SEVEN SAMURAI

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Overall Impression – A sweeping epic that’s as fresh now as the day it was released.

THE FOUR QUESTIONS

Who’s your main character? – Kambei Shimada.

What’s he trying to accomplish? – Professional: lead the samurai in defending a peasant village from 40 bandits.  Personal: bridge the samurai/peasant caste division. Private: figure out if it’s possible to overcome the negative social conventions placed on samurai.

Who’s trying to stop him? – The bandits, dissent among the samurai, and conflicts between the samurai and the peasants.

What happens if he fails? – The bandits will kill the samurai and the villagers.

THE FOUR ARCHETYPES

Orphan – Kambei is a ronin – a rogue samurai with no master.

Wanderer – Kambei finds and recruits six samurai whom he believes are necessary to defeat the bandits. They travel to the village, where longstanding tensions between the samurai and peasant castes become apparent.  Eventually they learn to trust each other, and Kambei forms his strategies to fight the bandits and trains the peasants for battle.  When some bandit scouts are killed, a few samurai undertake a preemptive strike, learning that the bandits possess not only superior numbers, but also three muskets.

Warrior – Under Kambei’s leadership, the samurai try to hold the peasants together as they launch a variety of attacks and defenses against the bandits, whittling down their vast numbers through strategy and guerilla tactics.  They also try to reduce the bandits’ advantage by taking their muskets, the youngest samurai Katsushiro begins an affair with a village girl, and Kikuchiyo becomes more active in his goal to earn respect as a samurai.

Martyr – The samurai and the peasants stage a final battle to wipe out the bandits for good, risking everything by luring them into the village.

AND, IN THE END…

There’s so much packed into this movie that I can barely scratch the surface, but one element I’d like to draw attention to is how fleshed out the samurai characters are, due in no small part to the fact that each samurai, to a greater or lesser extent, featured his own path from ORPHAN to MARTYR.  For example, Kambei’s protege Katsushiro starts off as a masterless samurai ORPHANED by his aristocratic heritage.  He becomes a WANDERER through his tutelage under Kambei and as he negotiates his feelings for a village girl.  He’s a WARRIOR when the fighting starts and as he pursues the village girl, and switches to a MARTYR along with everyone else in the final showdown.

Additionally, SEVEN SAMURAI is said to have established certain plot points that’ve become convention in modern movies.   The most obvious of these is the hero’s gathering of allies into a team to accomplish a specific goal, and if Wikipedia’s to be believed, Roger Ebert speculated that SEVEN SAMURAI established the practice of introducing the main character involved with an undertaking unrelated to the main plot (e.g., Kambei is introduced rescuing a child from a thief).  In hindsight, the movie didn’t feel as dated as I’d expected it to, and that’s probably because it’s filled with filmic elements present in so many contemporary films.

Lastly, you can’t have a samurai movie without some good old fighting, and SEVEN SAMURAI boasts some of the most intelligent sequences I’ve seen.  If you want a great action movie with some incredible depth, give this one a look-see.

– Dan Pilditch

2 Responses to “SEVEN SAMURAI”

  1. David Goulet September 24, 2009 at 10:41 am #

    Nice review Dan.

    This is also one of my favourite films. The Western remake, The Magnificent Seven, is naturally also a fave. There’s a classic line of dialogue in almost every scene.

    There was also a Roger Corman sci-fi version, Battle Beyond the Stars…not so classic, despite Robert Vaughn being in the cast. One could argue that Tears of the Sun is a pseudo-remake.

  2. Stacy Davidson October 18, 2011 at 9:50 pm #

    One of the finest films ever made, IMO. However, I believe upon closer inspection, you will find that Kambei is the martyr because the samurai lose. The only winners are the farmers.

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