Seven Samurai Film Notes, Part I
Director: Akira Kurosawa; Japan, 1954
HUM 210 Online Course Pack - Fall 2006 - Prof. Cora Agatucci
Internet Movie Database: Shichinin no samurai
Asian Film Connections: Akira Kurosawa (1910-1998)

Seven Samurai Film Notes
(Descriptive Commentary on Major Film Sequences, following DVD "Chapters")

1.  MAIN TITLES [Kurosawa screenplay, 69]
"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).

2.  "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

2.b. 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.

2.c. Water 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 fight." 
Terrified Manzo: "We can't.  We're farmers, not soldiers."
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]

3,  SHOPPING FOR SAMURAI  [Kurosawa screenplay, 73-75]
3.a TOWN street:
in 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 feet.
The scene demonstrates that it will not be easy for the Village delegation to find willing samurai needed accomplish their mission.

4.  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.
  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 is 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.
, 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 windWhen 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 unfolding drama.

4.e Kambei 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 becomes clear.
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.  

5.  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 follow.  WIPE

5.b Kambei, 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 village.]

5.c  Town, inside a cheap roadside inn: Kambei considers the farmers' proposal.
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. 

Samurai #1: KAMBEI

5.d Kambei 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 village.

5.e 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.

6.  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]

7.  SAMURAI AUDITIONS, part II [Kurosawa screenplay, 95-96 ]

Samurai #4: HEIHACHI
recruited by Gorobei [Kurosawa screenplay, 96-97]

Gorobei Katayama: You're Good.
Heihachi Hayashida: Yeah, yeah. But I'm better at killing enemies.
Gorobei Katayama: Killed many?
Heihachi Hayashida: Well - It's impossible to kill 'em all, so I usually run away.
Gorobei Katayama: A splendid principle!
Heihachi Hayashida
: Thank you.

Heihachi Hayashida: 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]

Kyuzo: Don't you see? A real sword will kill you.

8.  THE SEVENTH SAMURAI [Kurosawa screenplay, 100-108 ]

Samurai #6: KATSUSHIRO
self-recruited admiring young wanna-be disciple of Kambei;
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 Village,
where he will ultimately prove himself
invaluable to defense of the Village and worthy of samurai status.

Works Cited:

Kurosawa, Akira.  Seven Samurai.  Trans. Donald Keene. 1970.  Seven Samurai and Other
         Screenplays: Ikiru, Seven Samurai, Throne of Blood. 
London: Faber and Faber, 1992.

Seven Samurai [Japan: Shichinin no samurai]. Dir. Akira Kurosawa.  Wr. Akira Kurosawa, Shinobu
         Hashimoto, Hideo Oguni.  Perf. Takashi Shimura,
Toshirô Mifune, Isao Kimura, Yoshio
Toho Co. Ltd., 1954.  DVD. Janus Criterion Collection, 1998.

Introduction to Seven Samurai

You are here: Seven Samurai  Film Notes, Part I

Seven Samurai  Film Notes, Part II

Seven Samurai  Film Notes, Part III

Seven Samurai  Film Notes, Part IV

HUM 210 Fall 2006 Course Pack | Syllabus | Course Plan | Home Page

YOU ARE HERE ~ Seven Samurai  Film Notes, Part I
URL of this webpage:
Last updated: 15 March 2010