A Review of Japanese Culture in Seven Samurai, a Movie My Akira Kurosawa
The movie Seven Samurai, directed by Akira Kurosawa and released in 1954, is based
around a small village of farmers who are presented with the direct danger of being attacked by a group of bandits looking to pillage their rice crop. Being both outnumbered and out-skilled, the patriarch of the village suggests they look for samurai to help fight against the bandits. Because the farmers only had three meager meals per day and shelter to offer samurai in return for their service, the odds of finding willing fighters seemed bleak. However, the farmers were able to convince a veteran samurai named Kambei Shimada who then recommends that they find six additional samurai. Eventually, Shimada is able to recruit six others; upon their arrival in the village, the samurai teach the farmers how to better defend themselves for the impending fight.
One of my favorite elements of the movie is the way that funny moments and comments are inserted among otherwise serious matters. The storyline in general is rather grave and non- comedic; however, with lighter instances contributed by different characters—especially Kikuchiyo—it makes the overall movie more entertaining, lighthearted, and engaging. Conversely, Kurosawa does an amazing job of conveying the situation in a way that allows the viewer to actually feel like part of the training and battle. Multiple cameras capture different angles of the final battle to provide realism and a sense of danger. Also adding to the highlights of the movie is the cast itself-specifically the seven samurai. Their quirky yet stoic variations in personality add immense depth to the film as well as their motivation for helping the farmers fight off bandits when there is really no significant reward being offered. So why would they help? Possibly because they so strongly believe in the integrity of their fight that it alone is compelling enough.
From the beginning of the film, it is clear that there exists a sort of social hierarchy with the destitute farmers as subordinates to the honorable samurai. The farmers feel uncertain and
appear nervous about confronting a samurai to ask for help, especially with very little to offer in return. After finally gaining the support of one samurai, the recruiting farmers become less apprehensive but remain respectful and obedient in his presence. Upon their arrival in the village, the inhabitants are all hiding from the samurai in their houses, and the samurai are left disappointed as they had expected a more gracious welcome. This scene in the movie highlights one possibility of the peasant-samurai relationship. Being farther out in the country, the farmers may have only heard of samurai in the context of vicious soldiers whose lust for power or women often overpowers his self control. A distorted perception though it is, the farmers may not have known any better than to hide. After eventually meeting the samurai, the villagers act similarly to the recruiting farmers: friendly yet subdued and realizing that the samurai is still in charge. In the training scenes, the farmers follow orders almost without hesitation because of this alpha and omega type of relationship.
One of the biggest discrepancies between the peasants’ and samurai’s ethics is selfishness. On one hand the samurai display quite unselfish behaviors as they willing elect to endanger their own lives to fight a stranger’s battle. Augmenting this selflessness is that fact that they do not take part because of an incentive but rather because they believe it is the right thing to do. While not all of the farmers act selfishly, many do. The prime example in my opinion occurs when a father chases down his daughter to cut her hair for fear that one of the samurai would be overly attracted to her. At one point prior to this he questions whether or not samurai should even be recruited on the basis that the wellbeing of his daughter outweighed the wellbeing of the village and crop. The farmer’s misunderstood view of the samurai and willingness to jeopardize the village illustrates selfishness. Also differing between the samurai and farmers is their overall demeanor. Samurai are pictured as dignified, level-headed, and
always prepared. They always maintain their composure and handle conflict with sang-froid and confidence. The farmers, however, are often seen in a panicked frenzy. They give a feeling of
helplessness and disorganization.
Seven Samurai, now considered by many to be a timeless classic, aptly displays the
interworking of a Japanese culture. Shown in the film is the vast difference in behavior between
the farmers and samurai but also their cohesion and ability to work together successfully toward a common goal.