Seven Samurai  (1954)

 

 

 

Director:      Akira Kurosawa.

Starring:       Toshir˘ Mifune (Kikuchiyo), Takashi Shimura (Kambei Shimada), Keiko Tsushima (Shino), Yukiko Shimazaki (Wife), Kamatari Fujiwara (Farmer Manzo), Daisuke Kat˘ (Shichiroji), Isao Kimura (Katsushiro), Minoru Chiaki (Heihachi), Seiji Miyaguchi (Kyuzo), Yoshio Kosugi (Farmer Mosuke), Bokuzen Hidari (Farmer Yohei), Yoshio Inaba (Gorobei Katayama), Yoshio Tsuchiya (Farmer Rikichi), Kokuten K˘d˘ (Old Man Gisaku), Eijir˘ T˘no (Thief).

Country:  Japanese film, English subtitles.

 

This Japanese film is a classic.  It also considered by many to be the best film ever produced by Japan. 

If you have seen The Magnificent Seven you will be familiar with the plot line.  Set in the 1600s, a village in Japan needs protection from the bad guys: bandits.  A samurai warrior agrees to protect the village.  With six other samurai, they teach the townspeople how to defend themselves.  The final showdown comes as forty bandits attack the village.

The 207 minutes film is a masterpiece by Akira Kurosawa. 

When doing research on Japanese movies, I found so many dealing with the samurai that it reminded me of the the American genre of the Western.  And as portrayed in the Seven Samurai there were quite a few parallels between the American west and medieval Japan.  Things the American westerns and the Japanese samurai films have in common include a land and time in which law and order has either broken down or simply does not exist; the poor villagers/towns people are suffering great injustices/travails from the bad guys; a great good man or men gather together to destroy the bad guys; and the good life is restored. 

But it was worse for the Japanese because there were long periods of civil war between the often more than 200 warlords and their associated samurai.  And the situation for the Japanese villagers in the Seven Samurai is much, much worse compared to the comparatively light problems of the towns people in an American western.  The Japanese villagers were facing starvation and destruction, while the American townspeople faced injustices (but not starvation and extinction).

For Japan, the civil wars brought the samurai to their height of success. Japan became a virtual warrior society with warrior values as the dominant values.  The samurai code of bushido is a very unforgiving code, that affected Japan through the Second World War, which encouraged and justified inhuman behavior to American soldiers.  The American soldiers were considered not to be true soldiers; rather they were cowards, who were out primarily for their own safety, rather than for a higher code of honor and service.  A bushido code, however, cannot help develop a decent society.  It can only reflect and reinforce the inequality and brutality of a vicious society. 

A big difference between the American western and Japanese films like the Seven Samurai is that in the USA films, it is usually a sole gunman, who is one of the good guys, comes in and cleans out the bad guys.  In the Seven Samurai a group of unemployed samurai come together and band together.  In addition to the seven helping each other, they involve the entire village.  Individual heroism, cowboy type actions, are seen as selfish actions that can endanger the safety of the entire village and its people.  Several times, the crazy, individualist samurai played by Toshiro Mifune, sallies out on an individual mission for greater glory for himself, ends in his being scolded by the leader of the samurai. 

Mifune does a great job of portraying the crazy fellow who is always over the top (larger than life) who only gets himself and the village into trouble when he thinks solely about himself.  In contrast to the terrible effects of individual action, when working with the villagers and samurai, the cowboy samurai does great acts of heroism. 

Neither the cowboy or the samurai mentality is suitable for a decent society, but I thought the Japanese theme of cooperation a much richer one than the superman theme of the American western.  The samurai have to be very intelligent and committed to teach the villagers how to prepare for "war".  A series of gunfights by the good guy presents much less of a problem (intellectually, culturally and actual) than a "war" between a large group of bandits and a small village.    

I liked the entire village and the samurai working together to meet the common threat.  That is not an anti-American statement, just like it is not anti-Japanese to criticize the too great of a degree of togetherness in Japanese society.  Neither way of life is satisfactory and a middle way needs to be found.  

Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D.

P.S.  Maybe someone should make a film comparing and contrasting the cowboy versus samurai approaches to a common threat from the bad guys.


Historical Background:

1110-1192 -- the  NARA PERIOD (capital at Heijo).

by the 12th century  --  Japan was developing a feudal system.  The power of the federal government declined forcing local leaders in the provinces to band together for mutual support and protection.  This era saw the rise of the Shoguns.  (The Shogun was the military leader of the emperor's army.)

Two warrior groups consolidated their control of much of the country:

1) the Minamoto   --  in the region around today's Tokyo and

2)  the Taira   --  located along the Inland Sea from today's Osaka through most of western Honshu.

1156 and 1160 -- two brief wars that brought the Taira leader to clear military dominance over the court.

 

1192-1333 -- KAMAKURA ERA

The Minamoto crushed the Taira.

Minamoto Yoritomo took over the rank of Shogun and settled in Kamakura (about 30 miles from today's Tokyo).

by 1219  --  extinction of the Minamoto as their leaders killed each other off.  The wife's relatives, the Hojo family, take over.

1274 and 1281 -- Mongols attempt an invasion.

14th century  --  the Kamakura Era system started to disintegrate. 

 

1333-1573 -- ASHIKAGA PERIOD

1333  --   Ashikaga Takauji (commander of a shogunate army from eastern Japan) changed sides and supported a western revolt rather than put it down.  He drove emperor Godaigo from Kyoto and named another member of the imperial family emperor.  Ashikaga had himself appointed shogun.

The period was one of almost continuous wars between warrior clans.  The Ashikaga shoguns became powerless.  Japan became a feudal land dominated by the daimyo, or feudal lords, of later Japanese feudalism.  A warrior class, known as the samurai, came into existence.

1543 -- the Portuguese won a trading foothold in Japan. 

1568 -- Oda Nobunaga overpowered the imperial court and the Ashikaga shogun in Kyoto.

 

1573-1603  --  AZUCHI-MOMOYAMA PERIOD

1582 -- Oda Nobunaga was assassinated. His ablest general, Hideyoshi, subdued all opposition thereby bringing an end to the long period of civil wars.

1587 -- Hideyoshi decreed that all Christian missionaries should leave Japan, but did little to enforce this.

1592 -- Hideyoshi with 160,000 men invaded and overran Korea but was forced back by Chinese armies.

1597 -- Hideyoshi had six European priests and twenty Japanese Christians crucified.

1598 -- Hideyoshi dead. His armies promptly withdrew from Korea.

1600  --  Tokugawa Ieyasu, who had been Hideyoshi's general in eastern Japan, defeated other contenders in a great battle and became undisputed ruler of all Japan.

 

1603 - 1868 THE TOKUGAWA REGIME

Tokugawa Ieyasu made his castle at Edo, now Tokyo, the center of government. He took the title of shogun but left the emperor and his court undisturbed with nominal authority in Kyoto.  List of the Tokugawa Shoguns. 

Tokugawa Ieyasu (1542-1616) (r. 1603-1605)

Tokugawa Hidetada (1579-1632) (r. 1605-1623)

Tokugawa Iemitsu (1604-1651) (r. 1623-1651)

Tokugawa Ietsuna (1641-1680) (r. 1651-1680)

Tokugawa Tsunayoshi (1646-1709) (r. 1680-1709)

Tokugawa Ienobu (1662-1712) (r. 1709-1712)

Tokugawa Ietsugu (1709-1716) (r. 1713-1716)

Tokugawa Yoshimune (1684-1751) (r. 1716-1745)

Tokugawa Ieshige (1711-1761) (r. 1745-1760)

Tokugawa Ieharu (1737-1786) (r. 1760-1786)

Tokugawa Ienari (1773-1841) (r. 1787-1837)

Tokugawa Ieyoshi (1793-1853) (r. 1837-1853)

Tokugawa Iesada (1824-1858) (r. 1853-1858)

Tokugawa Iemochi (1846-1866) (r. 1858-1866)

Tokugawa Yoshinobu (Keiki) (1837-1913) (r. 1867-1868)

 


Sources:

Reischauer, Edwin O. 1977 The Japanese. Cambridge, Massachusetts: The Belknap Press of Harvard University.

www.japan-guide.com/e/e641.html

 

 

Return To Main Page

Return to Home Page (Vernon Johns Society)