I honestly can’t remember the first time I saw “Seven Samurai” – it feels like an old friend (or seven!) that has been in my life for as long as I can remember. As someone who had started studying judo at 11 and then karate at 15, I can’t remember a time when I wasn’t thinking of castles with stone walls being scaled by ninjas being fought off by sword-wielding samurai. Something about this film from a country I knew almost nothing about just spoke to me, and even after 20-plus viewings, if I see it on television, it could be 2am, and I still can’t turn it off – despite its 3 ½ hour length!
The premise of Seven Samurai is pretty simple – a small farming village is tired of constantly being raided by bandits for their crops, so they decide to try and hire samurai to defend themselves. But they have almost nothing to provide as payment besides small quantities of rice (while they eat millet in the meantime).
The first samurai they encounter is the noble Kanbei, who will eventually become the group’s leader. He is first seen rescuing a child from a madman, and his unique strategy and skill is witnessed by the privileged youth Katsuhiro, which leads him to want to become Kanbei’s disciple and gain real-world experience.
Along with the village’s two representatives who have been sent to enlist samurai, the group eventually picks up three more of them – an archer, an old friend of Kanbei, and a good natured fighter who would definitely be the “Happy” of this other famous group of seven characters who would never be mistaken for dwarves. But the outstanding figure as far as swordsmanship is concerned, has to be the stoic Kyuzo. From the first moment we see him, we know he’s someone to be feared, and it shouldn’t be surprising when he nonchalantly runs out alone to take on several bandits who have infiltrated their camp.
Rounding out the group is the legendary Toshiro Mifune as Kikucho, the samurai of questionable lineage who has some of the most comic as well as tragic scenes in the film.
The swordfights are breathtaking and the battle scenes are epic, as you would expect from a Kurosawa samurai film – but it is also comprised of several small moments. Katsuhiro getting a surprise about a suspected intruder he chases through the woods, the villagers consulting with the “old man” of the village about how they should proceed, as well as many emotional moments from the villagers and the samurai themselves.
I didn’t know much about Japan when I first saw Seven Samurai, but now, after having lived there for a year studying aikido and also having studied the Japanese language for over 15 years, I wish I could see it again through the eyes of that young kid going to the dojo for the first time. This is definitely a movie that must be seen, I can’t recommend it highly enough. 5*