Seven Samurai is a 1954 Japanese period drama directed by Akira Kurosawa. It follows the story of seven ronin who are hired to protect a small town of farmers from bandits. It is considered by many as one of the the best and most influential films ever made.
A pack of bandits look over a small farming village from the overlooking mountain, and decide to come back and ransack it once the harvest comes in. A villager who overheard this goes down and tells the villagers, who panic and try to figure out a solution. One villager, Rikichi wants to fight the bandits off with spears, but the other villagers don't agree with him and go to the village elder Gisaku. Gisaku tells them to find samurai to help defend the village, in exchange for money. Several village men go into the city to find samurai, but have no luck finding any. Many of the samurai balk at their meager offerings, except for an old ronin Kambei (Takashi Shimura). The men first saw Kambei after witnessing him rescue a baby from a thieve by dressing up as a priest. Along with him, they recruit a young, rich samurai Katsushiro (Isao Kimura), who witnessed Kambei rescue the baby and wants to be his acolyte. Kambei tells the men they need at least five more samurai, seven in total. With Katsushiro's willing assistance, Kambei recruits four more ronin: Kyuzo (Seiji Miyaguchi), Gorobei (Yoshio Inaba), Heihachi (Minoru Chiaki), and Shichiroji (Daisuke Kato).
Kikuchiyo tries to join the samurai
While they only have six samurai, Kambei decides to go back to the village and prepare, when a drunken ronin demands to go with them. He shows them a scroll that says that he is in a respectable Clan, but the name he chose, Kikuchiyo (Toshirou Mifune), belongs to a 13 year old. He is rejected by Kambei, but he still follows them to the village. After tricking the villagers into thinking the bandits are coming, after they do not greet them to their village, Kikuchiyo is accepted as the seventh samurai. With the seven samurai assembled, the villagers begin training for the coming war. Some of the villagers bring the samurai some stolen armor for the armor, but they are shocked and angered. The warriors begin to build fortifications for the village, and plan to build a moat after the harvest comes in. Shino, a female villager who was dressed as a boy at her father's request, begins to secretly see Katsushiro. Shino's father Manzo forcibly cut her hair, to protect her from the lustful samurai.
The flag of the Samurai
With the raid approaching, three bandit scouts are spotted on the outskirts of the village. Kikuchiyo, Katsushiro, and Kyuzo hunt down the scouts, killing two of them and bringing one back to the village. The samurai find out the location of the bandit's camp and send Kyuzo, Heihachi, Kikuchiyo, and Rikichi head to the camp and light it on fire. Several soldiers burst out, but are immediately slain by the samurai. They retreat, but Rikichi spots his former wife and runs after hur in the burning camp. Heihachi runs to save him, but is shot. the village and samurai give Heihachi a hero's funeral, as Kikuchiyo puts up their samurai flag. On the rooftop, he spots the bandits coming down the mountain, and the army hurry to their positions. Their battle plan is to allow one bandit in the village, and block the rest of the invaders off. The lone bandit that gets in is attacked by the warriors inside the village.
Gorobei and Kyuzo rally their soldiers
The attacking bandits don't expect the village's heavy fortifications, and several are killed trying to scale the walls. However, they are able to fight back with the help of three muskets. Kyuzo manages to retrieve one of the muskets, and thinks nothing of it, despite Hatsushiro's fanatic praise. Envious of the Kyuzo's praise, Kikuchiyo retrieves a musket too, along with an bandit suit of armor. Because he left his post, he doesn't get the praise he expected though and Kambei scolds him for going on his own. Because of Kikuchiyo leaving, several bandits are able to get into the village, killing both Gorobei and Yohei, a friend of Kikuchiyo.
Kambei's plan for the final battle is to enclose all of the bandits in the village. Most are killed, but Kyuzo is shot dishonorably by the bandit leader hiding in a hut. Kikuchiyo rushes in and is shot, but still hunts down the leader and kills him before dying. The battle is won and the villagers happily plant their crops, as the three remaining samurai mourn the loss of their fallen samurai.
Writing Akira Kurosawa's original conception for the film was a day in the life of a samurai, chronicling him from waking up to ultimate suicide. He didn't have enough factual information for the script, and decided to go with an anecdote he heard about a village hiring samurai to defend their village. Every character was given a dossier, written by Kurosawa, with details on their favorite foods, history, habits, and other various details. Six samurai were conceptualized by Kurosawa, leaving out Kikuchiyo. Toshirou Mifune originally played Kyuzo. However, it was decided to add a more relatable character that wasn't a full-fledged samurai. Mifune was give creative license with his character, because he was recast.
The filming ran into several problems. Toho, the studio behind Seven Samurai, stopped the production several times due to increasing budget. Kurosawa himself had to convince the studio to continue production. While filming, Kurosawa used multiple cameras, a first for his films. Seiji Miyaguchi, who plays the skilled swordsman, never held a sword at the time of shooting. Editing and cinematography were used to make him appear to be the master his character was. Yoshio Inaba did not get along well with Kurosawa, and limited hi slater film work because it was so stressful.
Shooting was done at a constructed set on Izu Peninsula. Kurosawa refused to shoot in the Toho studios. For the final battle sequence, several horse were needed, but filming had to be stopped several times because there was a shortage of them. While the final battle was planned to be shot in summer, it ended up getting filmed in near freezing February. Mifune claimed he's never been that cold in his entire life while filming. Seven Samurai was finished after 148 days shootings, and three months pre-production.
Reception and Legacy
While initially not received very well by Japanese critics, Seven Samurai is often considered part of the Japanese Golden Age of cinema, and Akira Kurosawa's greatest film. Now, it is routinely voted one of the greatest films of all time, and one of the most innovative films ever. It is often credited as the first action movie, and started trends like the a reluctant hero, characters being recruited to a group, dramatic slow-motion use, and romance between a young hero and a villager. Seven Samurai was adapted to an American western film, The Magnificent Seven. Samurai 7 is a anime, steam-punk retelling of Seven Samurai. Seven Samurai has become Japan's highest grossing movie, and is a technical and creative innovation in filmmaking.