The following is one of the entries from my 100 Greatest Asian Films list, which I invite you to visit on this site if you haven’t already done so. — Dennis
Akira Kurosawa’s Shichinin no samurai is a powerful fable about the defense of a poor farming village in the sixteenth century. Dozens of bandits are poised to attack. The village leader suggests finding “hungry samurai” for whom payment in food is sufficient. Weary of fighting, Kambei Shimada (Takashi Shimura, magnificent) nonetheless consents to the task, recruiting six others, one of whom, brash, vulgar, boastful Kikuchiyo (Toshirô Mifune, turbulent, hilarious, heart-piercing—his greatest role), isn’t really of the samurai caste, but, a farmer’s son, provides a bridge connecting the simple farmers to the hired killers protecting them.
This film is elemental, intensely physical, and existential, with soaking rains, whipping winds, farmers in the fields harvesting barley, and a final ferocious confrontation between bandits and samurai. Too, there is one of the most gorgeous passages imaginable: amidst blossoms, the meeting of a boy, the youngest samurai, and the young daughter of a farmer. And one of the saddest: a prostitute’s retreat into a flaming hut, to avoid facing her samurai-husband—the collateral cost of his protecting others rather than protecting his wife.
Robust, dynamic, Seven Samurai projects a harsh black-and-white world in which feudal wars have undermined order, inspiring criminals to prey on the vulnerable. Indeed, most everything conspires to threaten the survival of farmers. Someone says, “It is luckier to be a dog than a farmer.” But it is far less fortunate to be a samurai. At the end of the film, only three of the seven are left standing. They face the graves of their four comrades, in each mound the warrior’s sword as a marker—Kurosawa’s glorious hommage to John Ford’s The Lost Patrol (1934). One remarks: “Again we are defeated. It is the farmers who have won. Not us.”
Bravery, honorable commitment, success—these say otherwise.
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