Seven Samurai Film Notes,
Director: Akira Kurosawa; Japan, 1954
HUM 210 Online Course Pack - Fall 2006 - Prof. Cora Agatucci
"Each of the seven [samurai] may be individuals, but each is also an aspect of samurai identity, and together they reflect the history of the class and its coming demise. . . . [Samurai] is a class by birthright; what you are born you will remain, even as the evolving society refuses your class a place. This is the condition faced by Kambei and the others, Kambei more so because he has lived at the moment of samurai power and must now confront its decline. As a man he is 'tired of fighting,' a reflection of the historical weariness of the class. He has failed in his ambition to be a warlord and his biography as well reflects the sacrifice that samurai have made: he has lost his parents and his friends in pursuit of his warrior life and warrior ambition" (Mellon 20).
"Throughout, Kurosawa contrasts the two cultures: peasants [farmers], with the advantage of their usefulness to society, assuring that they will endure into the future, and the samurai with their superior personal morality and elegance" (Mellon 22).
The mightily blowing wind that punctuates key scenes throughout Seven Samurai, "is a wind heralding the loss of samurai culture and the endurance of the peasantry" (Mellon 24).
As Kambei trains the villagers, he
expresses "what Kurosawa defines as the most important of
samurai ideals: that of selflessness. For the village to
survive, three of the houses must be sacrificed . . . . At dead
centre of the film is the culminating scene in which Kambei . .
. . offers the essential wisdom of the film" (Mellon 20).
"In the town early in the film, Kambei states that selflessness is both pragmatic and the highest good. As the time for the battle with the bandits approaches, Gorobei, who is Kambei's alter-ego, offers a traditional Japanese perspective, contending that the individual must give way to the group. In the conflict between giri (duty) and ninjo (personal inclination), giri must prevail. 'We'll harvest in groups, not as individuals,' Gorobei explains. 'From tomorrow, you will live in groups. You move as a group, not as individuals.' The selflessness which permitted these samurai to agree to help a peasant village must now be inculcated in the farmers themselves" (Mellon 25).
Samurai Film Notes, continued
16. DVD: INTERMISSION [Kurosawa screenplay,141]
Summary: All the Village comes out to bring in the harvest, which, to Kikuchiyo's delight, includes all the previously hidden females. Kikuchiyo cavorts and shows off, takes an interest in farmer Yohei's horse, providing much comedy in the process. Noteworthy is the reaction of farmer Rikichi to samurai Heihachi's suggestion Rikichi's harvesting would proceed more efficiently if he married and had a wife working beside him. Suddenly and inexplicably angry, Rikichi stops his work and runs off. His mild joking gone sour, good-hearted Heihachi sends Katsushiro after Rikichi. Another drama is also observed: Manzo's daughter Shino, also working the harvest, stands, calls after Rikichi, and watches as Katsushiro runs after him; Manzo, popping up behind his daughter in the fields, commands Shino to "stop dreaming!" She returns quickly to her work, but samurai Shichiroji thoughtfully observes this father-daughter interaction. WIPE.
Several samurai inspect a cut and trampled swath of dense bamboo undergrowth, suspecting that the angry missing Rikichi has done this. Heihachi is puzzled that Rikichi has reacted so explosively to a mild joke and Kikuchiyo must explain to the other samurai that something is definitely bothering Rikichi. Heihachi agrees: Rikichi's "lips were set tight . . . like a locked door." Kikuchiyo: "Why don't you try to open it?" WIPE.
|"It would seem that a friendship is developing between Rikichi, tormented by the loss of his wife, and Heihachi, the kindest and most open-hearted of the samurai. It is Heihachi who tries to draw Rikichi out and break down the barrier [see 18.a below]. . . . But any real friendship between these two, Kurosawa makes clear, is not possible. The film does not assess blame, but it is Heihachi who tries to stop Rikichi from rushing into the bandits' burning fort [see 21.e below], and Rikichi, thinking only of himself, at least in part contributes to Heihachi's being shot. Kyuzo had tried to hold Heihachi back, but in the chaos and because of Heihachi's concern [for Rikichi], he failed" (Mellon 24).|
WATCH [Kurosawa screenplay,
18.b The same night, Rikichi's house: Wakeful Kambei and Gorobei rise and decide to go out and inspect the planned defenses. They decide to let "the child" Katsushiro sleep on, but when he murmurs "Shino" in his sleep--a woman's name--the two older samurai grin, remarking that the boy is becoming a man, and exit the house. They decide to start their inspection "At our weakest point."
18.c EASTern approach to the Village (at the BRIDGE), same night: Kambei and Gorobei find snoring Kikuchiyo sound asleep on guard duty, next to the watch fire. Kambei picks up Kikuchiyo's oversized sword and the two samurai retreat behind a nearby straw hut. Gorobei tosses a stone into the stream and Kikuchiyo wakes with a start. In confused panic, Kikuchiyo yells out, "Who's there?" and scrambling about, discovers that his prized sword is missing. Emerging with Gorobei from the shadows, a stern Kambei reprimands the irresponsible Kikuchiyo--"You're lucky it was only us. If it had been bandits . . ."--and throws back the big sword with distain. Ashamed, Kikuchiyo sinks to his kneels and cannot answer. FADE OUT.
[Film Viewing resume here?]
the Harvest is in: TRANSFORMATION of the VILLAGE
BUILDING BARRICADES [Kurosawa screenplay,
19.b DISSOLVE to a long shot of villagers, roaring with laughter on the Bridge, watching Yohei at the head and Kikuchiyo at the tail of Yohei's horse. Watched by Heihichi and Kyuzo, Kikuchiyo leaps onto the barebacked horse, blustering that he is a good rider and will make Yohei's tired horse "fly right up in the sky." As all look on, Kikuchiyo gallops off on the horse, through the fields, along the riverbank, then disappearing behind a tall fence and house. The horse trots out from the other side of the house, riderless and tossing its head. Everyone bursts into laughter as Kikuchiyo finally emerges and limps along the path. Throwing stones at its rump, Kikuchiyo tries but fails more than once to catch the horse. As the watching villagers continue roaring with laughter at Kikuchiyo's humiliation, watching Kambei and Gorobei comment on the scene. Gorobei: "They're happy . . . The threshing is all done. The bandits haven't come. They're beginning to think they've gone away. Kambei: "Yes. But when everything seems so peaceful, that's the most dangerous time of all." A sober Kambei instructs Gorobei to command everyone back to their posts.
SCOUTS [Kurosawa screenplay,
20.b Rikichi's house: Shichiroji enters and reports, to seated Kambei and Gorobei, that he has seen three men on the WEST road [Western approach to the Village, from the Hills.] An alarmed Katsushiro runs into the room and reports seeing three horses on the back hill that he thinks belong to the BANDITS. Kyuzo enters and, having observed all the "running around," calmly states, "So, they finally came, did they?" Rikichi runs in with Heihachi, and Kambei confirms that Bandits have come from the West. The six samurai and Rikichi stand, weighing the situation. Kambei runs out, followed by the others.
20.c Village Square: The samurai run into the square. A woman hustles some children away, other women nearby observe the worried samurai, and one says in a hushed voice, "The bandits are coming!" Medium shot of several excited and frightened villagers running around their houses as the news is passed. Kambei commands Rikichi: "Tell them to keep quiet. There are only three bandits. Make them go to their houses. . . ." Resuming his role as leader of the farmers, Rikichi says, "Yes, sir" and runs off. In command of the situation, Kambei turns and directs the other samurai: "Those three would be scouts. They mustn't know that there are other samurai here." Each knowing what he must do, the six samurai run off camera. Medium shots of Rikichi calming hysterical women and children, running to explain the situation to approaching village men, reassuring another group of villagers; the villagers scatter, gather their children and retreat to their homes. Camera picks up Rikichi turning to see Kikuchiyo leading in the errant horse, followed by Yohei and some children. Learning that some bandits have finally come, Kikuchiyo seems delighted. Yohei hands him his big sword.
20.d At the WESTern barricade: The six samurai creep behind a straw fence of a house; at the end of the fence, Shichiroji drops to all fours and the other samurai enter the house. Medium shot of a family inside the house: as the samurai enter, the family leap to their feet, rush to cower against a back wall, and are cautioned to keep quiet. The samurai duck below and peer out the barred window, after Shichiroji spots three bandit scouts making their way down toward the village's Western barricade, a hill rising up behind it. Surprised to find a barricade barring their way to the Village, the three scouts run along it. Inside the house, the samurai confer, glad that the scouts do not yet realize they have more than farmers to contend with. Suddenly, Kikuchiyo's loud shouting is heard off camera: "Hey, where did you all get to?" Heihachi curses "the idiot" Kikuchiyo, who is giving the game away, calls to him in a low voice, and when the boisterous Kikuchiyo reaches the house, Heihachi drags him inside. The other samurai look on Kikuchiyo reproachfully: now the advantage of surprise is lost for the bandit scouts will know that other samurai defend the village and will try to warn the other Bandits. Petulant Kikuchiyo sulks, as the other samurai watch the 3 bandit scouts running away back up the hill. Gorobei and Kambei quickly agree that the scouts cannot be allowed to escape and tell the other Bandits that samurai defend the Village. Kyuzo immediately volunteers to go after and kill the bandit scouts, "for the hills are my responsibility." Apologetic Kikuchiyo is elated when Kambei commands him to make up for his error by going with Kyuzo "to get" the scouts. When Katsushiro starts after his hero Kyuzo, Kambei allows the young man to go, "but just watch, don't fight. Understand?" WIPE.
20.e Up in the forested Hills (Western approach to the Village): Three horses, belonging to the three Bandit scouts, stand among trees. Kyuzo, Kikuchiyo, and Katsushiro come into view at the top of a rise, then begin running down toward the horses. Kyuzo and Kikuchiyo move off to take action; Katsushiro ends up alone to hide and watch. Flowers grow in profusion; all is quiet for a moment; a bird sings. Nervous and afraid, Katsushiro finally emerges from behind a tree trunk and edges in for a better view - Point of view: film viewers will watch from behind Katsushiro watching much of the action to transpire. Ultimately Kyuzo and Kikuchiyo will ambush the bandit scouts; Kyuzo coolly and efficiently, Kikuchiyo noisily and messily will each kill one bandit. The third bandit tries to escape but is caught and pounded to the ground by Kikuchiyo. WIPE.
20.f Back in the Village: The surviving third Bandit scout, tightly bound, screams for mercy, as the samurai try to restrain the frenzied, vengeful Villagers, armed with picks, hoes, spears, and clubs - clearly out for blood. Kambei shouts: "Listen! This man is a prisoner of war. . . . He gave himself up. He's confessed. He is begging for mercy. We must not kill him!" While the samurai would respect these "rules" of honorable warfare, the Villagers do not know, or feel bound by, any such samurai code. Prominent among the villagers straining to get at the bandit is an angry Rikichi: "Let me do it, let me." Then the Old Woman, Kyumon's grandmother, appears with a vicious-looking pronged hoe at the edge of the teeming crowd. She wants revenge for the death of her son; Rikichi rushes forward, followed by blood-thirsty villagers, who can no longer be restrained, and close in to finish off the bandit scout. The samurai turn away dejectedly and push their way out of the scene. WIPE.
[Kurosawa screenplay, 158-167]
The three samurai - Kyuzo,
Heihachi, and Kikuchiyo - and farmer-guide Rikichi ride all
night, and finally arrive at a waterfall in a gorge of a
river, overlooking the Bandits' lair in a small valley below.
The four men dismount, leave the horses, and approach the
Bandits' fortress via the river. Alternating camera sequences
show the samurai closing in on the largest of the buildings,
peering inside through cracks in the timber wall, viewing bandit
men and their women lying asleep in the gloomy interior, in
various degrees of nakedness. Offscreen sound:
Drumbeats becoming louder. Note: samurai
have donned headbands, symbol that they are about to do a strong
and traditional task. Kikuchiyo scouts about the buildings,
returns to the others, and takes charge: he instructs Rikichi to
set fire to the huts, and quickly grasping Kikuchiyo's plan,
Heihachi whispers, "We'll kill them as they come out."
Excitedly, Rikichi dashes off into the dark.
21.d The Attack Begins: Smoke billows up, the buildings catch fire, and just outside the samurai prepare for battle. Intercuts among samurai outside and sleepers inside, but the camera again singles out the beautiful young woman and her reactions: backing away in horror, looking down, raising her eyes with a bitter little smile. The Noh flute stops, but the drumbeats continue. The building is now burning fiercely, the sleepers awake, screams are heard inside, and women begin to rush out of the door. The waiting samurai push the women aside, and when the male bandits begin to appear, cut them down. Camera shots of the 3 samurai and Rikichi battling with the bandits, while women rush about hysterically, panicked horses occasionally seen bucking and plunging by in fear. Many fall down the nearby riverbank, some attempt to escape along the river, the samurai give chase. On the other side of the river, some half-naked bandits are viewed, armed with swords, and one or two with guns.
21.e Rikichi and the Beautiful Young Woman: Suddenly Rikichi looks round and stands. Cut to the beautiful young woman, in a flowered kimono, appearing at the entrance of the blazing house. Noh flute in again. Rikichi leaves his cover and suddenly runs off into the open, as Heihachi, Kikuchiyo, and Kyuzo watch him in amazement. Rikichi runs toward the young woman. Heihachi shouts after Rikichi. When the young woman notices the wild Rikichi approaching her, she looks terrified and starts to run away, back into the furiously burning building. Rikichi, sword in hand, is forced back from the entrance by the roaring flames. Losing his balance, Rikichi slips down the river bank opposite. Though Kyuzo shouts for him to come back, the crazed Rikichi scrambles back up towards the house and waves his sword about insanely. Suddenly Heihachi also leaves his cover and rushes into the open after Rikichi, while the other 2 samurai watch in alarm. Heihachi reaches Rikichi, still half-crawling, half-running towards the burning entrance where the young woman was last seen. Heihachi pulls Rikichi back, trying to save him, and they both fall down the river bank into the water. Suddenly a shot rings out. Heihachi falls, as Rikichi looks on in horror. Kyuzo and Kikuchiyo run to the fallen Heihachi, Rikichi and Kikuchiyo help him up, drag him behind cover of rocks, then up the river toward the waterfall, to escape the dangerous scene; intercuts of blazing buildings of the Bandits' destroyed fortress.
Death of the first samurai: Heihachi
21.f Back at the Waterfall, above the burning Bandit fortress: Kikuchiyo and Rikichi lay Heihachi on the bank of the waterfall. Kikuchiyo slaps Rikichi: "You idiot! It's your fault! Who was that woman?" Rikichi sobs out, "My wife!" and throws himself on the ground. Suddenly fatally wounded Heihachi lurches forward, on his face, over the bank. Kyuzo quickly bends over him and the others jump up to help, but to no avail: Heihachi is dead. Rikichi sobs. WIPE.
The Bandits Finally Come . . .
23.b Shichiroji & his men at the Western barricade (log barrier obstructs approach from the Hills): Surprised Bandits on horseback are stopped by the first Village barricade, jostle each other and mill about in confusion, until the Bandit Chief, waving his sword about, shouts new orders. Meanwhile, behind the barricade, leader Shichiroji reminds observer Katsushiro that the bandits have "three guns." Stymied in front of the Western barricade, the Bandits divide into two groups, one group galloping off the left, the other group gallops up the hill to the right. As the Bandits ride off, Katsushiro runs off to join Kambei and Gorobei in the Village Square, and report that "There are twenty [bandits] to the north and thirteen to the south." Kambei commands Gorobei to "go on to the south, but be careful of the guns."
23.c Gorobei, Katsushiro, Rikichi, and other men at Southern barricade (the flooded Fields): Thirteen Bandits who arrive at the southern approach to the Village are again surprised to find defensive barriers barring their way; they circle in confusion and look down uncertainly at the water of the flooded fields. Meanwhile, from behind the southern barricade, Gorobei, Katsushiro, and Rikichi watch. One bandit dismounts, tests the depth of the water to find it alarmingly deep, starts staggering back up the bank when he is struck in the chest by an arrow loosed by Gorobei. The alarmed Bandit Chief watches his man fall into the water and commands his other twelve men to withdraw to the East [to the Bridge].
23.d Village Square: Kambei squats over the Map; he has drawn two columns of circles, representing the thirty remaining bandits, down one edge of the map. Learning from Katsushiro that Gorobei has killed a Bandit at the Southern barricade, Kambei crosses out one of the thirty circles (representing the decreasing Bandit numbers). Kambei: "Now, go to the east border and make sure the bridge is cut off . . ."; Katsushiro adds: "And try to get the guns."
NOTE: Kikuchiyo has taken dead
Heihachi's place as samurai leader
23.e Kikuchiyo and village defenders at the Bridge [Eastern approach to the Village]: Kikuchiyo is overseeing the dismantling of the Bridge, when Katsushiro runs up to warn that twelve Bandits are coming their way. When Katsushiro also warns him to watch out for the guns, Kikuchiyo crossly replies, "I know!" Then when Kikuchiyo tries to stop one of his village men, followed by his wife and their baby, from leaving, the man desperately explains, "I have to go and fetch my father." The man's father is Grandad, the village patriarch, who has refused to evacuate his home [lying outside defensible Village barricades], desiring to die at the Water Mill. Cursing the old man's stubbornness, Kikuchiyo allows the son and his family to go rescue Grandad--"But hurry!"
Village Square: Gorobei, leading his men, stops to
confer with Kambei.
23.g Meanwhile in the East: Kikuchiyo's men have completely dismantled the Bridge, and thus barred the Eastern approach into the Village. In the West, Shichiroji and his men shout a fierce battle cry, raising their spears. Hearing their cries from afar, Kikuchiyo commands his men to outshout the others, and leads a bellowing response. Suddenly Kikuchiyo looks up at something across the river, beckons to his men, dashes off, climbs up up the river bank, peers over the top. Loud hoofbeats thunder of the approaching Bandits. Kikuchiyo laughs wildly: "Here they come!" The Bandits come into view, still on the opposite side of the river and flooded fields. Kikuchiyo strides into the open on top of the river bank and waves his arms; after a Bandit gun shot rings out, he turns tail, jumps down, crosses the river, and climbs up the other side behind the barricade. Unable to restrain himself, Kikuchiyo invites death once again, by standing atop the barricade and waggling his backside at the bandits: another gun shot rings out, but Kikuchiyo leaps down to safety in time.
23.h Three Outlying Houses & Grandad's Watermill Burned by the Bandits. Long shot of the 3 outlying houses, their roofs set ablaze by the Bandits. From the Eastern barricade, Kikuchiyo and Yohei look across at the fires, the Bandits visible beyond them outside the flooded fields. When some of his village men try to run away, agitated Kikuchiyo orders them back to their posts. Kambei and Katsushiro join them. Horrified, Yohei suddenly points to the Water Mill, Grandad's house, which has also been set afire by the Bandits. Beside himself with anger and anxiety, Kikuchiyo grabs and shakes Yohei, demanding to know where old Grandad is--as well as Grandad's son, who had gone, followed by both wife and baby, to rescue Grandad. Newly arrived Kambei and Katsushiro cannot stop Kikuchiyo from bolting out into the night, climbing over the barricade, and running off down the river toward the burning Mill. Kambei rushes after Kikuchiyo along the river bank. Nearing the burning Mill, Kikuchiyo stops in his tracks. Crying of a child heard off screen. Struggling midstream a woman appears, carrying a child. Kikuchiyo rushes forward and asks, "Where are your menfolk?" Kambei is not far behind. The Water Mill blazes behind them. The agonized woman sways precariously, hands her child to Kikuchiyo, and falls forward, revealing a spear in her back. Kambei is amazed by the "willpower" that enabled the dying woman to get this far, and urges Kikuchiyo to go back with him. When Kikuchiyo, baby in his arms, does not immediately follow, Kambei turns and asks him, "What's the matter?" Kikuchiyo: "This baby. It's me! The same thing happened to me!" [Kurosawa screenplay, 178]. He sobs, holding the child tightly. Low angle shot of the burning Mill, the water wheel still turning; Night has fallen.
24.b Crouching over the map, Kambei crosses off six more circles drawn at the edge of the map--i.e. six more bandits killed at the battle of the flooded field. Kambei observes: "They attacked from three different places [West, South, & East], yet we drove them all back." Walking with Kyuzo and Gorobei down the avenue leading towards the forest [North]: "Next time, it will probably be here. Maybe not tonight, but they'll come." Peering into the darkness, Kyuzo: "It seems quiet enough." Squatting by the fire, Kambei: "I know, but that's where they are, all right. I'll show you." [Kurasawa screenplay 181-182]
24.c Medium shot of deserted village square: Katsushiro approaches carrying a stuffed suit of samurai armor, then stops and stares off-screen. Shino is there, runs toward Katsushiro, then stops. Katsushiro takes a few steps toward her, then with a worried frown runs past her toward the fire and waiting Kambei. Shino stares mournfully after the departing Katsushiro.
When Katsushiro reaches the fire, Kambei approves of
Katsushiro's decoy and instructs him to carry it down the avenue
through the trees and prop up the suit of stuffed armor behind a
large tree trunk. The decoy looks life-like in gloom.
Katsushiro winces as first one, then a second shot from the
forest hit the decoy. He quickly lowers it and carries it
back to Kambei. The Bandits have betrayed their position:
Kambei has indeed shown that they are assembled out there in the
forest. Kambei: "They'll probably attack here in the
morning. We'll let them in." Kambei laughs,
addressing the village men reassuringly: "But not all at
once!" Kambei explains his plan to let one or two
Bandits through, cut them off by closing the spearline, trap the
isolated bandits helpless, and then "get them one by one."
[Kurasawa screenplay 182-183]
|Modesty is another important samurai ideal. Kyuzo goes off into the night, stealthily invades the Bandits' territory, kills two Bandits, and returns in the morning with one of their guns. When Kyuzo returns after accomplishing this extraordinary feat, he delivers the stolen guns and quietly reports, "Killed two" - only so Kambei can keep an accurate tally of the number of Bandits killed and of those remaining. Afterwards, when young unseasoned Katsushiro gushes his admiration of Kyuzo to the hero himself, austere Kyuzo responds with a slight smile. When Katsushiro cannot help but to continue gushing his admiration of Kyuzo to Kikuchiyo, "Kikuchiyo is inspired to abandon his post and capture a gun as well, a transgression which allows the bandits into the heart of the village" (Mellon 21, 22).|
Kurosawa, Akira. Seven Samurai. Trans. Donald
Keene. 1970. Seven Samurai and Other
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