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How Seven Samurai Taught Me About Honour, Loyalty and Poverty

Updated on April 1, 2015
Seven Samurai (The Criterion Collection) [Blu-ray]
Seven Samurai (The Criterion Collection) [Blu-ray]

Criterion has created a very clean Blu-ray transfer of the movie (see below for a sample video).

 

The Best Movie Ever

Seven Samurai is a 1954 classic movie by Akira Kurosawa, that is often held up by critics as the best Japanese movie ever made and perhaps the best movie of all time.

I first saw it when I was an older teenager, growing up in the Eighties, and I'm inclined to agree with them.

Even though it was made as an homage to the Hollywood Western, it gained huge worldwide influence.

So much so, that it was remade by Hollywood as The Magnificent Seven, a movie you may have heard of.

Yes, Seven Samurai is filmed in black and white and yes, the language is Japanese - with subtitles.

Now, I know some people who say flat out, "I don't watch movies with subtitles" but in my opinion, they are sorely missing out.

If you're one of those people, I beg you to make an exception for Seven Samurai.

Read on to find out why!

Honour And Loyalty

I have always had a strong sense of justice, alongside the concepts of honour and loyalty.

Perhaps that's what got me interested in Japan and its culture - and then in this movie.

I started doing Karate when I was about 15, read stuff about Samurai and the code of Bushido.

I also loved watching poorly dubbed programs like "The Water Margin" and "Monkey".

I kind of moved on from that phase of my life when I got into my twenties, but Seven Samurai made such an impression on me, that it is still one of my favourite movies.

Original poster for the movie. Kikuchiyo is featured prominently (top), while Kambei is front and centre of the team (bottom).
Original poster for the movie. Kikuchiyo is featured prominently (top), while Kambei is front and centre of the team (bottom). | Source

Outnumbered

The plot is simple:

A small village is regularly attacked by a group of bandits, who keep stealing all the food.

The impoverished farmers become desperate and enlist the seven Samurai of the title, to help defend the village.

They are outnumbered by the bandits and at a disadvantage, being on foot, while the bandits have horses.

The only way they can succeed is to stick together and train the farmers to fight as best they can before the bandits return...

The Samurai are all "Ronin" - a Samurai who has no master or lord - and would have been considered to be without honour in Feudal Japanese society.

Seven Samurai (The Criterion Collection)
Seven Samurai (The Criterion Collection)

If you don't have a Blu-ray player, don't fret, you can also get this movie on DVD from this link.

 

A Mixed Bag Of Characters

They are a mixed bag, to say the least, but as the story progresses each character wins a special place in your heart.

Among them is:

  • the leader, Kambei, who has seen too many battles
  • a youngster, who is completely naïve about warfare. He looks up to and worships Kambei as a great warrior
  • a quiet, stony faced master swordsman, who only cares about improving his technique
  • Kikuchiyo, a joker, who has questionable credentials and a mysterious past

Kikuchiyo is played by Toshiro Mifune, who does an amazing job of involving the audience.

When you first see him, he is very strange and unpredictable, yet tragic at the same time.

He has sudden mood swings and is almost as scary as he is funny.

He frightens the villagers as well, but soon warms to them (and they to him), and eventually becomes one of their staunchest supporters.

He is often used as the comic relief in several scenes, but there is a serious side to his character which comes to a head near the end of the film.

I won't spoil anything for you, but the sight of him waist deep in a river at a true moment of revelation, brings a tear to my eye every time.

I'll leave you to decide who has real honour among them...

Akira Kurosawa: Four Samurai Classics (Seven Samurai / The Hidden Fortress / Yojimbo / Sanjuro) (The Criterion Collection)
Akira Kurosawa: Four Samurai Classics (Seven Samurai / The Hidden Fortress / Yojimbo / Sanjuro) (The Criterion Collection)

If you are a fan of Kurosawa, then you may like this collection containing 4 of his Samurai movies.

 

Poverty

The other side of the story is, of course, the villagers, who are undeniably poor.

The only thing they have to pay the Samurai with is what little food they have left, mostly rice.

One of my favourite early scenes is where the villagers have annoyed a potential recruit and their rice has been spilled on the floor.

They sit completely dejected, while one of them slowly picks up the individual grains and puts them carefully back in the bowl, one by one.

To me, this illustrates simply, yet powerfully, the full extent of their plight.

It's always a reminder to me that there are many people who live like that, even today.

However, the villagers are not in this story solely to be pitied and have their fair share of characters that suck you further into the story.

Gisaku is the village elder, who sometimes seems to be the only one with a level head.

Manzo is frightened of everything, even the Samurai.

So much so, that he tries to disguise his daughter so they won't know she's a girl.

This becomes one of the interesting sub-plots, which asks further questions about our motivations and ability to trust others, amongst others.

Another villager is a quiet old man who won't say boo to a goose.

This leads to some funny scenes between him and Kikuchiyo, who uses him mercilessly as the butt of his jokes.

Do you like Seven Samurai?

See results

(Incredibly) Well Made

Seven Samurai has all the ingredients of a good movie, with a great plot and character development, but there is more to it than that.

It's certainly an epic, running to over 3 1/2 hours from start to finish, in the full 'cut'.

During that time, Kurosawa manages to bring in the full range of human emotion, from fear, desperation and suspense, to anger and excitement, to joy and laughter, and even romance.

I won't spoil anything, but the end manages to be both joyful and poignant at the same time.

Technical Achievement

It's also amazing technically.

In an age where there were virtually no special effects, Kurosawa insisted that a 'real' village be constructed instead of filming it on a set.

He also introduced combinations of fast and slow camera work and other multi-camera techniques that are still used today.

In some of the pitched battles towards the end of the movie, you could easily be watching one of the many modern epics that have been spawned over the past few years.

By now, you've probably guessed that I like this movie a lot.

In fact, now that I've done my review, I think it's time to go watch it again.

Well, if you've not seen it yet, what are you waiting for?

5 stars for Seven Samurai

Video Trailer

Potential Spoiler Alert

This video is the publisher's promotional video for the blu-ray edition of the movie.

If you've never seen it, you may wish to get an idea of what it's like, but on the other hand, you may find spoilers!

If you're already a fan, then this may give you an idea of how clean the blu-ray transfer is.

© 2013 Tim Bader

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    • Tim Bader profile image
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      Tim Bader 3 years ago from Surrey, UK

      @PAINTDRIPS: I'm glad you liked it - the movie and my review ;)

      I too like the romance part, even thought I'm a boy.

      I like that it's not done in a silly way. It fits in so well with the rest of the story but is realistic about each character's 'place' in their society.

    • PAINTDRIPS profile image

      Denise McGill 3 years ago from Fresno CA

      I saw this movie many years ago and didn't like the subtitles at first but into the movie just a short space and I was hooked. I love black and white movies for the art of it and this one was very artistic. I loved the daughter dressed as a boy and the budding romance part.. I'm a girl what can I say... but the action was stupendous too. I still love Citizen Kane best though. Great review. Really well done!

    • Tim Bader profile image
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      Tim Bader 3 years ago from Surrey, UK

      @lgOlson: Thanks for reading and for taking the time to share your opinion with us.

      "like" :)

    • lgOlson profile image

      L. Olson 3 years ago from Northern Arizona

      A very good review of a movie many have forgotten. It is a classic...not the best movie ever, in my opinion, but one of the best, and ground breaking to be sure.

    • Tim Bader profile image
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      Tim Bader 3 years ago from Surrey, UK

      @CalobrenaOmai: Sounds like you're already well into these movies.

      To my shame, I still haven't seen Rashomon (or Kurosawa's other movies) - I keep meaning to borrow them all from my dad. ;)

    • profile image

      CalobrenaOmai 3 years ago

      I first saw this movie on Telefutura some years ago before that digital switch took place. It caught my attention because the language was in Japanese. I was already intrigued by things and shows from Japan and this just made my night. Years later, thanks to TCM [Turner Classic Movies], They hosted an Kurosawa Akira marathon. They showed Seven Samurai (early morning and I missed it), Rashomon along with several others.

      Looking back, Seven Samurai got me interested in another movie that had some similar attributes. Its Japanese with English subtitles. This movie also inspired an anime series that can't seem to stay on the library shelves.

    • Tim Bader profile image
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      Tim Bader 3 years ago from Surrey, UK

      @SusanDeppner: You're welcome, Susan.

      Thanks for reading and as ever, thanks for encouraging me!

    • SusanDeppner profile image

      Susan Deppner 3 years ago from Arkansas USA

      What a fabulous review! I'm wondering if my sons have seen this movie, especially my black-belt son. I know they would both really appreciate it. Thank you for bringing it to my attention!

    • Tim Bader profile image
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      Tim Bader 3 years ago from Surrey, UK

      @Diana Wenzel: Thanks for reading - I hope you enjoy the movie!

    • Diana Wenzel profile image

      Renaissance Woman 3 years ago from Colorado

      Sounds like I would love this movie. Thank you for introducing me to it. I, too, was into the martial arts and what it really stands for. That really stays with you. Can appreciate the principles that matter to you.