Seven Samurai is a 1954 Japanese adventure drama film co-written, edited, and directed by Akira Kurosawa. The film takes place in 1587 during the Warring States Period of Japan. It follows the story of a village of farmers that hire seven master less samurai (ronin) to combat bandits who will return after the harvest to steal their crops.
Toshiro Mifune also came to epitomize a certain type of actor with deep roots in classical Japanese performance, the tateyaku, the heroic leading man who had stepped onto the stage directly from the pages of epic military romances and samurai mythology. Critic Tadao Sato has written extensively about the tateyaku personality in films and its derivation from the Kabuki stage. Through his descriptions of the Japanese manly ideal as represented by the tateyaku - strongwilled, brave, ascetic, and self-sacrificing - the reader envisions Toshiro Mifune.
In 1936 Kurosawa began as an assistant and scriptwriter to one of the most successful director's of the country, Kajiro Yamamoto, at Photo Chemical Laboratories. P.C.L. had been founded in 1929. The company is better known as Toho Studios. Kurosawa's talents were soon noted. His scripts were awarded in contests and by 1941 he was directing whole sequences for Yamamoto's films. In Something Like an Autobiography (1982) Kurosawa wrote: "Yama-san said: 'If you want to become a film director, first write scripts.' I felt he was right, so I applied myself wholeheartedly to scripwriting."
After unification in the early 17th century samurai were no longer warriors, but instead served as administrators and bureaucrats. Thus Kurosawa chronicles in his film the twilight of the samurai as a warrior class. This is hinted at in several ways in the film, most obviously in the coda to the film following the final battle, when the leader of the samurai, Kambei, tells his fellow survivor, with whom he has fought and survived battles before, that “Once more we have lost,” and explains that it is the farmers who have won. The impending demise of the samurai class is also foreshadowed by the fact that all four of the samurai who die are killed by firearms.
During the American Occupation of Japan after WW II, those Americans overseeing the Japanese film industry discouraged the production of films set during feudal Japan. The fear was that the values reflected in that historical period would inhibit the move towards democratization and hearken back to the militaristic values that had made possible Japan’s involvement in WW II to begin with.
The son of an army officer, Kurosawa studied art before gravitating to film as a means of supporting himself. He served seven years as an assistant to director Kajiro Yamamoto before he began his own directorial career with Sanshiro Sugata (1943), a film about the 19th century struggle for supremacy between adherents of judo and jujitsu that so impressed the military government, he was prevailed upon to make a sequel (Sanshiro Sugata Part Two). Following the end of World War II, Kurosawa’s career gathered speed with a series of films that cut across all genres, from crime thrillers to period dramas. Among the latter, his Rashomon (1951) became the first postwar Japanese film to find wide favor with Western audiences. It was Kurosawa’s The Seven Samurai (1954), however, that made the largest impact of any of his movies outside of Japan.
Shimura's noble leader and Mifune's crazed hothead are the standouts. All human life is here as are debatably cinema's greatest battle scenes, the climactic showdown in the rain the stuff of cinematic legend.
Since Kurosawa's samurai adventure "Yojimbo" (1960) was remade as "A Fistful of Dollars" and essentially created the spaghetti Western, and since this movie and Kurosawa's "The Hidden Fortress" inspired George Lucas' "Star Wars" series, it could be argued that this greatest of filmmakers gave employment to action heroes for the next 50 years, just as a fallout from his primary purpose.
A veteran samurai, who has fallen on hard times, answers a village's request for protection from bandits. He gathers 6 other samurai to help him, and they teach the townspeople how to defend themselves, and they supply the samurai with three small meals a day. The film culminates in a giant battle when 40 bandits attack the village.