usual jidai-geki set in the Tokugawa or Edo period (17th to mid-19th centuries), a time when central authority had been re-established in Japan. He chose to set his story in the Sengoku or Warring States period of the 16th century, a chaotic and violent time of civil war, social upheaval, and political intrigue. His samurai, then, are not well-heeled, noble heroes but wandering ronin (warriors without a master), their days of glory behind them. And instead of the usual ballet-like choreography of the fight scenes, he went for in-the-mud realism, emphasizing the chaos and horror of battle. The Seven Samurai has been called an ultimate example of an auteurist work because, although there were plenty of collaborators, artists, and technicians involved, it is Kurosawa's film all the way. Known for being demanding, domineering, and a perfectionist in all his productions, he orchestrated every aspect of this film - the performances, music, set, editing, and even the weather. The Japanese film industry was known for giving directors a great deal of autonomy, especially compared to Hollywood, but Kurosawa's eminence by this point in his career and his stubborn personality assured him complete control over the final product to make exactly the film he envisioned. What he envisioned was put on screen with techniques that opened the eyes of audiences, critics, and other film artists to startling ways of telling a story: telephoto shots that put the action right in your lap; pacing that allowed slow, contemplative scenes to build tension for the inevitable violence to come; single shots of exquisite beauty that were never there for mere pictorial flourish; and perhaps most influential in the years to follow, slow motion shots of violence and death. The result was an immensely popular movie full of rich characterizations, exciting action sequences, and wry humor that, despite its length, was both rousing entertainment and a deeply felt and fully realized "art" film. by Rob Nixon

Pop Culture 101 - Seven Samurai


Much has been written about the influence Akira Kurosawa had on American films, particularly Westerns and those that dealt with violence in a very stylized way. On the other hand, film analysts have argued over to what extent Kurosawa was influenced first by American Westerns, particularly the work of John Ford and Howard Hawks. Certainly, one can make a connection between such films as My Darling Clementine (1946) or other Ford films of the period and The Seven Samurai in the way they deal with the end of an era (the old West/the period of the samurai's greatest glory). Kurosawa and Ford's films also focus on men who fight to preserve and advance a civilization that no longer has any place for them (gunfighters and cowpokes/ronin or masterless samurai).

There is certainly, at least on the surface, a long acknowledged affinity between the samurai movie and the Western. Where they part company, according to many critics, is in the much greater sense of class division at work in Seven Samurai, although even that aspect is reflected in the division between the "civilized" farmers, business people, and authorities of the New West and the less restrained life of the cowhand or gunfighter. This theme has been extensively explored in several films, notably in Sergio Leone's Once Upon a Time in the West (1968).

The most obvious influence of The Seven Samurai on American Westerns is the remake by John Sturges, The Magnificent Seven (1960), in which a disparate band of gunfighters is pulled together to defend a Mexican village from marauding bandits. The title of the remake was the original title under which The Seven Samurai was released in the States, but when Sturges claimed it for his version, the Kurosawa film was referred to with the English title by which it is known today (sometimes including "The" and sometimes without it).

One of the filmmakers most influenced by Kurosawa and The Seven Samurai was Sam Peckinpah. Talking about his second feature Ride the High Country (1962) with Ernest Callenbach in Film Quarterly, Peckinpah said his aim was to make Westerns the way Kurosawa did. The Wild Bunch (1969) is seen by many as Peckinpah's Seven Samurai for its visual style, pacing and story of a group of men making one last stand for their way of life; its evocation of the time shows how social progress renders the misfits of the title obsolete and no longer capable of adapting. During production of The Wild Bunch, Toshiro Mifune wrote to Peckinpah wishing him the best, and Peckinpah replied that he hoped Mifune would appreciate the film. Years later, when Kurosawa made Kagemusha (1980), he invited Peckinpah to Japan for the premiere. The continuing influence is evident in a remark made by production designer Ted Haworth regarding a visual effect in a film he worked on with Peckinpah, the war movie Cross of Iron (1977): "Kurosawa Peckinpah at his best."

Arthur Penn was also very influenced by Kurosawa and The Seven Samurai in the making of Bonnie and Clyde (1967), particularly in the slow-motion, multi-camera montage of the death of the title characters. Discussing his concept of that scene, Penn said, "Having seen enough Kurosawa by that point, I knew how to do it."

Kurosawa's use of intercut footage from more than one camera running at different speeds is evident in the scene in which Kambei kills a thief who has kidnapped a child. It has been called "the textbook for modern movie violence." (Stephen Prince, "Genre and Violence in the Work of Kurosawa and Peckinpah" in Action and Adventure Cinema, Yvonne Tasker, ed., Routledge, 2004).

The Seven Samurai is generally acknowledged to be the first use of a shot now commonplace in cinema, the "horizon shot," when the bandits come pouring over the hilltop into view. It has been seen in a number of action films, and was employed by Spielberg in the desert shot in Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977).

George Lucas has acknowledged his debt to Akira Kurosawa, and several homages and allusions can be found throughout the Star Wars series. In Star Wars (1977), the robot C3PO echoes the comments of the Japanese peasants when he says, "It seems we are made to suffer. It's our lot in life." Luke Skywalker also bears similarities to both Kikuchiyo (the farmer's son aspiring to warrior status) and Katsushiro (the young man yearning to be a disciple to a master). In The Phantom Menace (1999), the shot of Federation tanks coming over the hill is a direct tribute to the horizon shot of the marauding bandits. Lucas has said Yoda rubbing his head while thinking was a conscious homage to Kambei's head-rubbing gesture. Lucas has also said in interviews that while he was in Japan he became familiar with the cinematic genre jidai-geki ("period film," a category to which Seven Samurai belongs), so it is widely assumed this was an inspiration for his invented word "Jedi" (rebel warrior). Lucas has also employed the rarely seen wipe effect as a scene transition, which Kurosawa uses frequently in The Seven Samurai.

The plot of The Seven Samurai has inspired several other stories with widely divergent settings, including the Hong Kong action flick Liu he qian shou (Duel of the Seven Tigers, 1979), Italy's sword-and-sandals fantasy I Sette magnifici gladiatori (The Seven Magnificent Gladiators, 1983), and the Indian film China Gate (1998).

The John Sayles-scripted Battle Beyond the Stars (1980) has several points of connection with the original, notably in its plot about seven mercenaries of the future assembled to defend a peaceful outer space farming colony from evil aggressors. Robert Vaughn plays a character closely modeled on the one he played in The Magnificent Seven. The main character hails from the planet Akir, whose natives are known as Akira.

A Japanese TV anime series, Samurai 7 (2004), was based on The Seven Samurai and aired with the blessings of the Kurosawa family. There is a PlayStation video game called Seven Samurai 20XX, based on the story and characters but transposing them to a futuristic setting.

An alleged remake to be produced by the Weinstein Company and Kurosawa's son Hisao is already generating considerably negative comments on Internet blogs, particularly for the rumor that it will star George Clooney, Chinese actress Zhang Ziyi, and Hong Kong action star Donnie Yen.

The idea of a disparate band of misfits being recruited for a difficult but righteous cause is often credited as having begun with The Seven Samurai. In his book The Great Movies (Broadway Books, 2002), Roger Ebert notes Kurosawa's influence on such Hollywood action films as The Guns of Navarone (1961), The Dirty Dozen (1967), "and countless later war, heist, and caper movies." (Although not specified by Ebert, one of those films would be John Frankenheimer's aptly named Ronin, 1998, the term for a samurai without a master, dealing with a group of mercenaries with various specialties assembled for an espionage-related job.)

Roger Ebert also points out that Sergio Leone's remake of Yojimbo (1961) as A Fistful of Dollars (1964) gave birth to the spaghetti Western, and notes the influence of The Seven Samurai and The Hidden Fortress (1958) on the Star Wars series. "It could be argued that this greatest of directors gave employment to action heroes for the next fifty years, just as a fallout from his primary purpose."

The awareness of Japanese film in the West began with Kurosawa's earlier pictures, particularly Rashomon (1950) and Ikiru (1952). The success of Rashomon at the Venice Film festival in 1951 opened the door for Western distribution of films by Mizoguchi and Ozu, highly praised directors who had been working for many years in Japan.

Kurosawa's influence on filmmakers outside Japan, particularly in America, was evident in his honorary Academy Award. It was presented to him in 1989 by two of the directors most heavily influenced by him, Steven Spielberg and George Lucas, for "accomplishments that have inspired, delighted, enriched, and entertained audiences and influenced filmmakers throughout the world."

"It is not surprising that Seven Samurai was remade by Hollywood because it was already close to the Western in its use of an elite body of brave warriors, a slow preparation for violent action, and the generally pusillanimous civilian population––like the townspeople in High Noon [1952]." – David Thomson, A Biographical Dictionary of Film (Alfred A. Knopf, 2000)

Scottish-born film critic and director Lindsay Anderson compared the scene of Kikuchiyo training the villagers to Falstaff drilling the troops in Shakespeare. There have also been suggestions that the battle scenes in Orson Welles's film of the Falstaff story adapted from Shakespeare, Chimes at Midnight (1965), were influenced by the battles in The Seven Samurai.

"Surely [Toshiro Mifune] copied John Wayne, and surely others (like Eastwood) have copied him." – David Thomson, A Biographical Dictionary of Film (Alfred A. Knopf, 2000)

by Rob Nixon

Pop Culture 101 - Seven Samurai

Much has been written about the influence Akira Kurosawa had on American films, particularly Westerns and those that dealt with violence in a very stylized way. On the other hand, film analysts have argued over to what extent Kurosawa was influenced first by American Westerns, particularly the work of John Ford and Howard Hawks. Certainly, one can make a connection between such films as My Darling Clementine (1946) or other Ford films of the period and The Seven Samurai in the way they deal with the end of an era (the old West/the period of the samurai's greatest glory). Kurosawa and Ford's films also focus on men who fight to preserve and advance a civilization that no longer has any place for them (gunfighters and cowpokes/ronin or masterless samurai). There is certainly, at least on the surface, a long acknowledged affinity between the samurai movie and the Western. Where they part company, according to many critics, is in the much greater sense of class division at work in Seven Samurai, although even that aspect is reflected in the division between the "civilized" farmers, business people, and authorities of the New West and the less restrained life of the cowhand or gunfighter. This theme has been extensively explored in several films, notably in Sergio Leone's Once Upon a Time in the West (1968). The most obvious influence of The Seven Samurai on American Westerns is the remake by John Sturges, The Magnificent Seven (1960), in which a disparate band of gunfighters is pulled together to defend a Mexican village from marauding bandits. The title of the remake was the original title under which The Seven Samurai was released in the States, but when Sturges claimed it for his version, the Kurosawa film was referred to with the English title by which it is known today (sometimes including "The" and sometimes without it). One of the filmmakers most influenced by Kurosawa and The Seven Samurai was Sam Peckinpah. Talking about his second feature Ride the High Country (1962) with Ernest Callenbach in Film Quarterly, Peckinpah said his aim was to make Westerns the way Kurosawa did. The Wild Bunch (1969) is seen by many as Peckinpah's Seven Samurai for its visual style, pacing and story of a group of men making one last stand for their way of life; its evocation of the time shows how social progress renders the misfits of the title obsolete and no longer capable of adapting. During production of The Wild Bunch, Toshiro Mifune wrote to Peckinpah wishing him the best, and Peckinpah replied that he hoped Mifune would appreciate the film. Years later, when Kurosawa made Kagemusha (1980), he invited Peckinpah to Japan for the premiere. The continuing influence is evident in a remark made by production designer Ted Haworth regarding a visual effect in a film he worked on with Peckinpah, the war movie Cross of Iron (1977): "Kurosawa Peckinpah at his best." Arthur Penn was also very influenced by Kurosawa and The Seven Samurai in the making of Bonnie and Clyde (1967), particularly in the slow-motion, multi-camera montage of the death of the title characters. Discussing his concept of that scene, Penn said, "Having seen enough Kurosawa by that point, I knew how to do it." Kurosawa's use of intercut footage from more than one camera running at different speeds is evident in the scene in which Kambei kills a thief who has kidnapped a child. It has been called "the textbook for modern movie violence." (Stephen Prince, "Genre and Violence in the Work of Kurosawa and Peckinpah" in Action and Adventure Cinema, Yvonne Tasker, ed., Routledge, 2004). The Seven Samurai is generally acknowledged to be the first use of a shot now commonplace in cinema, the "horizon shot," when the bandits come pouring over the hilltop into view. It has been seen in a number of action films, and was employed by Spielberg in the desert shot in Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977). George Lucas has acknowledged his debt to Akira Kurosawa, and several homages and allusions can be found throughout the Star Wars series. In Star Wars (1977), the robot C3PO echoes the comments of the Japanese peasants when he says, "It seems we are made to suffer. It's our lot in life." Luke Skywalker also bears similarities to both Kikuchiyo (the farmer's son aspiring to warrior status) and Katsushiro (the young man yearning to be a disciple to a master). In The Phantom Menace (1999), the shot of Federation tanks coming over the hill is a direct tribute to the horizon shot of the marauding bandits. Lucas has said Yoda rubbing his head while thinking was a conscious homage to Kambei's head-rubbing gesture. Lucas has also said in interviews that while he was in Japan he became familiar with the cinematic genre jidai-geki ("period film," a category to which Seven Samurai belongs), so it is widely assumed this was an inspiration for his invented word "Jedi" (rebel warrior). Lucas has also employed the rarely seen wipe effect as a scene transition, which Kurosawa uses frequently in The Seven Samurai. The plot of The Seven Samurai has inspired several other stories with widely divergent settings, including the Hong Kong action flick Liu he qian shou (Duel of the Seven Tigers, 1979), Italy's sword-and-sandals fantasy I Sette magnifici gladiatori (The Seven Magnificent Gladiators, 1983), and the Indian film China Gate (1998). The John Sayles-scripted Battle Beyond the Stars (1980) has several points of connection with the original, notably in its plot about seven mercenaries of the future assembled to defend a peaceful outer space farming colony from evil aggressors. Robert Vaughn plays a character closely modeled on the one he played in The Magnificent Seven. The main character hails from the planet Akir, whose natives are known as Akira. A Japanese TV anime series, Samurai 7 (2004), was based on The Seven Samurai and aired with the blessings of the Kurosawa family. There is a PlayStation video game called Seven Samurai 20XX, based on the story and characters but transposing them to a futuristic setting. An alleged remake to be produced by the Weinstein Company and Kurosawa's son Hisao is already generating considerably negative comments on Internet blogs, particularly for the rumor that it will star George Clooney, Chinese actress Zhang Ziyi, and Hong Kong action star Donnie Yen. The idea of a disparate band of misfits being recruited for a difficult but righteous cause is often credited as having begun with The Seven Samurai. In his book The Great Movies (Broadway Books, 2002), Roger Ebert notes Kurosawa's influence on such Hollywood action films as The Guns of Navarone (1961), The Dirty Dozen (1967), "and countless later war, heist, and caper movies." (Although not specified by Ebert, one of those films would be John Frankenheimer's aptly named Ronin, 1998, the term for a samurai without a master, dealing with a group of mercenaries with various specialties assembled for an espionage-related job.) Roger Ebert also points out that Sergio Leone's remake of Yojimbo (1961) as A Fistful of Dollars (1964) gave birth to the spaghetti Western, and notes the influence of The Seven Samurai and The Hidden Fortress (1958) on the Star Wars series. "It could be argued that this greatest of directors gave employment to action heroes for the next fifty years, just as a fallout from his primary purpose." The awareness of Japanese film in the West began with Kurosawa's earlier pictures, particularly Rashomon (1950) and Ikiru (1952). The success of Rashomon at the Venice Film festival in 1951 opened the door for Western distribution of films by Mizoguchi and Ozu, highly praised directors who had been working for many years in Japan. Kurosawa's influence on filmmakers outside Japan, particularly in America, was evident in his honorary Academy Award. It was presented to him in 1989 by two of the directors most heavily influenced by him, Steven Spielberg and George Lucas, for "accomplishments that have inspired, delighted, enriched, and entertained audiences and influenced filmmakers throughout the world." "It is not surprising that Seven Samurai was remade by Hollywood because it was already close to the Western in its use of an elite body of brave warriors, a slow preparation for violent action, and the generally pusillanimous civilian population––like the townspeople in High Noon [1952]." – David Thomson, A Biographical Dictionary of Film (Alfred A. Knopf, 2000) Scottish-born film critic and director Lindsay Anderson compared the scene of Kikuchiyo training the villagers to Falstaff drilling the troops in Shakespeare. There have also been suggestions that the battle scenes in Orson Welles's film of the Falstaff story adapted from Shakespeare, Chimes at Midnight (1965), were influenced by the battles in The Seven Samurai. "Surely [Toshiro Mifune] copied John Wayne, and surely others (like Eastwood) have copied him." – David Thomson, A Biographical Dictionary of Film (Alfred A. Knopf, 2000) by Rob Nixon

Trivia - Seven Samurai - Trivia & Fun Facts About THE SEVEN SAMURAI


Critical reaction to The Seven Samurai in Japan was initially lukewarm. One review complained that it was not very democratic of Kurosawa to condemn the peasants; another questioned if he was saying the farmers were not worth saving. Yet, it was a major box office success with the Japanese public.

The Seven Samurai has been released in several versions, and it was many years before the original cut (nearly 3 1/2 hours long) was restored; that version is now available on DVD. The full version played only in major cities in Japan when it was released in 1954; a shortened version played second and third runs in other locations. Another edit (161 minutes) was released for export, and for many years, this was the most complete version in distribution and the one most people saw. A third cut was made for the Venice Film Festival, where people complained about the first half being confusing, which Kurosawa admitted was true in this truncated form. The audience there did enjoy the second half, which had only minor cuts that the director said actually helped it. The American release was cut even further by distributor RKO from the export version and was called The Magnificent Seven until John Sturges's 1960 Western remake caused all prints of the original to be recalled.

Toshiro Mifune has Akira Kurosawa largely to thank for his career. Returning home in 1945 after six years in the Army, Mifune found himself with no money or employment. A friend in the Toho photo department told him to come down to the studio to see if he could get him a job. Allegedly, Mifune got in the wrong line and ended up waiting several hours to try out for a "new faces" contest. Asked by casting directors to mime anger, he did so very convincingly because he was furious. Put off by his outburst, they were going to throw Mifune out, but Kurosawa and his mentor, the director Kajiro Yamamoto, had witnessed the incident and spoke up for him. He was then hired as an actor, beginning a long association with the studio and Kurosawa.

Critics in the West initially criticized Mifune for overacting in his role as Kikuchiyo, and as late as 1994 (in A Biographical Dictionary of Film, Alfred A. Knopf, 2000), David Thomson still remarked, "I am averse to actors who huff and puff that much." But Japanese film scholar Mark Jecks, in his commentary on the film on the Criterion Collection DVD release, states that Mifune's performance is exactly right for the character. He counters that it is Kikuchiyo who is the ham, going over the top to prove himself a warrior, thereby severing his peasant past.

Reportedly a descendant of samurais, Takashi Shimura (Kambei) made more than 200 pictures between 1935 and his death in 1982, but most often as a character actor or supporting player. His only major roles were with Kurosawa, notably the dying bureaucrat in Ikiru (1952). Outside of Japan, he was probably best known to a mass audience as the kindly doctor in the original Godzilla (1956). Although not as well known as Toshiro Mifune, Shimura is an icon of Japanese cinema and considered one of its finest actors.

Toshiro Mifune made sixteen films with Kurosawa. But during the production of Red Beard (1965), their relationship became strained. The film was in principal photography for two years. Mifune had grown a beard for the role, and so could not appear in any other movie. It was a critical success but a commercial failure. Mifune and Kurosawa never worked together again. Nevertheless, in later years, Mifune said of all the films he had made he was only proud of the ones he appeared in for Kurosawa.

Keiko Tsushima (Manzo's daughter Shino) was a modern dancer who was "discovered" by a casting director while standing on the platform of a train station. Previously, she had worked with famed director Yasujiro Ozu on The Flavor of Green Tea over Rice (1952). She never made another film with Kurosawa, but she appeared in many other films and television shows in the next 50 years.

Isao Kimura (Katsushiro) worked with left-wing theater groups and ran several of his own. His final theater group went bankrupt, and he had to take on work to pay off the debt. He died in 1981 at the age of 58.

Yoshio Tsuchiya (Rikichi) was trained as a physician but changed professions to become an actor. An author of several books about UFOs, he most enjoyed appearing in such science fiction movies as The Mysterians [1957], The H-Man [1958] and Varan the Unbelievable [1958].

Sojin Kamiyama (Blind Minstrel) started his career in American silent films, including Douglas Fairbanks's The Thief of Bagdad (1924) and Cecil B. DeMille's biblical epic, The King of Kings (1927). He was one of only three Asian actors to play the Chinese-American detective Charlie Chan (in 1927). His thick accent limited his career in American sound films, and he returned to Japan in the 1930s. He died just a few months after the release of Seven Samurai.

Tatsuya Nakadai, who had an uncredited bit as one of the samurai wandering through town, became one of Japan's biggest stars. He eventually starred in six movies for Kurosawa, including the leads in Kagemusha (1980) and Ran (1985).

Kamatari Fujiwara (Manzo) started his career in the early 1930s, primarily as a comic actor. He made 13 films in all with Kurosawa and one American movie appearance, as "The Artist" in Arthur Penn's off-beat crime drama Mickey One (1965), starring Warren Beatty.

In addition to composing the score for The Seven Samurai, Fumio Hayasaka wrote the music for six previous Kurosawa films and worked often with acclaimed director Kenji Mizoguchi. He was working on Kurosawa's movie, I Live in Fear: Record of a Living Being (1955), when he died of tuberculosis at the age of 41.

Memorable Quotes from SEVEN SAMURAI

PEASANT WOMAN: Land tax. Forced labor. War. Drought. God must want us farmers to starve.
PEASANT MAN: That's true, better we die.

PEASANT WOMAN: Let's give everything to the bandits. All the food we have. And then hang ourselves!

MANZO (Kamatari Fujiwara): Farmers are born to suffer. That's our lot.

KAMBEI (Takashi Shimura): My name is Kambei Shimada. I'm a ronin. And I have no disciples.

MANZO: But will samurai fight for us, just for food?
GRANDFATHER (Toranosuke Ogawa): Find hungry samurai. Even bears will come out of the forests when they're hungry.

KAMBEI: I'm preparing for a tough war. It will bring us neither money or fame. Want to join?

KAMBEI: Train yourself, distinguish yourself in war. ... But time flies. Before your dream materializes, you get gray hair. By that time your parents and friends are dead and gone.

KAMBEI: I'm tired of fighting.

KIKUCHIYO (Toshiro Mifune): Farmers are stingy, foxy, blubbering, mean, stupid, and murderous. ... But who made them such beasts? You samurai did it. You burn their villages, destroy their farms, steal their food, force them to labor, take their women, and kill them if they resist. So what should farmers do?

KIKUCHIYO: Love your wives plenty tonight!

KAMBEI (at Heihachi's funeral): We were counting on him to cheer us when things became gloomy. And now he's gone.

KAMBEI: Again we're defeated. The winners are those farmers. Not us.

Compiled by Rob Nixon

Trivia - Seven Samurai - Trivia & Fun Facts About THE SEVEN SAMURAI

Critical reaction to The Seven Samurai in Japan was initially lukewarm. One review complained that it was not very democratic of Kurosawa to condemn the peasants; another questioned if he was saying the farmers were not worth saving. Yet, it was a major box office success with the Japanese public. The Seven Samurai has been released in several versions, and it was many years before the original cut (nearly 3 1/2 hours long) was restored; that version is now available on DVD. The full version played only in major cities in Japan when it was released in 1954; a shortened version played second and third runs in other locations. Another edit (161 minutes) was released for export, and for many years, this was the most complete version in distribution and the one most people saw. A third cut was made for the Venice Film Festival, where people complained about the first half being confusing, which Kurosawa admitted was true in this truncated form. The audience there did enjoy the second half, which had only minor cuts that the director said actually helped it. The American release was cut even further by distributor RKO from the export version and was called The Magnificent Seven until John Sturges's 1960 Western remake caused all prints of the original to be recalled. Toshiro Mifune has Akira Kurosawa largely to thank for his career. Returning home in 1945 after six years in the Army, Mifune found himself with no money or employment. A friend in the Toho photo department told him to come down to the studio to see if he could get him a job. Allegedly, Mifune got in the wrong line and ended up waiting several hours to try out for a "new faces" contest. Asked by casting directors to mime anger, he did so very convincingly because he was furious. Put off by his outburst, they were going to throw Mifune out, but Kurosawa and his mentor, the director Kajiro Yamamoto, had witnessed the incident and spoke up for him. He was then hired as an actor, beginning a long association with the studio and Kurosawa. Critics in the West initially criticized Mifune for overacting in his role as Kikuchiyo, and as late as 1994 (in A Biographical Dictionary of Film, Alfred A. Knopf, 2000), David Thomson still remarked, "I am averse to actors who huff and puff that much." But Japanese film scholar Mark Jecks, in his commentary on the film on the Criterion Collection DVD release, states that Mifune's performance is exactly right for the character. He counters that it is Kikuchiyo who is the ham, going over the top to prove himself a warrior, thereby severing his peasant past. Reportedly a descendant of samurais, Takashi Shimura (Kambei) made more than 200 pictures between 1935 and his death in 1982, but most often as a character actor or supporting player. His only major roles were with Kurosawa, notably the dying bureaucrat in Ikiru (1952). Outside of Japan, he was probably best known to a mass audience as the kindly doctor in the original Godzilla (1956). Although not as well known as Toshiro Mifune, Shimura is an icon of Japanese cinema and considered one of its finest actors. Toshiro Mifune made sixteen films with Kurosawa. But during the production of Red Beard (1965), their relationship became strained. The film was in principal photography for two years. Mifune had grown a beard for the role, and so could not appear in any other movie. It was a critical success but a commercial failure. Mifune and Kurosawa never worked together again. Nevertheless, in later years, Mifune said of all the films he had made he was only proud of the ones he appeared in for Kurosawa. Keiko Tsushima (Manzo's daughter Shino) was a modern dancer who was "discovered" by a casting director while standing on the platform of a train station. Previously, she had worked with famed director Yasujiro Ozu on The Flavor of Green Tea over Rice (1952). She never made another film with Kurosawa, but she appeared in many other films and television shows in the next 50 years. Isao Kimura (Katsushiro) worked with left-wing theater groups and ran several of his own. His final theater group went bankrupt, and he had to take on work to pay off the debt. He died in 1981 at the age of 58. Yoshio Tsuchiya (Rikichi) was trained as a physician but changed professions to become an actor. An author of several books about UFOs, he most enjoyed appearing in such science fiction movies as The Mysterians [1957], The H-Man [1958] and Varan the Unbelievable [1958]. Sojin Kamiyama (Blind Minstrel) started his career in American silent films, including Douglas Fairbanks's The Thief of Bagdad (1924) and Cecil B. DeMille's biblical epic, The King of Kings (1927). He was one of only three Asian actors to play the Chinese-American detective Charlie Chan (in 1927). His thick accent limited his career in American sound films, and he returned to Japan in the 1930s. He died just a few months after the release of Seven Samurai. Tatsuya Nakadai, who had an uncredited bit as one of the samurai wandering through town, became one of Japan's biggest stars. He eventually starred in six movies for Kurosawa, including the leads in Kagemusha (1980) and Ran (1985). Kamatari Fujiwara (Manzo) started his career in the early 1930s, primarily as a comic actor. He made 13 films in all with Kurosawa and one American movie appearance, as "The Artist" in Arthur Penn's off-beat crime drama Mickey One (1965), starring Warren Beatty. In addition to composing the score for The Seven Samurai, Fumio Hayasaka wrote the music for six previous Kurosawa films and worked often with acclaimed director Kenji Mizoguchi. He was working on Kurosawa's movie, I Live in Fear: Record of a Living Being (1955), when he died of tuberculosis at the age of 41. Memorable Quotes from SEVEN SAMURAI PEASANT WOMAN: Land tax. Forced labor. War. Drought. God must want us farmers to starve. PEASANT MAN: That's true, better we die. PEASANT WOMAN: Let's give everything to the bandits. All the food we have. And then hang ourselves! MANZO (Kamatari Fujiwara): Farmers are born to suffer. That's our lot. KAMBEI (Takashi Shimura): My name is Kambei Shimada. I'm a ronin. And I have no disciples. MANZO: But will samurai fight for us, just for food? GRANDFATHER (Toranosuke Ogawa): Find hungry samurai. Even bears will come out of the forests when they're hungry. KAMBEI: I'm preparing for a tough war. It will bring us neither money or fame. Want to join? KAMBEI: Train yourself, distinguish yourself in war. ... But time flies. Before your dream materializes, you get gray hair. By that time your parents and friends are dead and gone. KAMBEI: I'm tired of fighting. KIKUCHIYO (Toshiro Mifune): Farmers are stingy, foxy, blubbering, mean, stupid, and murderous. ... But who made them such beasts? You samurai did it. You burn their villages, destroy their farms, steal their food, force them to labor, take their women, and kill them if they resist. So what should farmers do? KIKUCHIYO: Love your wives plenty tonight! KAMBEI (at Heihachi's funeral): We were counting on him to cheer us when things became gloomy. And now he's gone. KAMBEI: Again we're defeated. The winners are those farmers. Not us. Compiled by Rob Nixon

The Big Idea - Seven Samurai


The samurai were the warrior caste in Japan's rigid class system, trained in arms and in the employ of a lord, much like the knights of medieval Europe. In the disorderly, lawless time in which The Seven Samurai is set, the lords were defeated and dead, and their samurai were left unemployed and forced to wander the countryside for their livelihoods. This period appealed to Kurosawa as far richer in terms of character possibilities and historical interest than the usual period film with the samurai at the top of their game.

Kurosawa's idea was initially to create a film about a day in the life of a single samurai, but he expanded the scope of the movie after reading about a real village that hired samurai for protection.

While working on the story of The Seven Samurai, Kurosawa wrote complete dossiers for each character, detailing what they ate, where they came from, and how they talked and moved.

The motif of assembling a team of strangers for a mission, while very commonplace now, was fairly new at the time of The Seven Samurai. Some say it was created first in The Seven Samurai, but there are at least antecedents in American crime films, most notably The Asphalt Jungle (1950). That film was based on a novel by W.R. Burnett, and because Kurosawa was an avid reader of American and British detective/crime stories, it may have been an inspiration.

To collaborate on the screenplay, he hired Shinobu Hashimoto, who worked on the scripts for Kurosawa's earlier films Rashomon (1950) and Ikiru (1952), and Hideo Oguni, who also worked on Ikuru and would do ten more films with Kurosawa. Hashimoto collaborated with the director (and often Oguni) on five more films after The Seven Samurai.

Kurosawa and his writers would go to a hot springs resort or some other remote place, and each would write independently around a big table. They'd then pass their work around and criticize and argue. Kurosawa specifically depended on Hashimoto for his skills in narrative structure and Oguni for bringing truth and humanism to the story and characters.

The six samurai characters were fleshed out early into production, but the director and writers decided they needed a character to bridge the gap between the samurai and the peasants, so they created Kikuchiyo, who is a peasant by birth but aspires to warrior status.

Kurosawa may have based aspects of the character Kikuchiyo and the worshipful apprenticeship of young Katsushiro at least partly on his older brother and their relationship. Kurosawa revered his brother, Heigo, a conflicted man who struggled to find his place in the world and suffered from depression. It was Heigo who introduced the young Akira to the cinema and in particular to foreign film, which greatly influenced the future director's work. Heigo was a benshi, a narrator of silent films (a common occupation in Japan before sound pictures). When talkies came in, he led a strike against them in support of his profession but to no avail. Not long after, he committed suicide.

Like John Ford whom he greatly admired, Kurosawa had already by this time established a stock company of actors he would work with over and over again. For the leader of the samurai band, Kambei, he cast his longtime collaborator Takashi Shimura, who had acted in twelve of the director's films prior to this, the most notable being Rashomon and the lead in Ikiru. Throughout his career, Kurosawa would frequently use Shimura, an actor of such range that he could play the dying bureaucrat in the contemporary drama Ikiru as convincingly as the warrior in a period action film like The Seven Samurai.

As Kikuchiyo, the farmer's son who longs to be a samurai, Kurosawa cast another actor he had used six times previously, Toshiro Mifune, who had also worked with Shimura in Rashomon. Originally, Mifune was to play the master swordsman, Kyuzo, but when Kurosawa created the character of Kikuchiyo, he decided Mifune would be better in that role.

Among the other cast members Kurosawa had used before (and would use often in the future) were Minoru Chiaki (Heihachi), Isao Kimura (Katsushiro), Daisuke Kato (Shichiroji), and Kamatari Fujiwara (Manzo).

by Rob Nixon

The Big Idea - Seven Samurai

The samurai were the warrior caste in Japan's rigid class system, trained in arms and in the employ of a lord, much like the knights of medieval Europe. In the disorderly, lawless time in which The Seven Samurai is set, the lords were defeated and dead, and their samurai were left unemployed and forced to wander the countryside for their livelihoods. This period appealed to Kurosawa as far richer in terms of character possibilities and historical interest than the usual period film with the samurai at the top of their game. Kurosawa's idea was initially to create a film about a day in the life of a single samurai, but he expanded the scope of the movie after reading about a real village that hired samurai for protection. While working on the story of The Seven Samurai, Kurosawa wrote complete dossiers for each character, detailing what they ate, where they came from, and how they talked and moved. The motif of assembling a team of strangers for a mission, while very commonplace now, was fairly new at the time of The Seven Samurai. Some say it was created first in The Seven Samurai, but there are at least antecedents in American crime films, most notably The Asphalt Jungle (1950). That film was based on a novel by W.R. Burnett, and because Kurosawa was an avid reader of American and British detective/crime stories, it may have been an inspiration. To collaborate on the screenplay, he hired Shinobu Hashimoto, who worked on the scripts for Kurosawa's earlier films Rashomon (1950) and Ikiru (1952), and Hideo Oguni, who also worked on Ikuru and would do ten more films with Kurosawa. Hashimoto collaborated with the director (and often Oguni) on five more films after The Seven Samurai. Kurosawa and his writers would go to a hot springs resort or some other remote place, and each would write independently around a big table. They'd then pass their work around and criticize and argue. Kurosawa specifically depended on Hashimoto for his skills in narrative structure and Oguni for bringing truth and humanism to the story and characters. The six samurai characters were fleshed out early into production, but the director and writers decided they needed a character to bridge the gap between the samurai and the peasants, so they created Kikuchiyo, who is a peasant by birth but aspires to warrior status. Kurosawa may have based aspects of the character Kikuchiyo and the worshipful apprenticeship of young Katsushiro at least partly on his older brother and their relationship. Kurosawa revered his brother, Heigo, a conflicted man who struggled to find his place in the world and suffered from depression. It was Heigo who introduced the young Akira to the cinema and in particular to foreign film, which greatly influenced the future director's work. Heigo was a benshi, a narrator of silent films (a common occupation in Japan before sound pictures). When talkies came in, he led a strike against them in support of his profession but to no avail. Not long after, he committed suicide. Like John Ford whom he greatly admired, Kurosawa had already by this time established a stock company of actors he would work with over and over again. For the leader of the samurai band, Kambei, he cast his longtime collaborator Takashi Shimura, who had acted in twelve of the director's films prior to this, the most notable being Rashomon and the lead in Ikiru. Throughout his career, Kurosawa would frequently use Shimura, an actor of such range that he could play the dying bureaucrat in the contemporary drama Ikiru as convincingly as the warrior in a period action film like The Seven Samurai. As Kikuchiyo, the farmer's son who longs to be a samurai, Kurosawa cast another actor he had used six times previously, Toshiro Mifune, who had also worked with Shimura in Rashomon. Originally, Mifune was to play the master swordsman, Kyuzo, but when Kurosawa created the character of Kikuchiyo, he decided Mifune would be better in that role. Among the other cast members Kurosawa had used before (and would use often in the future) were Minoru Chiaki (Heihachi), Isao Kimura (Katsushiro), Daisuke Kato (Shichiroji), and Kamatari Fujiwara (Manzo). by Rob Nixon

Behind the Camera - Seven Samurai - Behing the Camera on THE SEVEN SAMURAI


The peasant village in The Seven Samurai was a complete set built on the Izu Peninsula about 50-100 miles south of Tokyo. At the time it was just remote, wild country, but it's now part of a national park. The location shoot and the fully detailed nature of the set lent authenticity but increased the problems encountered and raised the costs of production as opposed to filming in the studio.

In his autobiography, Kurosawa responded to frequent accusations through the years that he was too exacting with sets and props. He was also known for having things made for the sake of authenticity, even if they never appear on camera. "The quality of the set influences the quality of the actors' performances. If the plan of a house and the design of the rooms are done properly, the actors can move about in them naturally. If I have to tell an actor, 'Don't think about where this room is in relation to the rest of the house,' that natural ease cannot be achieved. For this reason, I have the sets made exactly like the real thing. It restricts the shooting but encourages that feeling of authenticity."

Most Japanese films at this time cost around $70,000. The Seven Samurai cost close to half a million. It was the most money Toho studio had ever spent on a film and the most expensive film ever made in Japan up to that point. The production closed down at least twice during the filming due to a budgetary shortage, but it didn't worry Kurosawa. At such times, he would simply go fishing, confident that the studio would find the money rather than throw away what they had already spent. His attitude was that the studio was so committed financially that they had no choice but to finish what was started in order to recoup their costs. Kurosawa felt that because his pictures were hits, he could afford to think that way. Still, he was vilified in the industry press for it, and many negative stories about The Seven Samurai emerged even before the film was finished. He came to be known in the media as tenno or "emperor," for his alleged dictatorial ways, although it was always the press, not his staff, cast, or crew, that used the term.

Kurosawa explained the reasons for the huge expense and lengthy shooting schedule: "Something always comes up. We didn't have enough horses; it rained all the time. It is just the kind of picture that is impossible to make in this country." Later, he snapped back about his bad reputation in the press: "You try to give a film a little pictorial scope and the journalists jump on you for spending too much money. That is what I really hate about them––they are only an extended form of advertising. They talk big and make pictures sound important to make themselves seem more important. The more they try, the greater they lie."

Kurosawa said in his autobiography that he began thinking about the music and sound effects at the very beginning of each film project, and pointed out how in some of his films, he used different theme music for each character or group of characters. In Seven Samurai he has a series of musical motifs: the peasants' humming chorus; the samurai theme; Kikuchiyo's theme consisting of bassoon, piccolo and bongos; a sweet, romantic theme for the young peasant woman Shino, Katsushiro's love interest; and the more aggressive, strident bandit theme heard over the opening titles.

The music in The Seven Samurai was composed by one of Kurosawa's oldest and dearest friends, Fumio Hayasaka, who was paid $1,000 for the score, a high sum for Japanese film composers at this time.

With The Seven Samurai, Kurosawa began his practice of using multiple cameras to film a scene "because it was impossible to predict exactly what would happen in the scene where the bandits attack the peasants' village in a heavy rainstorm. If I had filmed it in the traditional shot-by-shot method, there was no guarantee that any action could be repeated in exactly the same way twice." He found it to be so effective that he later used it in movies that were less action oriented. His method was generally to put camera A in the most orthodox shooting position, use camera B for quick shots and camera C "as a kind of guerilla unit." This method made for very complicated shoots, trying to choreograph the movement of all three over the course of a scene using diagrams that, he said, most camera operators could not understand. He said the only ones who really understood his method were Asakazu Nakai (the cinematographer on The Seven Samurai) and Takao Saito (who worked with him frequently and shot the massive action sequences in Kagemusha (1980), and Ran (1985).

Kurosawa introduced two devices to help clarify the location of the action in the story for viewers. He has the samurai closely examine the perimeter of the village and outlying areas with a detailed map that is shown on camera so that we get a clear picture of where we are later during the hectic battle scenes. Kambei also uses a tally sheet, marking Xs over symbols for each of the bandits as they die so that we know how many have been defeated and how many remain.

The director incorporated a number of techniques to give the film movement and a rhythmic pace that keeps it from dragging, despite its great length: cutting on movement; fast, intercut pans and tracks; short, often humorous scenes, connected with wipes; telephoto lenses to put the viewer very close to the frenetic action.

Toshiro Mifune was not a trained actor but took his work very seriously. During the making of The Seven Samurai (as with most of his films), he remained in character all the time on the set and constantly worked on bits of business for his role. He was also given unprecedented freedom (at least for a Kurosawa picture) to improvise. Perhaps this was due to Kurosawa's feeling that Mifune was so much like the character he played. Mifune later said Kikuchiyo was one of his favorite roles because he could just carry on and be himself.

In his memoirs, Kurosawa expressed admiration for his most famous star: "I'm not usually impressed by actors, but Mifune impressed me. If I tell him one thing, he understands ten. Other actors take ten feet to express an emotion, he takes three feet of footage. If I had to think of a flaw, the only thing I can come up with is his voice is a little rough and sometimes it's hard to understand."

Although his character, a farmer's son, is shown to be an inept horseman, Mifune was actually an accomplished rider, having learned at a school for mounted archers who rode with no hands on the reins. He was, in fact, a superb all-around athlete, which is evident in some difficult jumps and stunts he performs in The Seven Samurai.

Conversely, Seiji Miyaguchi never quite mastered riding a horse. He trained well for sword fighting, however, for his role as master swordsman Kyuzo, and what he did not learn was covered in the shooting and editing to make him appear to have superior skills to the other samurais.

Tatsuya Nakadai was not long out of acting school when he appeared in The Seven Samurai in an uncredited bit as a samurai spotted walking through town. He later went on to become one of Japan's most respected actors and a frequent player in Kurosawa films. At this point in this career, however, he was so inexperienced that the shot took a full day to complete due to Kurosawa's exacting perfection about Nakadai's highly choreographed movement of only a few seconds.

It was the end of winter by the time the last battle scene in the rain was filmed for The Seven Samurai. Mifune said he was never so cold in his life.

by Rob Nixon

Behind the Camera - Seven Samurai - Behing the Camera on THE SEVEN SAMURAI

The peasant village in The Seven Samurai was a complete set built on the Izu Peninsula about 50-100 miles south of Tokyo. At the time it was just remote, wild country, but it's now part of a national park. The location shoot and the fully detailed nature of the set lent authenticity but increased the problems encountered and raised the costs of production as opposed to filming in the studio. In his autobiography, Kurosawa responded to frequent accusations through the years that he was too exacting with sets and props. He was also known for having things made for the sake of authenticity, even if they never appear on camera. "The quality of the set influences the quality of the actors' performances. If the plan of a house and the design of the rooms are done properly, the actors can move about in them naturally. If I have to tell an actor, 'Don't think about where this room is in relation to the rest of the house,' that natural ease cannot be achieved. For this reason, I have the sets made exactly like the real thing. It restricts the shooting but encourages that feeling of authenticity." Most Japanese films at this time cost around $70,000. The Seven Samurai cost close to half a million. It was the most money Toho studio had ever spent on a film and the most expensive film ever made in Japan up to that point. The production closed down at least twice during the filming due to a budgetary shortage, but it didn't worry Kurosawa. At such times, he would simply go fishing, confident that the studio would find the money rather than throw away what they had already spent. His attitude was that the studio was so committed financially that they had no choice but to finish what was started in order to recoup their costs. Kurosawa felt that because his pictures were hits, he could afford to think that way. Still, he was vilified in the industry press for it, and many negative stories about The Seven Samurai emerged even before the film was finished. He came to be known in the media as tenno or "emperor," for his alleged dictatorial ways, although it was always the press, not his staff, cast, or crew, that used the term. Kurosawa explained the reasons for the huge expense and lengthy shooting schedule: "Something always comes up. We didn't have enough horses; it rained all the time. It is just the kind of picture that is impossible to make in this country." Later, he snapped back about his bad reputation in the press: "You try to give a film a little pictorial scope and the journalists jump on you for spending too much money. That is what I really hate about them––they are only an extended form of advertising. They talk big and make pictures sound important to make themselves seem more important. The more they try, the greater they lie." Kurosawa said in his autobiography that he began thinking about the music and sound effects at the very beginning of each film project, and pointed out how in some of his films, he used different theme music for each character or group of characters. In Seven Samurai he has a series of musical motifs: the peasants' humming chorus; the samurai theme; Kikuchiyo's theme consisting of bassoon, piccolo and bongos; a sweet, romantic theme for the young peasant woman Shino, Katsushiro's love interest; and the more aggressive, strident bandit theme heard over the opening titles. The music in The Seven Samurai was composed by one of Kurosawa's oldest and dearest friends, Fumio Hayasaka, who was paid $1,000 for the score, a high sum for Japanese film composers at this time. With The Seven Samurai, Kurosawa began his practice of using multiple cameras to film a scene "because it was impossible to predict exactly what would happen in the scene where the bandits attack the peasants' village in a heavy rainstorm. If I had filmed it in the traditional shot-by-shot method, there was no guarantee that any action could be repeated in exactly the same way twice." He found it to be so effective that he later used it in movies that were less action oriented. His method was generally to put camera A in the most orthodox shooting position, use camera B for quick shots and camera C "as a kind of guerilla unit." This method made for very complicated shoots, trying to choreograph the movement of all three over the course of a scene using diagrams that, he said, most camera operators could not understand. He said the only ones who really understood his method were Asakazu Nakai (the cinematographer on The Seven Samurai) and Takao Saito (who worked with him frequently and shot the massive action sequences in Kagemusha (1980), and Ran (1985). Kurosawa introduced two devices to help clarify the location of the action in the story for viewers. He has the samurai closely examine the perimeter of the village and outlying areas with a detailed map that is shown on camera so that we get a clear picture of where we are later during the hectic battle scenes. Kambei also uses a tally sheet, marking Xs over symbols for each of the bandits as they die so that we know how many have been defeated and how many remain. The director incorporated a number of techniques to give the film movement and a rhythmic pace that keeps it from dragging, despite its great length: cutting on movement; fast, intercut pans and tracks; short, often humorous scenes, connected with wipes; telephoto lenses to put the viewer very close to the frenetic action. Toshiro Mifune was not a trained actor but took his work very seriously. During the making of The Seven Samurai (as with most of his films), he remained in character all the time on the set and constantly worked on bits of business for his role. He was also given unprecedented freedom (at least for a Kurosawa picture) to improvise. Perhaps this was due to Kurosawa's feeling that Mifune was so much like the character he played. Mifune later said Kikuchiyo was one of his favorite roles because he could just carry on and be himself. In his memoirs, Kurosawa expressed admiration for his most famous star: "I'm not usually impressed by actors, but Mifune impressed me. If I tell him one thing, he understands ten. Other actors take ten feet to express an emotion, he takes three feet of footage. If I had to think of a flaw, the only thing I can come up with is his voice is a little rough and sometimes it's hard to understand." Although his character, a farmer's son, is shown to be an inept horseman, Mifune was actually an accomplished rider, having learned at a school for mounted archers who rode with no hands on the reins. He was, in fact, a superb all-around athlete, which is evident in some difficult jumps and stunts he performs in The Seven Samurai. Conversely, Seiji Miyaguchi never quite mastered riding a horse. He trained well for sword fighting, however, for his role as master swordsman Kyuzo, and what he did not learn was covered in the shooting and editing to make him appear to have superior skills to the other samurais. Tatsuya Nakadai was not long out of acting school when he appeared in The Seven Samurai in an uncredited bit as a samurai spotted walking through town. He later went on to become one of Japan's most respected actors and a frequent player in Kurosawa films. At this point in this career, however, he was so inexperienced that the shot took a full day to complete due to Kurosawa's exacting perfection about Nakadai's highly choreographed movement of only a few seconds. It was the end of winter by the time the last battle scene in the rain was filmed for The Seven Samurai. Mifune said he was never so cold in his life. by Rob Nixon

The Seven Samurai


A band of armed brigands plot to steal the harvest from a village of poor farmers in medieval Japan. Once their plan becomes known to the villagers, the peasants solicit the services of Kambei (Takashi Shimura), a hired swordsman who is instrumental in recruiting six more swordsmen to defend the village. Despite the unrealistic odds, the seven samurai prepare for their climactic showdown with the merciless invaders.

A personal favorite of Japanese director Akira Kurosawa, The Seven Samurai was the most expensive film ever made in Japan at the time of its release in 1954. Toho, the production company, tried to make Kurosawa shoot the film in Tokyo in a controlled environment but he insisted on filming it in the countryside where he could create the look and feel of a 16th century rural community of peasant farmers. It took him over a year to finish the film with numerous setbacks along the way, such as a lack of horses for the action sequences and adverse weather conditions. But his striving for perfection paid off and Seven Samurai is considered one of the most important films in the history of cinema. Not only was it responsible for the postwar renaissance of the samurai film but its influence on other filmmakers like John Sturges (The Magnificent Seven, 1960 ), George Lucas (Star Wars, 1977), and John Sayles (Battle Beyond the Stars, 1980) is undeniable. Comedian John Belushi even paid homage to the film in the "samurai deli" skits on Saturday Night Live featuring a character he modeled on Toshiro Mifune's Kikuchiyo in Seven Samurai.

In terms of film technique, Seven Samurai is a model textbook on the innovative use of sound effects (whizzing arrows, the clump of horse hooves), music (a distinctive theme is used to introduce each central character or group), and montage (the final battle scene in the driving rain is a masterpiece). But more importantly, the film transcends the standard action film with its complex presentation of good and bad, heroes and cowards. In the end, the samurai are doomed to failure just like the aging gunfighters in the Westerns of John Ford (a major influence on Kurosawa's films). They are loners who have simply outlived their usefulness in a changing society. In a way, Kurosawa's ending is analogous to the wake of the Meiji Restoration of 1868 when the samurai class in Japan was abolished.

Director: Akira Kurosawa
Producer: Sojiro Motoki
Screenplay: Shinobu Hashimoto, Akira Kurosawa, Hideo Oguni
Cinematography: Asakazu Nakai
Editor: Akira Kurosawa
Music: Fumio Hayasaka
Cast: Takashi Shimura (Kambai Shimada), Toshiro Mifune (Kikuchiyo), Yoshio Inaba (Gorobei Katayama), Seiji Miyaguchi (Kyuzo), Minoru Chiaki (Heihachi Hayashida).
BW-207m.

by Jeff Stafford

The Seven Samurai

A band of armed brigands plot to steal the harvest from a village of poor farmers in medieval Japan. Once their plan becomes known to the villagers, the peasants solicit the services of Kambei (Takashi Shimura), a hired swordsman who is instrumental in recruiting six more swordsmen to defend the village. Despite the unrealistic odds, the seven samurai prepare for their climactic showdown with the merciless invaders. A personal favorite of Japanese director Akira Kurosawa, The Seven Samurai was the most expensive film ever made in Japan at the time of its release in 1954. Toho, the production company, tried to make Kurosawa shoot the film in Tokyo in a controlled environment but he insisted on filming it in the countryside where he could create the look and feel of a 16th century rural community of peasant farmers. It took him over a year to finish the film with numerous setbacks along the way, such as a lack of horses for the action sequences and adverse weather conditions. But his striving for perfection paid off and Seven Samurai is considered one of the most important films in the history of cinema. Not only was it responsible for the postwar renaissance of the samurai film but its influence on other filmmakers like John Sturges (The Magnificent Seven, 1960 ), George Lucas (Star Wars, 1977), and John Sayles (Battle Beyond the Stars, 1980) is undeniable. Comedian John Belushi even paid homage to the film in the "samurai deli" skits on Saturday Night Live featuring a character he modeled on Toshiro Mifune's Kikuchiyo in Seven Samurai. In terms of film technique, Seven Samurai is a model textbook on the innovative use of sound effects (whizzing arrows, the clump of horse hooves), music (a distinctive theme is used to introduce each central character or group), and montage (the final battle scene in the driving rain is a masterpiece). But more importantly, the film transcends the standard action film with its complex presentation of good and bad, heroes and cowards. In the end, the samurai are doomed to failure just like the aging gunfighters in the Westerns of John Ford (a major influence on Kurosawa's films). They are loners who have simply outlived their usefulness in a changing society. In a way, Kurosawa's ending is analogous to the wake of the Meiji Restoration of 1868 when the samurai class in Japan was abolished. Director: Akira Kurosawa Producer: Sojiro Motoki Screenplay: Shinobu Hashimoto, Akira Kurosawa, Hideo Oguni Cinematography: Asakazu Nakai Editor: Akira Kurosawa Music: Fumio Hayasaka Cast: Takashi Shimura (Kambai Shimada), Toshiro Mifune (Kikuchiyo), Yoshio Inaba (Gorobei Katayama), Seiji Miyaguchi (Kyuzo), Minoru Chiaki (Heihachi Hayashida). BW-207m. by Jeff Stafford

Critics' Corner - Seven Samurai


AWARDS AND HONORS

A panel of Japanese critics and artists voted The Seven Samurai the third best film released in 1954. A similar group in 1979 voted it the best Japanese film of all time.

Academy Award nominations were given to So Matsuyama's art direction and Kohei Ezaki's costume design.

The Seven Samurai was the Silver prize winner at the Venice Film Festival 1954.

Kurosawa's film also received British Academy Award nominations for Best Film from Any Source, and Best Foreign Actor (Mifune and Shimura).

In addition, The Seven Samurai won Jussi Awards (Finland) for Best Foreign Actor (Mifune) and Best Foreign Director and the Mainichi Film Concours Award (Japan) for Best Supporting Actor Seiji Miyaguchi (master swordsman Kyuzo).

The Seven Samurai has been on Sight & Sound magazine's list of the Top Ten films of all time, 1982 and 1992. In the same poll for 2002, it did not make the Critics' Top Ten but tied for ninth place with Renoir's La Regle du jeu (1939) and Kurosawa's own Rashomon (1950) in the Directors' Top Ten poll. Kurosawa also placed in the Top Ten Directors lists. The continuing admiration for him among filmmakers throughout the world is evident in his standing on those lists: sixth among critics but third among his fellow directors.

The Seven Samurai was voted 12th Greatest Film of all time by Entertainment Weekly and only one of two non-English-language films in the Top 20 list (along with Fellini's La Dolce Vita, 1960).

Critics Corner: SEVEN SAMURAI

"On [a] simple framework, Kurosawa has plastered a wealth of rich detail, which brilliantly illuminates his characters and the kind of action in which they are involved. He has loaded his film with unusual and exciting physical incidents and made the whole thing graphic in a hard, realistic western style."
– Bosley Crowther, New York Times, November 20, 1956

"Seven Samurai is long; it is brutal; it is not always easy to follow. But it is magnificent."
– Dilys Powell, Sunday Times (London), 1955.

"Though the narrative concentrates on action, it does not preclude many delicate touches of irony: the invincible master swordsman is killed by a shot from a primitive musket. And although the film is as savage as the times in which it is set, there are many moments of humor. ... The acting throughout is magnificent. Outstanding is Takashi Shimura, who makes the old samurai leader a wonderfully human figure."
– Peter Barnes, Films and Filming, April 1955.

"Kurosawa has given it all the internal pace, beauty, precision and fluidity of ballet––a medium which, even in moments of wild comedy, cruelty, carnage and confusion, the film's action insistently recalls."
– Paul Dehn, News Chronicle (London), 1955

"Entertaining it certainly is: convincing, thrilling, meaningful, compelling. It remains (along with Ikiru [1952]) the director's own favorite. At the same time, it is completely serious."
– Donald Richie, The Films of Akira Kurosawa (University of California Press, 1996).

"In the battle scenes of Seven Samurai [Mifune] seems as powerful and as elemental as the great rain...Its leading characters are distinct and appealing; the situation is contrived but compelling; the action is shot with virtuoso skill. But it is almost twice as long as a good Western, and its social theme––that the samurai are disapproved of by the village they protect––is made monotonously."
– David Thomson, A Biographical Dictionary of Film (Alfred A. Knopf, 2000).

"Widely imitated, but no one has come near it."
– Pauline Kael, 5001 Nights at the Movies (Henry Holt and Company, 1984).

"Kurosawa's masterpiece...Despite the caricatured acting forms of Noh and Kabuki which Kurosawa adopted in his period films, the individual characterizations are precise and memorable, none more so than that by Takashi Shimura...The epic action scenes involving cavalry and samurai are still without peer."
- Rod McShane, TimeOut Film Guide

"Superbly strange, vivid and violent medieval adventure..."
- Halliwell's Film & Video Guide

"It is as sheer narrative, rich in imagery, incisiveness and sharp observation, that it makes its strongest impact...It provides a fascinating display of talent, and places its director in the forefront of creative film-makers of his generation."
- Gavin Lambert, Sight and Sound

"This, on the surface, is a work of relentless, unmitigated action, as epic as any film ever made, and, again on the surface, sheer entertainment. Yet, it is also an unquestionable triumph of art."
- John Simon

"The astonishing vitality of this true jidai-geki is largely due to its narrative economy, athletic camerawork, and the tempo of the editing."
- The Oxford Companion to Film

"...a fully coherent work of art, an epic in every respect....To merely call it a classic is glib - but it is a classic, because it continues to provoke, to impassion....That dust, that mud, are part of what separates Seven Samurai from all its imitators...The natural world is always part of the film, and the characters inseparable from nature."
- John Anderson, The A List

"...Kurosawa has constructed a superb narrative, bursting with incident that is by turns exciting, absorbing, moving and funny. Carefully and lovingly reconstructing medieval Japan, he reveals the entire spectrum of human strength and weakness with absolute clarity of vision."
- Ronald Bergan & Robyn Karney, The Faber Companion to Foreign Films.

Compiled by Rob Nixon & Jeff Stafford

Critics' Corner - Seven Samurai

AWARDS AND HONORS A panel of Japanese critics and artists voted The Seven Samurai the third best film released in 1954. A similar group in 1979 voted it the best Japanese film of all time. Academy Award nominations were given to So Matsuyama's art direction and Kohei Ezaki's costume design. The Seven Samurai was the Silver prize winner at the Venice Film Festival 1954. Kurosawa's film also received British Academy Award nominations for Best Film from Any Source, and Best Foreign Actor (Mifune and Shimura). In addition, The Seven Samurai won Jussi Awards (Finland) for Best Foreign Actor (Mifune) and Best Foreign Director and the Mainichi Film Concours Award (Japan) for Best Supporting Actor Seiji Miyaguchi (master swordsman Kyuzo). The Seven Samurai has been on Sight & Sound magazine's list of the Top Ten films of all time, 1982 and 1992. In the same poll for 2002, it did not make the Critics' Top Ten but tied for ninth place with Renoir's La Regle du jeu (1939) and Kurosawa's own Rashomon (1950) in the Directors' Top Ten poll. Kurosawa also placed in the Top Ten Directors lists. The continuing admiration for him among filmmakers throughout the world is evident in his standing on those lists: sixth among critics but third among his fellow directors. The Seven Samurai was voted 12th Greatest Film of all time by Entertainment Weekly and only one of two non-English-language films in the Top 20 list (along with Fellini's La Dolce Vita, 1960). Critics Corner: SEVEN SAMURAI "On [a] simple framework, Kurosawa has plastered a wealth of rich detail, which brilliantly illuminates his characters and the kind of action in which they are involved. He has loaded his film with unusual and exciting physical incidents and made the whole thing graphic in a hard, realistic western style." – Bosley Crowther, New York Times, November 20, 1956 "Seven Samurai is long; it is brutal; it is not always easy to follow. But it is magnificent." – Dilys Powell, Sunday Times (London), 1955. "Though the narrative concentrates on action, it does not preclude many delicate touches of irony: the invincible master swordsman is killed by a shot from a primitive musket. And although the film is as savage as the times in which it is set, there are many moments of humor. ... The acting throughout is magnificent. Outstanding is Takashi Shimura, who makes the old samurai leader a wonderfully human figure." – Peter Barnes, Films and Filming, April 1955. "Kurosawa has given it all the internal pace, beauty, precision and fluidity of ballet––a medium which, even in moments of wild comedy, cruelty, carnage and confusion, the film's action insistently recalls." – Paul Dehn, News Chronicle (London), 1955 "Entertaining it certainly is: convincing, thrilling, meaningful, compelling. It remains (along with Ikiru [1952]) the director's own favorite. At the same time, it is completely serious." – Donald Richie, The Films of Akira Kurosawa (University of California Press, 1996). "In the battle scenes of Seven Samurai [Mifune] seems as powerful and as elemental as the great rain...Its leading characters are distinct and appealing; the situation is contrived but compelling; the action is shot with virtuoso skill. But it is almost twice as long as a good Western, and its social theme––that the samurai are disapproved of by the village they protect––is made monotonously." – David Thomson, A Biographical Dictionary of Film (Alfred A. Knopf, 2000). "Widely imitated, but no one has come near it." – Pauline Kael, 5001 Nights at the Movies (Henry Holt and Company, 1984). "Kurosawa's masterpiece...Despite the caricatured acting forms of Noh and Kabuki which Kurosawa adopted in his period films, the individual characterizations are precise and memorable, none more so than that by Takashi Shimura...The epic action scenes involving cavalry and samurai are still without peer." - Rod McShane, TimeOut Film Guide "Superbly strange, vivid and violent medieval adventure..." - Halliwell's Film & Video Guide "It is as sheer narrative, rich in imagery, incisiveness and sharp observation, that it makes its strongest impact...It provides a fascinating display of talent, and places its director in the forefront of creative film-makers of his generation." - Gavin Lambert, Sight and Sound "This, on the surface, is a work of relentless, unmitigated action, as epic as any film ever made, and, again on the surface, sheer entertainment. Yet, it is also an unquestionable triumph of art." - John Simon "The astonishing vitality of this true jidai-geki is largely due to its narrative economy, athletic camerawork, and the tempo of the editing." - The Oxford Companion to Film "...a fully coherent work of art, an epic in every respect....To merely call it a classic is glib - but it is a classic, because it continues to provoke, to impassion....That dust, that mud, are part of what separates Seven Samurai from all its imitators...The natural world is always part of the film, and the characters inseparable from nature." - John Anderson, The A List "...Kurosawa has constructed a superb narrative, bursting with incident that is by turns exciting, absorbing, moving and funny. Carefully and lovingly reconstructing medieval Japan, he reveals the entire spectrum of human strength and weakness with absolute clarity of vision." - Ronald Bergan & Robyn Karney, The Faber Companion to Foreign Films. Compiled by Rob Nixon & Jeff Stafford

Seven Samurai - Akira Kurosawa's THE SEVEN SAMURAI, Newly Restored, on DVD


Stunning, magnificent, epic, a milestone achievement. These are a few adjectives that meekly try to convey the enormous power of Akira Kurosawa's Seven Samurai (1954, Shichinin no samurai). These same words can only begin to describe the 3-disc DVD, now available from the masters at the Criterion Collection. When the DVD revolution began, Seven Samurai was the first film released by Criterion in 1998, even though it was labeled as Criterion's second DVD release. (Grand Illusion (1937), while labeled #1, wasn't released until later, due to legal issues.) The first Criterion issue of Seven Samurai is the same transfer of the company's laserdisc release, including the excellent audio commentary by Japanese film scholar Michael Jeck. But in the years since, DVD transfer technology has improved so much that the Criterion folks decided to re-release Seven Samurai, but only in a much spiffier form, packed with extras and looking like it was shot yesterday. There is no double dipping danger here; this new edition is spectacular and simply worth every penny, even if you own the previous release.

The plot is simple yet complex. A village of farmers has consistently been plagued by roving bandits, who are most likely displaced, master-less samurai, known as ronin. The bandits take advantage of the poor residents. They take their food, their women, their security, and their humility. Hearing that the bandits will soon return, the villagers make a desperate pilgrimage to a nearby city in order to hire samurai to fight for them. Miraculously, the farmers find willing warriors, seven of them, in fact. Kambei (Takashi Shimura) is the wise, aging leader of the group; Gorobei (Yoshio Inaba) is the Kambei's gregarious right-hand man (the roughly analogous part that Steve McQueen played in the American remake, The Magnificent Seven); Shichiroji (Daisuke Kato) is an old friend of Kambei's, the two having seen much warfare together. Seiji Miyaguchi plays Kyuzo, the master swordsman, a character loosely based on Japanese folk hero Musashi Miyamoto. (Ironically, Miyaguchi was a complete stranger to swordplay before this movie. Editing and careful cinematography were used to give the impression that he was a master.) Heihachi (Minoru Chiaki) is introduced as a gruff woodcutter, but turns out to be the one samurai in the bunch that often lightens the mood. Isao Kimura plays Katsushiro, a headstrong youth who becomes Kambei's samurai disciple. And if the Seven Samurai were the Seven Dwarfs, Toshiro Mifune's Kikuchiyo would be "Dopey," at least at the beginning of the film. He is essentially a buffoon, not a real samurai at all. But Mifune turns him into a feral wildcat of emotion, brawn, and swagger. It's a performance that makes keeping up with him almost a tiring experience. In the course of the film, all seven samurai are fully fleshed out, so much so that we feel like we've known them intimately.

The plot seems simple enough, but nothing is ever simple in the hands of Akira Kurosawa. The sensei used this story to act as a history lesson on 16-century Japan. While most period films, or jidai-geki, were set in the Tokugawa period (1603-1868), Kurosawa sets Seven Samurai during the Sengoku period (1467-1568). The Sengoku period was an era when Japan was torn asunder by perpetual turmoil between warring families, or daimyos. There was a total absence of civil authority during this period, and in Seven Samurai, it's a Hobbsian world--life is nasty, brutal, and short. But it's also a commentary on Japanese society and culture in the years after Imperial Japan's rise and fall, and the ensuing American post-war occupation. Kurosawa expresses his disdain on the encroaching Western culture by placing in the bandits hands the West's worst gift: firearms. Of the four samurai who die in the film, all are brought down by gunfire.

Seven Samurai was Kurosawa's tenth film, following Ikiru (1952). Kurosawa's original idea was for a film about a day in the life of a samurai, beginning with him rising from his bed and ending with him making some mistake that required him to kill himself to save face. But that was discarded, due to the lack of historical details to make the samurai's day authentic. Then sensei and his writers considered a film that was more or less a collection of a master swordsman's greatest battles. Screenwriter Shinobu Hashimoto wrote a draft and presented it to Kurosawa, which was enough to convince Kurosawa that that too was not a good story to follow. But then Kurosawa came across an article about a real-life incident in which peasant farmers hired samurai to protect their villages from roaming thieves and killers. This was a good idea, Kurosawa thought. He soon met with Hashimoto and producer Sojiro Motoki and hammered out what was essentially a rough treatment of the film. Hashimoto wrote a much more fleshed out treatment (about 500 pages long) by November 1952. Then in December, Kurosawa, Hashimoto and the other writer Hideo Oguni sequestered themselves in an Atami inn, and stayed there for six weeks. They did not leave the inn, take phone calls or accept visitors (except for Toshiro Mifune, who upon his short visit, inspired the three to create Kikuchiyo, Mifune's eventual character). As Kurosawa biographer Stuart Galbraith wrote of the screenwriting process, "the team played off each other's strengths. Kurosawa and Hashimoto were competitive and masters of technique; Oguni was the script's soul, and he played devil's advocate with his collaborators, challenging their ideas and script-doctoring plot and character motivation that needed work."

During the 1950s, most Japanese pictures were shot in four to six weeks. Filming for Seven Samurai began on May 27, 1953, with a scheduled end date of August 1953. It wrapped on March 18, 1954. And not only did Seven Samurai become the longest Japanese feature yet produced (at three hours and twenty-seven minutes), it was also the most expensive. It cost Toho almost $560,000-five to eight times the cost of an average feature in Japan. Toho Studios nearly pulled the plug on the project several times when it ran over its $150,000 to $200,000 budget. And the possibility that Toho would replace Kurosawa was a frightening reality. This forced Kurosawa to go back and personally argue with the board of directors who were convinced they were making a flop. The simultaneous production of this film and Gojira (1954, known in the US as Godzilla) nearly forced Toho into bankruptcy. But despite constant pressure from Toho, Kurosawa would not be bullied. He was going to put into the can the film he wanted.

In Kurosawa's defense, the production was troubled from the beginning, not because of malfeasance, sloppiness, or impossible demands on sensei's part, but because of the sheer size of the production and the risks inherent in filming on location. For example, the script called for several scenes of major sets being burned to the ground, the trickiest one being when three of the samurai conduct a secret raid on the bandit's fortress. During the attack, the samurai torch the place, and the entire set goes up in flames. And being a Kurosawa film, the inferno is spectacular, which only compounded the director's stress. This was a one-take shot. There was no way he could afford the time nor the money to rebuild the set and re-shoot the scene, should something go awry in the filming. So after the three cameras turned, the sets burned, and the actors ran through the scene as best they could (they were, after all, in very real danger at times), Kurosawa called 'Cut.' As the fire trucks extinguished the fire, sensei reportedly stood and cried, having successfully completed the incredibly risky scene.

Then, there is the final battle in the rain. Anyone wishing to study how to make an action film need only to watch when the samurai make their final stand against the invading bandits. There is a cold, freezing rain that has drenched the earth, turning the dusty ground into a sodden, muddy mess. And what a beautiful mess it is. Kurosawa's three cameras captured the visceral beauty of the picture dance between camera and light, men and horses in motion, and the desperate struggle of life and death in the squalor of mud and blood and tears. It's exhilarating sequence, but perhaps not for the actors and the crew. They stood in that artificial rain in the middle of winter for the two months it took to capture it, January and February of 1954. You only have to notice the actors' breath to see that it could not have been pleasant. Toshiro Mifune said later, "It was probably the toughest movie I ever made...that final battle scene in the rain and mud...that rain was freezing cold, and I was wearing practically nothing at all."

Of filming with more than one camera, Kurosawa said in his autobiography, "This began when I was making Seven Samurai, because it was impossible to predict exactly what would happen in the scene where the bandits attack the peasants' village in a heavy rainstorm. If I had filmed it in the traditional shot-by-shot method, there was no guarantee that any action could be repeated in exactly the same way twice. So I used three cameras rolling simultaneously." Unbeknownst to him, Kurosawa invented the modern-day action film, not just in terms of structure and theme, but also in terms of production practice. And speaking of action, at some point in the film, treat yourself to an experience-turn off the subtitles and just soak in the images. You'd be surprised how much Kurosawa communicates in spite of the language barrier.

Seven Samurai was a popular success in Japan, becoming the year's biggest moneymaker. It was also a success with critics, but not a rapturous one. As what so often happens with moneymakers, critics were somewhat soft on accepting it as a masterpiece. But eventually the film was accepted by the Japanese as the greatest home-grown film ever made. The film's reputation in the U.S. though was a little rockier. When the film officially arrived in the U.S. in 1954, it had a new, Western-friendly name: The Magnificent Seven. Critics praised Kurosawa's film, but most mixed the praise with a whiff of what Stuart Galbraith calls "cultural condescension." Basically, the critics thought Kurosawa was simply ripping off the Western, and they damned him for making too long of a film. Bosley Crowther, surely one of film criticism's most annoying voices, said "it bears cultural comparison with our own popular Western High Noon (1952). That is to say, it is a solid, naturalistic, he-man outdoor action film." But the limp critical reaction was surely affected by the lack of a complete film: the film was cut by nearly fifty minutes upon reaching American theaters. (And yet still Crowther said of even the truncated film, "It is much too long for comfort or for the story it has to tell. The director is annoyingly repetitious. He shows so many shots of horses' feet tromping in the mud in the course of battle that you wonder if the horses have heads.") Surprisingly, the full-length version of Seven Samurai did not receive an American release until 1970. Of course, in the intervening years, Hollywood remade the film, at least in spirit, four times, the last being Disney's A Bug's Life (1998). It has also provided the template for the modern action film, and has been placed on multiple best-of lists. Entertainment Weekly voted it the 12th greatest film of all time by Entertainment Weekly, and it placed #3 in Sight and Sound's Top 10 list of greatest films ever made in 1982.

But the best accolade Criterion could give the film is an embarrassment of riches in special features. The DVD boasts two separate audio commentary tracks; the first one by Japanese film expert Michael Jeck (this is the same commentary track that was on Criterion's previous DVD release), and the second track is a "roundtable" by film scholars David Desser, Joan Mellen, Stephen Prince, Tony Rayns, and Donald Richie. The theatrical trailers are very interesting, particularly Trailer #2. The audio track no longer exists for this trailer, but each of the seven samurai are reunited on a studio soundstage and introduced in character, along with corresponding artistic renderings by artist Kohei Ezaki. Trailer #2 also includes footage of Kurosawa on the set, directing, touching up make-up, and generally looking the part of the sensei.

One picture in the photo and poster gallery captures dolly tracks made of wooden planks. Given the dynamic nature of Kurosawa's moving camera, the fact he was using wooden dolly tracks make the action scenes all the more impressive. And the pictures give a strong impression of the visceral nature of the film. The extensive documentaries included in the DVD expand on what's hinted at in the pictures. On disc 2 is the 50-minute documentary on the making Seven Samurai, created as part of the Toho Masterworks series, Akira Kurosawa: It Is Wonderful to Create. This is the same series that has been serialized on other Kurosawa titles released by Criterion. This chapter on Seven Samurai features interviews with writer Shinobu Hashimoto, set decorator Koichi Hamamura, script supervisor Teruyo Nogami, and actor Seiji Miyaguchi and Yoshio Tsuchiya. The interviews serve an excellent chronology of the film's evolution, from idea to script to production to release.

The third disc features My Life in Cinema, a two-hour video conversation between Kurosawa and film director Nagisa Oshima, shot at sensei's house in 1993, and produced by the Directors Guild of Japan. And finally, there is Seven Samurai: Origins and Influences, a new documentary created exclusively for this release that explores the samurai traditions and films that impacted Kurosawa, the Japanese film industry, and the cultural tastes and expectations of the movie-going audience.

The DVD also boasts a booklet featuring six essays by film critics and Kurosawa experts. One stand out, Peter Cowie's essay called "Seven Rode Together: Seven Samurai and the American Western," touches upon Kurosawa's indebtedness to the Western genre, and his relationship with John Ford and films directed by Ford. Kurosawa wrote in his memoirs, "There is one person, I feel, I would like to resemble as I grow old: the late American film director John Ford." Cowie notes, "(I)t may not be too glib to classify Seven Samurai as a Ford western with a feudal theme. Beyond the superficial affinities-the will to survive any and all dangers, solidarity, non-heroic celebration of heroism and traditional values-certain crucial features remind one of Ford: the vigor and clarity of the narrative, the picaresque comedy, and the humanity of the characters." Kurosawa and Ford were also alike in their respective treatment of nature, of landscape. In their films, the physical world was as much a character as Ethan Edwards or Kambei. The physical world was a god to them, one made up of wind, dust, fire and rain that helped to reveal character by symbolizing human emotion. This, more than any other, ties the two masters together. When Ford and Kurosawa met in October 1957, the American director said to the Japanese sensei, "You really love rain." They were kindred spirits, cut from the same earth.

Also in the liner notes, Kurosawa receives two affectionate tributes from Sidney Lumet, and one from Arthur Penn who asserts that seeing Seven Samurai "proved to be a perception-changing event for me." And indeed, the clarity of Kurosawa's vision, and the clarity to which Criterion has restored that vision, is a perception-changing event to anyone who looks upon this marvelous gift.

For more information about The Seven Samurai, visit The Criterion Collection. To order The Seven Samurai, go to TCM Shopping.

by Scott McGee

Seven Samurai - Akira Kurosawa's THE SEVEN SAMURAI, Newly Restored, on DVD

Stunning, magnificent, epic, a milestone achievement. These are a few adjectives that meekly try to convey the enormous power of Akira Kurosawa's Seven Samurai (1954, Shichinin no samurai). These same words can only begin to describe the 3-disc DVD, now available from the masters at the Criterion Collection. When the DVD revolution began, Seven Samurai was the first film released by Criterion in 1998, even though it was labeled as Criterion's second DVD release. (Grand Illusion (1937), while labeled #1, wasn't released until later, due to legal issues.) The first Criterion issue of Seven Samurai is the same transfer of the company's laserdisc release, including the excellent audio commentary by Japanese film scholar Michael Jeck. But in the years since, DVD transfer technology has improved so much that the Criterion folks decided to re-release Seven Samurai, but only in a much spiffier form, packed with extras and looking like it was shot yesterday. There is no double dipping danger here; this new edition is spectacular and simply worth every penny, even if you own the previous release. The plot is simple yet complex. A village of farmers has consistently been plagued by roving bandits, who are most likely displaced, master-less samurai, known as ronin. The bandits take advantage of the poor residents. They take their food, their women, their security, and their humility. Hearing that the bandits will soon return, the villagers make a desperate pilgrimage to a nearby city in order to hire samurai to fight for them. Miraculously, the farmers find willing warriors, seven of them, in fact. Kambei (Takashi Shimura) is the wise, aging leader of the group; Gorobei (Yoshio Inaba) is the Kambei's gregarious right-hand man (the roughly analogous part that Steve McQueen played in the American remake, The Magnificent Seven); Shichiroji (Daisuke Kato) is an old friend of Kambei's, the two having seen much warfare together. Seiji Miyaguchi plays Kyuzo, the master swordsman, a character loosely based on Japanese folk hero Musashi Miyamoto. (Ironically, Miyaguchi was a complete stranger to swordplay before this movie. Editing and careful cinematography were used to give the impression that he was a master.) Heihachi (Minoru Chiaki) is introduced as a gruff woodcutter, but turns out to be the one samurai in the bunch that often lightens the mood. Isao Kimura plays Katsushiro, a headstrong youth who becomes Kambei's samurai disciple. And if the Seven Samurai were the Seven Dwarfs, Toshiro Mifune's Kikuchiyo would be "Dopey," at least at the beginning of the film. He is essentially a buffoon, not a real samurai at all. But Mifune turns him into a feral wildcat of emotion, brawn, and swagger. It's a performance that makes keeping up with him almost a tiring experience. In the course of the film, all seven samurai are fully fleshed out, so much so that we feel like we've known them intimately. The plot seems simple enough, but nothing is ever simple in the hands of Akira Kurosawa. The sensei used this story to act as a history lesson on 16-century Japan. While most period films, or jidai-geki, were set in the Tokugawa period (1603-1868), Kurosawa sets Seven Samurai during the Sengoku period (1467-1568). The Sengoku period was an era when Japan was torn asunder by perpetual turmoil between warring families, or daimyos. There was a total absence of civil authority during this period, and in Seven Samurai, it's a Hobbsian world--life is nasty, brutal, and short. But it's also a commentary on Japanese society and culture in the years after Imperial Japan's rise and fall, and the ensuing American post-war occupation. Kurosawa expresses his disdain on the encroaching Western culture by placing in the bandits hands the West's worst gift: firearms. Of the four samurai who die in the film, all are brought down by gunfire. Seven Samurai was Kurosawa's tenth film, following Ikiru (1952). Kurosawa's original idea was for a film about a day in the life of a samurai, beginning with him rising from his bed and ending with him making some mistake that required him to kill himself to save face. But that was discarded, due to the lack of historical details to make the samurai's day authentic. Then sensei and his writers considered a film that was more or less a collection of a master swordsman's greatest battles. Screenwriter Shinobu Hashimoto wrote a draft and presented it to Kurosawa, which was enough to convince Kurosawa that that too was not a good story to follow. But then Kurosawa came across an article about a real-life incident in which peasant farmers hired samurai to protect their villages from roaming thieves and killers. This was a good idea, Kurosawa thought. He soon met with Hashimoto and producer Sojiro Motoki and hammered out what was essentially a rough treatment of the film. Hashimoto wrote a much more fleshed out treatment (about 500 pages long) by November 1952. Then in December, Kurosawa, Hashimoto and the other writer Hideo Oguni sequestered themselves in an Atami inn, and stayed there for six weeks. They did not leave the inn, take phone calls or accept visitors (except for Toshiro Mifune, who upon his short visit, inspired the three to create Kikuchiyo, Mifune's eventual character). As Kurosawa biographer Stuart Galbraith wrote of the screenwriting process, "the team played off each other's strengths. Kurosawa and Hashimoto were competitive and masters of technique; Oguni was the script's soul, and he played devil's advocate with his collaborators, challenging their ideas and script-doctoring plot and character motivation that needed work." During the 1950s, most Japanese pictures were shot in four to six weeks. Filming for Seven Samurai began on May 27, 1953, with a scheduled end date of August 1953. It wrapped on March 18, 1954. And not only did Seven Samurai become the longest Japanese feature yet produced (at three hours and twenty-seven minutes), it was also the most expensive. It cost Toho almost $560,000-five to eight times the cost of an average feature in Japan. Toho Studios nearly pulled the plug on the project several times when it ran over its $150,000 to $200,000 budget. And the possibility that Toho would replace Kurosawa was a frightening reality. This forced Kurosawa to go back and personally argue with the board of directors who were convinced they were making a flop. The simultaneous production of this film and Gojira (1954, known in the US as Godzilla) nearly forced Toho into bankruptcy. But despite constant pressure from Toho, Kurosawa would not be bullied. He was going to put into the can the film he wanted. In Kurosawa's defense, the production was troubled from the beginning, not because of malfeasance, sloppiness, or impossible demands on sensei's part, but because of the sheer size of the production and the risks inherent in filming on location. For example, the script called for several scenes of major sets being burned to the ground, the trickiest one being when three of the samurai conduct a secret raid on the bandit's fortress. During the attack, the samurai torch the place, and the entire set goes up in flames. And being a Kurosawa film, the inferno is spectacular, which only compounded the director's stress. This was a one-take shot. There was no way he could afford the time nor the money to rebuild the set and re-shoot the scene, should something go awry in the filming. So after the three cameras turned, the sets burned, and the actors ran through the scene as best they could (they were, after all, in very real danger at times), Kurosawa called 'Cut.' As the fire trucks extinguished the fire, sensei reportedly stood and cried, having successfully completed the incredibly risky scene. Then, there is the final battle in the rain. Anyone wishing to study how to make an action film need only to watch when the samurai make their final stand against the invading bandits. There is a cold, freezing rain that has drenched the earth, turning the dusty ground into a sodden, muddy mess. And what a beautiful mess it is. Kurosawa's three cameras captured the visceral beauty of the picture dance between camera and light, men and horses in motion, and the desperate struggle of life and death in the squalor of mud and blood and tears. It's exhilarating sequence, but perhaps not for the actors and the crew. They stood in that artificial rain in the middle of winter for the two months it took to capture it, January and February of 1954. You only have to notice the actors' breath to see that it could not have been pleasant. Toshiro Mifune said later, "It was probably the toughest movie I ever made...that final battle scene in the rain and mud...that rain was freezing cold, and I was wearing practically nothing at all." Of filming with more than one camera, Kurosawa said in his autobiography, "This began when I was making Seven Samurai, because it was impossible to predict exactly what would happen in the scene where the bandits attack the peasants' village in a heavy rainstorm. If I had filmed it in the traditional shot-by-shot method, there was no guarantee that any action could be repeated in exactly the same way twice. So I used three cameras rolling simultaneously." Unbeknownst to him, Kurosawa invented the modern-day action film, not just in terms of structure and theme, but also in terms of production practice. And speaking of action, at some point in the film, treat yourself to an experience-turn off the subtitles and just soak in the images. You'd be surprised how much Kurosawa communicates in spite of the language barrier. Seven Samurai was a popular success in Japan, becoming the year's biggest moneymaker. It was also a success with critics, but not a rapturous one. As what so often happens with moneymakers, critics were somewhat soft on accepting it as a masterpiece. But eventually the film was accepted by the Japanese as the greatest home-grown film ever made. The film's reputation in the U.S. though was a little rockier. When the film officially arrived in the U.S. in 1954, it had a new, Western-friendly name: The Magnificent Seven. Critics praised Kurosawa's film, but most mixed the praise with a whiff of what Stuart Galbraith calls "cultural condescension." Basically, the critics thought Kurosawa was simply ripping off the Western, and they damned him for making too long of a film. Bosley Crowther, surely one of film criticism's most annoying voices, said "it bears cultural comparison with our own popular Western High Noon (1952). That is to say, it is a solid, naturalistic, he-man outdoor action film." But the limp critical reaction was surely affected by the lack of a complete film: the film was cut by nearly fifty minutes upon reaching American theaters. (And yet still Crowther said of even the truncated film, "It is much too long for comfort or for the story it has to tell. The director is annoyingly repetitious. He shows so many shots of horses' feet tromping in the mud in the course of battle that you wonder if the horses have heads.") Surprisingly, the full-length version of Seven Samurai did not receive an American release until 1970. Of course, in the intervening years, Hollywood remade the film, at least in spirit, four times, the last being Disney's A Bug's Life (1998). It has also provided the template for the modern action film, and has been placed on multiple best-of lists. Entertainment Weekly voted it the 12th greatest film of all time by Entertainment Weekly, and it placed #3 in Sight and Sound's Top 10 list of greatest films ever made in 1982. But the best accolade Criterion could give the film is an embarrassment of riches in special features. The DVD boasts two separate audio commentary tracks; the first one by Japanese film expert Michael Jeck (this is the same commentary track that was on Criterion's previous DVD release), and the second track is a "roundtable" by film scholars David Desser, Joan Mellen, Stephen Prince, Tony Rayns, and Donald Richie. The theatrical trailers are very interesting, particularly Trailer #2. The audio track no longer exists for this trailer, but each of the seven samurai are reunited on a studio soundstage and introduced in character, along with corresponding artistic renderings by artist Kohei Ezaki. Trailer #2 also includes footage of Kurosawa on the set, directing, touching up make-up, and generally looking the part of the sensei. One picture in the photo and poster gallery captures dolly tracks made of wooden planks. Given the dynamic nature of Kurosawa's moving camera, the fact he was using wooden dolly tracks make the action scenes all the more impressive. And the pictures give a strong impression of the visceral nature of the film. The extensive documentaries included in the DVD expand on what's hinted at in the pictures. On disc 2 is the 50-minute documentary on the making Seven Samurai, created as part of the Toho Masterworks series, Akira Kurosawa: It Is Wonderful to Create. This is the same series that has been serialized on other Kurosawa titles released by Criterion. This chapter on Seven Samurai features interviews with writer Shinobu Hashimoto, set decorator Koichi Hamamura, script supervisor Teruyo Nogami, and actor Seiji Miyaguchi and Yoshio Tsuchiya. The interviews serve an excellent chronology of the film's evolution, from idea to script to production to release. The third disc features My Life in Cinema, a two-hour video conversation between Kurosawa and film director Nagisa Oshima, shot at sensei's house in 1993, and produced by the Directors Guild of Japan. And finally, there is Seven Samurai: Origins and Influences, a new documentary created exclusively for this release that explores the samurai traditions and films that impacted Kurosawa, the Japanese film industry, and the cultural tastes and expectations of the movie-going audience. The DVD also boasts a booklet featuring six essays by film critics and Kurosawa experts. One stand out, Peter Cowie's essay called "Seven Rode Together: Seven Samurai and the American Western," touches upon Kurosawa's indebtedness to the Western genre, and his relationship with John Ford and films directed by Ford. Kurosawa wrote in his memoirs, "There is one person, I feel, I would like to resemble as I grow old: the late American film director John Ford." Cowie notes, "(I)t may not be too glib to classify Seven Samurai as a Ford western with a feudal theme. Beyond the superficial affinities-the will to survive any and all dangers, solidarity, non-heroic celebration of heroism and traditional values-certain crucial features remind one of Ford: the vigor and clarity of the narrative, the picaresque comedy, and the humanity of the characters." Kurosawa and Ford were also alike in their respective treatment of nature, of landscape. In their films, the physical world was as much a character as Ethan Edwards or Kambei. The physical world was a god to them, one made up of wind, dust, fire and rain that helped to reveal character by symbolizing human emotion. This, more than any other, ties the two masters together. When Ford and Kurosawa met in October 1957, the American director said to the Japanese sensei, "You really love rain." They were kindred spirits, cut from the same earth. Also in the liner notes, Kurosawa receives two affectionate tributes from Sidney Lumet, and one from Arthur Penn who asserts that seeing Seven Samurai "proved to be a perception-changing event for me." And indeed, the clarity of Kurosawa's vision, and the clarity to which Criterion has restored that vision, is a perception-changing event to anyone who looks upon this marvelous gift. For more information about The Seven Samurai, visit The Criterion Collection. To order The Seven Samurai, go to TCM Shopping. by Scott McGee

Quotes

What do you think of farmers? You think they're saints? Hah! They're foxy beasts! They say, "We've got no rice, we've no wheat. We've got nothing!" But they have! They have everything! Dig under the floors! Or search the barns! You'll find plenty! Beans, salt, rice, cake! Look in the valleys, they've got hidden warehouses! They pose as saints but are full of lies! If they smell a battle, they hunt the defeated! They're nothing but stingy, greedy, blubbering, foxy, and mean! God damn it all! But then who made them such beasts? You did! You samurai did it! You burn their villages! Destroy their farms! Steal their food! Force them to labour! Take their women! And kill them if they resist! So what should farmers do?
- Kikuchiyo
Go to the north. The decisive battle will be fought there.
- Kambei Shimada
Why didn't you build a fence there?
- Gorobei Katayama
A good fort needs a gap. The enemy must be lured in. So we can attack them. If we only defend, we lose the war.
- Kambei Shimada
Find hungry samurai.
- Gisaku
You embarrass me. You're overestimating me. Listen, I'm not a man with any special skill, but I've had plenty of experience in battles; losing battles, all of them. In short, that's all I am. Drop such an idea for your own good.
- Kambei Shimada
No Sir, my decision has been made. I'll follow you sir.
- Katsushiro
I forbid it. I can't afford to take a kid with me.
- Kambei Shimada
It's impossible.
- Kambei Shimada
Sir! Why not arm them with... ?
- Katsushiro
I thought of that, too.
- Kambei Shimada
But sir.
- Katsushiro
This would not be a game. A band of forty bandits! Two or three "samurai" could accomplish nothing. Defense is harder than offense. Mountains in the back of the village?
- Kambei Shimada

Trivia

Filming had to be stopped several times due to a shortage of horses for the final battle sequences.

Seiji Miyaguchi, who played the taciturn samurai Kyuzo, had not touched a sword at all before this movie. Editing and careful cinematography were both used to give the impression that he was a master.

Toho pulled the plug on the project several times when it ran over budget, forcing director Akira Kurosawa to go back and personally argue with the board of directors who were convinced they were making a flop.

The character played by Toshiro Mifune has no name, and is given one by his companions. In Yojimbo (1961) (also directed by Kurosawa) his character has no name (the one he gives to the bandits is fake).

Later remade into the Western Magnificent Seven, The (1960) by John Sturges.

Miscellaneous Notes

Voted One of the Year's Five Best Foreign Language Films by the 1956 New York Times Film Critics.

Winner of the Silver Lion at the 1954 Venice Film Festival.

Released in United States 1956

Released in United States November 1996

Released in United States on Video July 1984

Released in United States Summer August 30, 2002

Re-released in United States August 30, 2002

Re-released in United States December 13, 1996

Shown at Kobe Film Festival (Nagaharu Yodogawa's 20 Selected Films) in Japan November 1-30, 1996.

Kino International is the theatrical distributor of the Janus Film Library. Formerly distributed by Columbia Pictures and Landmark Films.

Production lasted 148 days, spread out over one year.

Re-released in Paris February 6, 1991.

Released in United States 1956

Released in United States on Video July 1984

Released in United States Summer August 30, 2002

Re-released in United States August 30, 2002 (New York City and Los Angeles)

Released in United States November 1996 (Shown at Kobe Film Festival (Nagaharu Yodogawa's 20 Selected Films) in Japan November 1-30, 1996.)

Re-released in United States December 13, 1996 (as part of "Janus Films 40th Anniversary Film Festival"; New York City)

Re-released in Tokyo November 2, 1991.