Samurai Film Notes
(Descriptive Commentary on Major Film Sequences,
following DVD "Chapters")
MAIN TITLES [Kurosawa screenplay, 69]
1.a. OPENING FILM CREDITS.
1.b. OPENING FILM SUBTITLES: "The
Sengoku Period [16th century] was a time
of civil wars; it was a lawless era and in the country the farmers
were at the mercy of bands of brigands . . . . farmers
everywhere [in Japan] were being crushed under the iron heels of
cruel brigands [i.e. the Bandits]" (Kurosawa 69).
"IS THERE NO GOD TO PROTECT US?"
[Kurosawa screenplay, 69-73]
2.a. The BANDITS appear on
horseback on the horizon, ride across toward the camera,
gallop across frame, silhouetted against the sky, and finally
stop their horses at the top of a hill, looking down on a
valley, where the roofs of village houses can be seen.
Medium close up of Bandit Chief and his captain, who
debate whether to attack the Village below: but having recently
ravaged this Village last autumn, they decide that there's
probably not much worth taking at present, and that they should
wait and come back after the next harvest. After the
Bandits move on, part of hedge in the foreground at the
top of the hill slowly rises and reveals a hidden farmer,
pale and scared, who has overheard the Bandits' conversation;
the farmer runs down the hill. WIPE
The FARMERS down in the
Village: Terrified villagers have gathered in the central
square, crouching and lamenting in despair at the inevitability
of yet another Bandit attack in the future. Woman: "Is
there no god to protect us?" Appealing to the district
magistrate will do no good: 16th-century Japan of the Sengoku
period has no "viable central authority, no reliable civil
governance" (Mellon 15). A farmer stands up: it is
RIKICHI, who passionately argues that they should make
bamboo spears and kill the Bandits when they return. Responses
to this shocking idea of other key farmers reveal their
characters and foreshadow the roles they will play in the film:
meek YOHEI blubbers his frightened protest against this
shocking idea. MANZO declares Rikichi's plan
"impossible," for farmers "are born to suffer. It's our lot in
life"; Manzo would prefer to appease the Bandits, begging them
for just enough food to survive, and breaks down sobbing.
MOSUKE enjoins them not to argue, and separates enraged
Rikichi from the sobbing appeaser Manzo. Outsider and
non-conformist, Rikichi strides out of the circle of pathetic
villagers and squats alone. At this impasse, Mosuke advises them
to go and seek advice from "Grandad" / GISAKU, the wise
old Village patriarch.
Mill (great mill-wheel turning, rushing water), home of
GRANDAD, the wise elder. Close-up of the very old "Grandad"
/ GISAKU, eyes closed (off screen sound of turning mill
wheel), young girl and Man behind him (off screen
argument about trying to bargain with the Bandits between
approaching Rikichi and Manzo). "Grandad" suddenly
opens his eyes and declares into the camera: "We'll
Terrified Manzo: "We can't. We're farmers, not
Grandad: "Then we'll hire samurai."
When Manzo protests against such an unheard of idea,
Grandad counters: "I saw it with my own eyes," and recounts
his youthful memory of running away when "our village was burned
out by the bandits," then of seeing one village saved
because "It had hired samurai." Deepening conflict over
Grandad's proposed solution to the Village's problem is
represented by the reactions of Manzo and Rikachi.
Manzo: "But would they fight for us - only for food?"
Grandad: "...Find hungry samurai. . . . Even bears
come out of the forest when they are hungry."
[Short Time Ellipsis]
SHOPPING FOR SAMURAI [Kurosawa screenplay, 73-75]
3.a TOWN street:
medium shots, camera follows successive samurai
passing in opposite directions, back and forth before Rikichi,
Mosuke, Yohei, and Manzo, the delegation sent to Town
to hire "hungry" samurai willing to defend their Village. Other
townfolk, women and children also come and go. Alternating
close-ups of the four villagers' roving eyes as they
intently watch passing samurai, until Rikichi, thinking he spots
a likely prospect and determined to make a start, casts a look
back at Mosuke, and darts out of the shot (presumably to make an
offer to one of the passing samurai).
WIPE [Short Time Ellipsis]
3.b Town Square: Gathered crowd scatters, screaming
and shouting, away from a scuffle taking place. Rikichi is
revealed rolling in the dust, then getting to his feet, watched
by the other three farmers. Rikichi bows low under the
raised spear of an outraged samurai: "Look, farmer, poor as I am
I'm a samurai, not a beggar! . . . Fool!" The samurai
leaves; prostrated, the unsuccessful Rikichi shakes with silent
sobs, mournful music rises. Close up of
Manzo, muttering: "I told you so." Mosuke approaches
to help Rikichi, as he slowly lifts his head and gets to his
The scene demonstrates that it will not be easy for the Village
delegation to find willing samurai needed accomplish their
DEATH OF A THIEF
[Kurosawa screenplay, 75-83]
4.a TEN DAYS LATER,
Outside a Town: Rain
falls steadily on establishing shots of people walking away on a
road, a house veranda in the left foreground.
Cut to the four farmers in an open space between houses,
Rikichi drawing water from a well. Ears of ripening barley
come into foreground focus, are sighted by Mosuke, and he
rushes forward: "Look, it's almost ripe." He is followed
by Yoshei and Manzo, who responds, "Naturally, we've been away
10 days now." Yoshei: "What will we do?" The farmers
are worried by this visual remainder that crops at home
are ripening in their absence, and their mission in town has not
yet been accomplished. Close-up of Rikichi, who
tries to reassure them: " This barley is early. Mountain
barley like ours [ripens] later." Camera follows
Rikichi walks into the building, which is a rough inn for poor
lodgers where the farmers are staying, along with Town laborers,
who mock their impossible mission, and maliciously laugh about
their failure: "Hey . . . have you found any samurai yet -
strong, willing and cheap?"
4.b Inside the Rough Inn: A blind samisen player plucks a
mournful tune, the four farmers sit hunched and depressed, a bun
seller moves among the poor lodgers unsuccessfully trying to
sell stale goods, and when no one responds he eats them himself.
Unrelentingly mocked by the town laborers, Mosuke bemoans the
rice they have wasted trying to recruit worthless samurai, the
latest of which has eaten their rice, then beaten him up: Mosuke
is ready to give up.
4.c SUNNY DAY dawns: On a patch of grass
next to a bridge over a fast-running stream, we see the 4
farmers Rikichi and Manzo are quarrelling and Mosuke
trying to stop them. Manzo insists it's time to go home, that
that the farmers must try to bargain with the Bandits when they
come back. Suddenly calm and apparently conceding, Rikichi
responds: "All right . . . But what will we offer them? How
about your daughter? Shino is pretty enough. It may work."
Close-up of Manzo's horrified reaction: Rikichi
has hit Manzo's weakest point.
FADE TO BLACK
4.d SUNNY DAY, cont'd; WIND [of change] RISES:
Rikichi and Manzo wash their faces in the fast-running
stream; watching them from the bridge are Yoshei and Mosuke, who
suddenly looks up. Camera tracks back to men
emerging from the large gateway of a prosperous-looking nearby
house: a samurai [KAMBEI], a priest, and the home-owner.
The samurai [Kambei] puts down his sword, removes a knife from
his belt, and cuts off his topknot, "one of the samurai's
distinguishing features" (Kurosawa 77). The
gathering crowd gasps at this shocking action. Kambei
sits, cross-legged, calm and impassive while the nervous
priest shaves his head and camera records reaction shots
of people in the amazed crowd, the 4 farmers among them,
craning forward to get a better view. Shots of the crowd reveal
that many are armed with clubs, pitchforks, and scythes. When
Mosuke asks a woman what's going on, she replies, "There's a
thief in the barn." Among the crowd, the camera focuses on
a young samurai (KATSUSHIRO), watching and
listening intently. Shots of a barn with a
thatched roof, viewed from the gateway; Katsushiro
approaches and questions two watching bystanders about the
situation: he learns that a thief holds a 7-year-old child
hostage inside the barn, threatening to kill the child if anyone
tries to apprehend him. A child's cry is heard, the wind
picks up, the child screams above the noise of the wind.
When Mosuke asks about the samurai who cut off his topknot,
local onlookers explain that nobody knows more than that the
samurai agreed to save the child, asked for two rice balls, had
his head shaved, and asked the priest to lend him his robes.
The camera singles out another man with a very large sword (KIKUCHIYO)
crouching down in front of Katsushiro and the 4 farmers; after
rising and giving them all a dirty look, Kikuchiyo succeeds in
intimidating the farmers, and moves in to watch the
Kills the Thief and Saves the Child
Kambei, head shaved and dressed in priest's robe, looks out
impassively upon the crowd, briefly catching the staring eyes of
Katsushiro and Kikuchiyo; then he walks forward, stops to take
the two rice balls from a woman, and disappears through gateway
on his way to the barn. The crowd presses forward to
follow Kambei. Kikuchiyo pushes through the crowd to the front,
kicks over a barrel and sits down on it. As Kambei comes
up to the barn door, from inside the child can be heard
screaming and the thief begins yelling hysterically that he'll
kill the boy. The
reason for Kambei's unusual actions - cutting his samurai topknot,
shaving his head, donning the priest's borrowed robes - now
In his priestly disguise,
Kambei calmly responds to the
kidnapper-thief that he is a priest who has brought food. Still
suspicious but beguiled by Kambei's disguise and calm manner,
the thief allows kneeling Kambei to slide open the barn door and
throw the rice balls into the barn. After a slight pause, Kambei
rushes into the barn. The watching crowd shifts and
murmurs, punctuated by the child's screaming and a rising wind.
In slow motion, the thief runs out of the barn, staggers
in agony, and falls before the amazed spectators. Holding the
crying child, Kambei emerges and throws down his blood-stained
sword, and the child's mother rushes forward to grab and comfort
her saved child. The wind ruffles the dead thief's clothing.
Kikuchiyo strides forward to the fallen thief, prods the body,
and exchanges a look with Kambei. Kikuchiyo picks up and
brandishes Kambei's bloodied sword over the dead thief, dances
about, shouting with joy. Villagers rush forward, crowding
around Kikuchiyo, his foot on the corpse's back. In the
background, Katsushiro watches Kambei with admiration, as the
samurai removes the priest's robe and retrieves his sword
sheath. Medium close-up of the 4 farmers, also
watching with fascination and admiration: close-up of an
excited Rikichi, who smiles at the others, his hope renewed
that they may have finally found a selfless warrior who would be
willing to accept the mission to save their village.
A MASTER AND HIS DISCIPLES
[Kurosawa screenplay, 83-91]
5.a Kambei, the
master samurai, gains a following:
Medium shot of Kambei, silhouetted against a cloudy sky,
walking away down a road. Medium shot from behind
reveals the 4 farmers following Kambei. Rikichi is
determined to try to ask the master warrior's aid before Kambei
reaches the next town and is lost to them. But even as Rikichi
starts forward, Kikuchiyo appears in the foreground, runs past
the farmers toward Kambei, and elbows Rikichi out of his way.
Ahead of them on the road, medium long shot of Kambei,
silhouetted against the sky, who stops on the brow of the road,
turns and looks back. Kikuchiyo runs into the shot from the
foreground, reaches Kambei, leaps into the air with a manic
chuckle, then stands facing Kambei, Kikuchiyo's oversized sword
prominently balanced on his shoulder. But when Kambei asks
what he wants, Kikuchiyo is tongue-tied, scratching his head,
and they circle each other. At that moment, Katsushiro
runs up from the foreground, kneels and bows down before Kambei:
"My name is Katsushiro Okamoto. Please take me as one of
your disciples." Kambei looks down, rubs his shaved head (a
characteristic gesture Kambei will repeat many times during the
film), then smiles. Not quite knowing what to do,
Kikuchiyo circles and watches the exchange between master and
would-be disciple. A surprised and somewhat embarrassed
Kambei explains, "I am only a ronin, not a samurai,
and I have no disciples." [ronin = "wave man"] Kambei
requires Katsushiro to stand so
they "can talk properly," and the two begin walking over the
hill and on down the road. Kikuchiyo and the four farmers
his wanna-be disciples, and the farmers on the road: Kambei,
modestly and courteously, tries to dissuade his young admirer,
protesting that Katsushiro overestimates him, that he has
nothing to teach a disciple, that he has had a lot of experience
fighting but only in "losing battles," that he cannot "afford to
have a discipline." But young Katsushiro will not be turned
away, declaring, "I have made up my mind . . . I'll follow you,
even if you never accept me." Kambei walks on toward the next
town, but his other followers are still in pursuit: Rikichi
hurries after Kambei, but once again Kikuchiyo outdistances the
farmers and pushes Rikichi aside to reach Kambei. And
again, when the impassive Kambei stops, faces Kikuchiyo, and
asks what he wants, Kikuchiyo is speechless, scratching his head
nervously, his oversized sword prominent in a foreground
shot. Before well-bred Katsushiro's dismissal of
Kikuchiyo as "insolent," and Kambei's direct question, "Are
you a samurai?" - Kikuchiyo is somewhat cowed but still
defiant: "Of course I'm a samurai!" In
close-up, Kambei reveals his skepticism and replies, "I
wonder." Kambei puts his hand on Katsushiro's shoulder and
they move on. Grimacing Kikuchiyo furiously kicks up dust
and takes a few steps after them, holding his sword.
Camera tracks Kambei and Katsushiro entering the next town,
with Kikuchiyo, then the farmers, following at a distance.
Rikichi finally makes his move, catching up to Kambei and
Katsushiro near the veranda of a roadside inn; Rikichi kneels
before Kambei: "Please..."
WIPE [Short Time Ellipsis, during which Rikichi makes his
plea to Kambei to accept the mission to save the farmer's
Town, inside a cheap roadside inn: Kambei considers the farmers'
Town laborers, staying at the same inn, taunt the farmers,
advising them to go home because this ronin-samurai, like all
the others that the farmers have approached, will take their
food and then leave them flat. The 4 farmers sit with
heads bowed, Katsushiro sits nearby next to barred windows that
look out onto the street, and beyond them Kambei sits looking
out into the street.
Kambei [considering the farmer's offer]:
"No, it's impossible." Katsushiro, excited by the
proposition of a real fight, suggests that the villagers could
be armed with bamboo spears. Kambei: I thought of that, too.
. . . [pointedly] This would not be a game. A band of
forty bandits! Two or three samurai could accomplish nothing. . . .
Defense is harder than offense." But Kambei is seriously
considering the farmers' proposition, for he begins questioning
them about layout of the village: the hills at the back of the
village, whether horses can get over them, the fields in front
that could be flooded as a barrier to armed horsemen; with
growing hope, Rikichi answers Kambei's questions.
Talking out loud to himself, Kambei figures: "We'd need guards.
One for each direction, that means four . . . . Two more for
reserve. So you'd need . . . seven [samurai] including myself."
[TITLE ALLUSION: SEVEN SAMURAI!] - - - - Kambei paces in the
background, while the farmers worry that they will not be able
to afford seven samurai. Interrupting their conversation,
Kambai reminds them that he hasn't yet agreed to accept their
mission and adds, "It isn't easy to find that many reliable
samurai," especially when the pay is only three meals a day
and "the fun of it . . . "Besides I'm tired of fighting."
Kambei gathers his belongings, followed by Katsushiro,
preparing to leave. Rikichi bends down, weeping.
makes his decision. Town
laborers, who have been drinking and listening to these
conversations, laugh raucously, and one steps forward: "I'm glad
I wasn't born a farmer . . . Even a dog has a better life than
that." In the background, Kambei and Katsushiro
stand listening before the barred window into the street.
The laborer bends over the farmers and derisively advises them
that they'd be a lot happier if they just go hang themselves.
The noble young man Katsushiro chastises the laborer for his
insults and says he should feel sorry for the farmers. The
laborer counters, "I'm just telling the truth," and challenges
Katsushiro: "How about you? Are you sorry for them? . . . if you
were really sorry for them, then you'd help them, wouldn't you?"
Reaction close up of Katsushiro, who moves suddenly to
grab his sword; both laborers and farmers stand in alarm and
scramble to get out of harm's way. When Katsushiro darts
after the fleeing laborers, Kambei intercedes: "Stop!" All
will heed the command of this natural leader of men. Restraining
them, Kambei exclaims: "Fools!" When the supplicant
farmer, Yoshei, brings forward a bowl of rice to offer Kambei,
the outspoken laborer seizes the opportunity to press his point
with Kambei: "Yes, . . . It's for you. Go on. But do
you know what they eat, those farmers? They eat millet.
They're giving you the rice and eating millet themselves. . . .
They're giving you everything they have." Kambei stares
silently at the farmers cowering near the door. Then
Kambei takes the bowl of rice - "I understand. I accept
your sacrifice [alternative translation: I won't waste your food]" - and begins to eat
the rice. In so doing, Kambei agrees to accept the
farmers' proposition and undertake the mission to save their
Back at the Farmer's Village: Villagers run to congregate at
the center of the village when Manzo and Mosuke return to report
that Kambei has accepted their mission, and that Rikichi and
Yohei remain in town to recruit more samurai, but villagers are
shocked to learn that seven, not four, samurai will be needed
for their defense against the bandits. WIPE
At the Mill (sound of the turning water wheel
punctuates the following conversation): Mosuke and
Manzo report to the village patriarch Grandad/Gisake, who
reveals that he thought they'd need 10 samurai to defend the
village, but if he'd told the farmer delegation that, they would
probably have returned with 15 samurai! Manzo confesses his
major worry (and the reason why he has resisted this venture all
along): that Village girls are "crazy for samurai" (he worries
that his own daughter SHINO will be seduced by one of them and
thus bring shame upon Manzo). Grandad/Gisake
scoffs: "What's the use of worrying about your beard
when you head's about to be taken?" for he considers Manzo's concern about
bringing the hired 7 samurai
to the Village minor, weighed against Villagers' need for these
defenders to prevent the Village's
total destruction by the returning Bandits.
SAMURAI AUDITIONS, part I
[Kurosawa screenplay, 91-95]
Samurai #2: GOROBEI
recruited by Kambei [Kurosawa screenplay, 94-95]
Samurai #3: SHICHIROJI
recruited by Kambei [Kurosawa screenplay, 95-96]
SAMURAI AUDITIONS, part II
[Kurosawa screenplay, 95-96 ]
recruited by Gorobei [Kurosawa screenplay, 96-97]
Yeah, yeah. But I'm better at killing enemies.
Well - It's impossible to kill 'em all, so I usually run away.
A splendid principle!
I'm Heinachi Hayashida, a fencer of the Wood Cut School.
Samurai #5: KYUZO
who first rejects then accepts recruitment by Kambei
[Kurosawa screenplay, 97-101]
Don't you see? A real sword will kill you.
THE SEVENTH SAMURAI
[Kurosawa screenplay, 100-108 ]
Samurai #6: KATSUSHIRO
self-recruited admiring young wanna-be disciple of
Kambei heeds farmer Rikichi's last minute plea to accept the
"kid" for the mission
Samurai #7: KIKUCHIYO
self-recruited "samurai" of dubious origins, determined
to join the mission;
uninvited, Kikuchiyo follows the recruited samurai back to the
where he will ultimately prove himself
invaluable to defense of the Village and worthy of samurai