Widely considered as one of the best movies (yes movies, not just ‘martial arts’ movies) of all time and one of the pioneering action and martial arts films in history, I can see why this movie made the list. This movie was the main influence behind the classic western film – The Magnificent Seven.
The story tells of a small village who learns of an impending attack by a gang of bandits back in the late 16th century. These bandits, having attacked the village previously, discuss attacking after the harvest in several months. One of villagers overhears this conversation and rushes back home to warn the towns people.
After much speculation the eldest man in the village tells of many villages that were attacked when he was a child, stating that the one that survived hired Samurai. With nothing much to offer but food, the men go off to search for Ronin (masterless Samurai) who are hungry, and attempt to recruit them to fight for their village.
They catch up with a Samurai named Kambei, a Samurai who saves a young boy by shaving his head as a means of deceiving his kidnapper. After some discussion Kambei recruits 6 more samurai which he feels is required to properly defend the village.
They all return to the village and prepare for the eventual attack of the bandits.
Why did Kambei shave his head?
It wasn’t a fashion statement! Back in then a hair style in Japan was considered an identifier, and the Samurai hair style was no exception.
The cutting off of a top knot was looked at as dishonourable and therefore was used as a way of demonstrating Kambei’s character. Beyond status symbols and worthless valuables, Kambei is shown to us as a Samurai who does what is right, and whatever is necessary for the greater good.\
This demonstration of such higher values is what makes him appear to be different to the many Samurai before him who simply declined and grunted at such ‘lowly farmers’. He is the first picked and becomes the head Samurai in charge of the defense of the village.
The Last Samurai picked – Kikuchiyo
While most of the Samurai have distinct differences in character, one stands out above the rest – Kikuchiyo. Kickuchiyo is introduced to the audience after getting into a drunken fight.
He is impulsive and seemingly unstable, but proves to be an excellent fighter and even one of the most thoughtful of the men despite his characteristics.
We later learn he was a farmer who was left an orphan after an attack. He forged his birth certificate to show himself as family of Samurai, but instead is just a farmer’s son with excellent fighting ability.
I find it fitting that as the last picked, Kikuchiyo delivers the final blow to the head of the bandits after being struck himself – dropping down to die after finishing his kill. He was born a farmer but died a Samurai.
The mistrust between the Farmers and the Samurai
This movie really does a good job of bringing many themes to the surface throughout the film, one in particular I found interesting was the lack of trust between the Samurai and the Farmers.
The behaviour between both groups is strained in the movie but slowly gets better as the two groups work and fight together against their common enemy. But Kikuchiyo is responsible for making the true statement on this relationship.
Pointing out that he was once a farmer he aggressively makes his point to the Samurai (who were whinging about the farmers at the time) that they will hide food, kill Samurai and do many disgusting things toward them – but this is all provoked from years of Samurai bullying, raping their daughters and taking from the farmers.
Each of the Samurai change their tune after this outburst from Kikuchiyo, as from their experience they know his words are spot on. It demonstrates a big difference in different classes of people from any time or culture, but also shows the beginning of what great accomplishments can be made when the two classes accept one another and work together as their relationship develops.
The Length of the Movie
This is a movie that is good to watch in instalments if your short on time, but it is in no way boring at a staggering 3 and a half hours!
You get so caught up in what’s happening the length of the film becomes nothing as each character’s story is told, and you’re given a deeper sense of the situation through more comprehensive storytelling – you really get to know the characters and watch a truly natural development of the relationships between all of them.
Being such an old movie with such a long running time, I expected myself to get bored and anxious but you’re truly sucked into the story. It’s 3 and half hours of quality and interesting storytelling as opposed to a lot of longer movies made in the past that are padded out with boring scenes and unnecessary bit and pieces. I can’t see this movie being told in a shorter time frame without eliminating some of the messages within in it; damaging the overall theme.
Wasn’t bad but don’t expect the most exciting scenes in action cinema here – it is the 50’s. Some of the attacks are shallow and obviously not real, but the true gem and action is told through demonstration of proper battle strategy.
Through the film we’re shown the defensive plan of the Samurai and the smaller strategies used within it. No detail is spared as you truly understand how the battle unfolds.
With most epic battles in cinema, its a bloody mess until the very end. In Seven Samurai, you know how many men were killed, how many are left to go and are totally aware of each step in the final battle.
Even smaller philosophies and experiences are shared, and a truly thought out battle is displayed on film. The savagery of battle is caught somewhat- but as I said earlier, very 50’s standard but truly ahead of it’s time.
Would I recommend it?
For the film geeks definitely. For action and adrenaline junkies – you may not like this movie. But I ‘d recommend this to just about anyone as a major part of movie history and especially martial arts movies.
On Blu Ray –
Region A (US & Canada)
Seven Samurai on Blu-ray
On DVD –
Region 1 (US & Canada)
Seven Samurai on DVD
Region 2 (UK, Europe, etc)
Seven Samurai on DVD
Region 4 (Australia, New Zealand, etc)
Seven Samurai (part of a box set)