"This is the nature of war. By protecting others, you save yourselves."Seven Samurai
— Kambei Shimada
is a 1954 Japanese film directed by Akira Kurosawa
; it starred his longtime collaborators Takashi Shimura and Toshiro Mifune
in two of the lead roles. It is considered by many Western critics to be the finest Japanese film of all time, and a few of them consider it to be the finest film ever made, period.
Menaced by an army of bandits and on the brink of starvation, a village in medieval Japan decides to hire a small, motley collection of Ronin
to defend them. Pity they have nothing to hire them with
It has been remade, homaged, or flat out ripped off numerous times, in genres ranging from western (The Magnificent Seven
) to science fiction (Battle Beyond the Stars
, Samurai 7
) and, if you're willing to stretch a bit, anthropomorphized animals (A Bug's Life
) and goofy comedies (íThree Amigos!
This film has a serious claim to not only being the forebear to nearly every
getting-the-team-together-for-a-mission movie — whether it's a Hitchhiker Heroes
, Ragtag Bunch of Misfits
, Putting the Band Back Together
, or even The Caper
— but also to being the first modern
action movie. While it wasn't the first movie to use such tropes as dramatic slow motion
or a reluctant hero
, it was the first to bring them together in such a way that would be instantly recognizable and familiar to the present-day audience.
This film — very frequently appearing in Top Ten of All Time lists — is a Trope Maker
or early example for many tropes.
Seven Samurai provides examples of the following tropes:
- All Women Are Lustful: It's Shino that's trying to cajole Katsushiro into consumating their affair, rather than the reverse.
- Anyone Can Die: Four of the seven
- Avengers Assemble: If not the first movie to detail a recruitment of heroes to fight for a cause, it's definitely the one to codify it.
- Awesome by Analysis: Gorobei only needs to take one look at the footprints outside the (seemingly) empty house to realize there are more people in the house, and being so empty means that someone is probably standing behind the door, and thus waiting to hit him. He instantly calls Kambei out on it.
- During the duel between Kyuzo and the unnamed ronin, Kambei mutters that it's obvious who would win, even though the duellists came to a draw before. It is another indication to the audience that Kambei is a far more cunning warrior than his demeanour would suggest.
- Badass: All the samurai in varying degrees but Kikuchiyo (Mifune), Kambei (Shimura), and Kyuzo especially.
- Badass Grandpa: Kambei is the oldest.
- Badass Mustache: Kambei. Aw yeeah.◊'
- Bald of Awesome: Again, Kambei is an old, badass samurai, and he has not one hair on his head.
- Batman Cold Open: One of the earliest examples of this trope in Kambei's introduction — rescuing a peasant boy taken hostage. This serves as his Establishing Character Moment.
- Battle in the Rain: Arguably the Trope Maker for film.
- Bavarian Fire Drill: So the entire village is completely deserted when the Samurai arrive, terrified that their daughters will fall head over heels for the exotic warriors. Kikuchiyo flushes them out by ringing the alarm bell as if the bandits were coming.
- Berserk Button:
- Mentioning wives or marriage around Rikichi. It's because his village traded his wife along with grain and horses for safety from the bandits when they attacked the village last time.
- Kikuchiyo will flip out spectacularly if commoners are being endangered.
- Manzo is absolutely paranoid that his daughter, Shino, will be seduced by a samurai, to the point that he hacks off her hair to make her look like a boy and beats her when he discovers that she'd slept with Katsushiro.
- BFS: Kikuchiyo's nodachi is almost as big as he is.
- Bittersweet Ending: The village is saved, but four of the samurai die protecting it. Making it sadder is that Katsushirou and Shinou, because they come from different social classes, may not be able to stay together at the end.
- Blood Knight: Kikuchiyo is rather giddy when a horde of bandits start coming down from the hills. The peasant Reikichi also yearns for blood - but it's not fun and games for him.
- Blue Blood: The samurai, naturally. Most notable with the rich but inexperienced Katsushiro, and least with the naturally humble Heihachi. And it doesn't apply to Kikuchiyo no matter how many fourteen-year-olds he impersonates.
- Break the Cutie: Katsushiro starts off as a sheltered young man wanting to prove himself and seeking glory. The events of the movie introduce him to the consequences of a forbidden love affair and the horrors of battle. By the end he seems a much more conflicted, ambivalent young man.
- Butt Monkey: Subverted with Kikuchiyo. The other samurai mock him repeatedly, but eventually accept him as a teammate. Kikuchiyo performs heroically during the final attack and even earns a samurai's death.
- Combat Pragmatist: Kambei shaves his head within his first scene (thought to be a loss of honor) so he can trick a bandit into thinking he is a monk and save a child. Heihachi mentions how he usually runs away from battle when he's about to die. Other samurai mention less-than-noble (from the standpoint of a samurai) tactics used for survival. The film takes place before the Edo period, when samurai really took Honor Before Reason seriously.
- Cool Old Guy: Kambei, although the village elder deserves mention.
- Debut Queue: We meet the Samurai one at a time as they assemble the team.
- In Real Life, being a samurai sucked. They weren't allowed to change jobs to earn money. They could only rely on their martial prowess to make a living. And the possibility of death is very high.
- The Honor Before Reason trope is symbolically called out during the opening, where Kambei does not hesitate to shame himself by shaving his head, since it saves a boy's life. Peasants are also shown to have their own virtues that the samurai openly envy.
- The final decisive battle is quick and the opposite of grand. Before you know it the bandits are all dead and two of the five remaining samurai have fallen in battle. The entire thing is played as realistically as possible, from beginning to end.
- Decoy Protagonist: Played with. For the first hour or so 2 peasants are tasked with hiring samurai. Once the 7 are assembled, the POV switches to them.
- Kikuchiyo. Even after getting shot, he walks slowly towards the bandit leader and runs him through before dying.
- He infiltrates the bandit gang and goes to get one of the arquebuses from the bandit guardsman.
- A woman manages to carry her child from a burning house even after being stabbed in the back and promptly dies at the feet of the astonished samurai. Kambei remarks, "Such willpower!"
- Don't Make Me Destroy You: Kyuzou doesn't like killing people; he's also considered one of the finest swordsmen around. This is seen early in the movie when he is shown dueling; he begs his opponent not to challenge him with real swords, because the opponent would quite certainly die. He does.
- Dressing as the Enemy: Kikuchiyo sees a quick opportunity to grab one of the muskets by quickly plundering a fallen bandit's gear, then walking right up to the musketeer and talking to him. The musketeer eventually realizes no bandit would carry a 5 1/2 foot nodachi. It doesn't save him.
- Double Entendre: Kikuchiyo to the musketeer bandit: Don't worry. All your troubles are soon over. Kikuchiyo beheads him with his BFS.
- Dwindling Party: Four of the seven samurai are bumped off throughout the story, starting fairly early.
- End of an Age: The samurai who die are killed by firearms.
- Enthusiasm vs. Stoicism: Goes all the way from Kyūzō who probably has icewater in his veins over to Kikuchiyo, who's a hop and a skip away from being stark raving loony.
- Ensign Newbie: Katsushirou
- Establishing Character Moment: All of the seven get one.
- Kambei's moment, in which he shaves his head to impersonate a monk, shows how he doesn't place much stock in honor or fair play if an innocent life is on the line. He rubs his bald head throughout the film to remind the audience of it.
- Kikuchiyo is quickly established as a ruffian and buffoon, but gets his moment later on, when he uses a simple false alarm to bring the samurai and the farmer militia together.
- Katsushiro seems like a simple starry-eyed novice; his Spoiled Sweet moment comes when the peasants' rice (their intended pay to the samurai, and rations for the trip home) is stolen, and he donates enough money to cover their costs.
- Gorobei takes one look at a Schmuck Bait doorway, and immediately deduces what's going on. Kambei is impressed.
- Kyouzo's moment comes when his unnamed duelling opponent demands a rematch with real swords, showing both utter confidence and compassion: "No use. You'd die."
- Heihachi, who is found woodchopping, admits with cheerful honesty that he's not very good as a warrior.
- Shichiroji is an old war buddy of Kambei's. He's asked to join this nearly suicidal fight simply to fight alongside his friend once more, and he can't say yes fast enough.
- Epic Movie: This cost about $500,000 and a year to produce. Most films at the time took 1 month to film and cost $70,000! The combined production of this movie and Godzilla (1954) (budgeted at an estimated $1,000,000) nearly drove Toho into bankruptcy.
- Field of Blades: Kikuchiyo invokes this by planting five swords around for the final battle. If one breaks, he wants back-ups nearby. He goes through all of them.
- Foregone Conclusion: Kyuzo had no objection to duelling a random stranger with bamboo sticks. When his angry opponent insists on a rematch with real swords, he doesn't mince words.
Kyuzo: No. You'll die.
- Gallows Humor: What Kambei tells Shichiroji after their battle is over.
" Looks like we've survived again"
- Genre Savvy: The samurai at various points of the movie, but Kikuchiyo is the only one who truly understands the psychology of the farmers.
- Old man Gisaku told Rikichi and Yohei to recruit four samurai, expecting them to return with ten. When asked why he lowballed the number, he explains if he had instructed to recruit ten samurai, they'd have brought back fifteen (which they would not be able to afford).
- The Heart: Heihachi is the jokester of the team, and specifically brought in to raise morale despite being 'average' in skill (but still better than Kikuchiyo). He's the first to die.
- Kikuchiyo evolves into the new conscience of the team, though.
- Heroic BSOD: Kikuchiyo suffers from this after his glory seeking results in the deaths of one of the samurai and many of the villagers, particularly his bumbling assistant Yohei.
- Katsushiro as well at the end of the battle when Kyuzo is killed.
- Honor Before Reason: Rikichi's wife does not care about the fire at the bandit camp that she is in. She is so ashamed over what happened to her she runs right back into the flames when she sees Rikichi trying to rescue her.
- Hot-Blooded: Kikuchiyo is a loud and boisterous glory seeker.
- Hypocritical Humor: At one point Katsushiro is lazily picking flowers in the mountains when he happens across a young woman dressed as a boy (Shino), also picking flowers. He angrily tells her that an able-bodied young man should not be picking flowers at a time like this... emphasizing his point by gesturing with the flower he's just picked.
- Important Haircut:
- Kambei cuts his hair (a sign of his samurai status) in his first scene to rescue a child hostage, proving he cares more about life than personal dignity.
- Manzo, worried about womanizing samurai coming to town, tries to cut his daughter Shino's hair and disguise her as a boy. It doesn't work. Good news is, the just-as-innocent Katsushiro is the one who finds Shino and begins a humorously sweet courtship with her.
- Intermission: It was a long movie: an intermission occurs once the samurai and villagers have begun to train, and cuts away to reveal that harvest time has arrived.
- Katanas Are Just Better: Averted, as there's little they can do against muskets at range. The peasants also use long spears against the sword-wielding bandits.
- Kid Samurai: Katsushiro is the youngest of the seven and only beginning the samurai way.
- Knight in Shining Armor: Subverted. The samurai are enraged when they discover that the villagers whom they are defending have in the past sometimes killed samurai escaping from battles and stripped them of their armor and weapons. As the other samurai begin muttering about how they'd like to slaughter the entire village, Kikuchiyo (who was born a commoner) angrily reminds them that it was living under samurai rule that forced the villagers to live like that in the first place. This case of Writer on Board is widely held to be an apology by Kurosawa, who was from a family with samurai heritage.
- Large Ham: Kikuchiyo again. His presence is bigger than the other six put together.
- The Magnificent Seven Samurai: Trope Maker. 'Seven warriors defend a village from bandits' has become a template used in many places.
- A Man Is Not a Virgin/ A Real Man Is a Killer: Katsushiro spends most of the movie as Kambei's attendant and messenger and not allowed to participate in battle (even Kikuchiyo is allowed to fight). By the eve of the final battle, he sleeps with Shiro, and the next day, Kambei lets him fight and he kills his first man. Neither fills him with the sense of manhood that he had expected.
- Manipulative Editing: How Kyuzou is shown to be such a great swordsman. The actor was terrible at it, but clever editing made him look awesome.
- Kyuzo's actor also had no experience with riding horses. Toshiro Mifune, on the other hand, was a legitimately skilled swordsman and horse rider. In the scene where the samurai ride to scout out the bandit camp, Kikuchiyo was intentionally staged as an idiot with his horse to disguise the other actor's lack of skill.
- Also when the villagers try to execute the captured bandit, the samurai are holding back the entire crowd. Realistically, there was no possible way the samurai could keep the entire mob away from the captive, but careful close-ups and choreography made it look realistic.
- The Mario: The samurai have their own specialities, but Kambei is pretty good in all those fields as well. He's a damn fine swordsman, but Kyuzo is the best fighter; he looks at morale from the big picture while Shichiroji is good at personally motivating the men; he's good with a bow, but Heihachi is the designated archer; and while he's a great tactician and strategist, Kikuchiyo is the The Social Expert, and the true conscience to remind the samurai what they're truly fighting for.
- Master Swordsman: Kyūzō is the best example. Kambei certainly counts as well. Subverted by Kikuchiyo, who wields the impractically long odachi and takes five katana as "reserves" should his sword break while killing the bandits.
- Mood Whiplash: The first samurai's burial scene goes through no fewer than four intense emotions in less than 30 seconds.
- Must Not Die a Virgin: Katsushiro and Shino realize it's now or never.
- No Indoor Voice: Kikuchiyo. Never is this more clear than when the 7 visit an old lady. He's even asked "Why the hell are you always screaming?"
- Non Indicative Name: The seven heroes are composed of six ronin and a peasant.
- Number Two: Shichuroji is a born second-in-command.
- One-Hit Kill: See Single-Stroke Battle. There are also several cases where swords, spears, arrows, and (particularly) bullets are immediately lethal.
- The Outside World: The peasant village is isolated by geography - peasants have to stay near their crops - except for when wars pass back and forth. It is the center of the whole movie and everyone else is exotic and somewhat scary to them.
- Plucky Comic Relief:
- Heihachi Hayashida, who lacks skill, is recruited in hopes he can be this during adversity. However he is the first one killed before the big battle.
- Kikuchiyo serves as this due to his role as the Butt Monkey through most of the film.
- Yohei, the duck-footed, bumbling little old man, plays the role well - before suddenly becoming a Sacrificial Lion.
- Pyrrhic Victory: The samurai succeed. But it's debatable whether they won...
Kambei: So, again we are defeated. The farmers have won. Not us.
- The Quiet One: Kyūzō rarely says a word, and when he must, he only uses a few.
- Rape, Pillage, and Burn: Samurai as a whole have done a lot of this. It's why the peasants have turned against them.
- Rated M for Manly: A movie about Samurai fighting bandits and one of them romances a local girl.
- "The Reason You Suck" Speech: In possibly the most emotionally-charged scene of the movie, Kikuchiyo delivers an one to the farmers, then turns around and delivers an equally scathing one to the samurai, setting up The Reveal.
- The Reveal: Kikuchiyo is revealed to be a common-born farmer's son. This explains his reactions to the villagers, lack of training, and his unwitting assumption of a child's name.
- The villagers either scavenged weapons and armor from dead samurai, or killed samurai and stripped them of their belongings.
- Ronin: The "seven samurai" are ronin, samurai with no master, and Kikuchiyo's technically a peasant.
- Samurai: Technically, like the Ronin entry above notes, they're not really samurai: but all seven are still striving to follow bushido.
- Samurai Ponytail: All seven feature the short-and-straight version, except the drunken badass portrayed by Mifune, who has a short-and-messy version. Kimbei's hair, sadly, is sacrificed to a greater goal.
- Scenery Porn: It is Kurosawa, after all. Only natural lighting and quite minimalistic.
- Schmuck Bait: Kambei leaves a gap in the village's defences to allow the bandits a way into the village, which the villagers can then close off after 1 or 2 bandits enter and pick them off. Despite seeing the fortifications, being totally outnumbered, and knowing that the villagers have been trained to fight them, the bandits still rush the gap and get slaughtered.
- The Siege: One happens to the village. This one is over very quickly.
- Single-Stroke Battle: Early in the film, Kyūzō is seen holding a duel with another swordsman. They face off, neither moving for some time - then there is a sudden charge, Kyūzō swings, his opponent falls to the ground, dead. It's possibly the most famous SSB in film history. Some argue that it is the Trope Codifier, if not Trope Maker, for SSB.
- Later in the movie, Kambei does this as well, but against horsemen. He wins.
- Star-Crossed Lovers: Either Katsushiro and Shino or Katsushiro and Kyūzō, depending on your interpretation. Also possible is all three.
- The Stoic: Kyūzō has an unshakeable composure, although he's seen smiling and laughing with the others, usually when there's a joke at Kikuchiyo's expense.
- During his first battle, while his opponent fidgets nervously and moves back and forth, Kyūzō barely moves at all, and when he does, it's calmly and with confidence.
- Not So Stoic: When it is revealed the villagers scavenged weapons and armor off dead/dying samurai, Kyuzo is the first to say that he wants to avenge them by killing the villagers.
- Taking You with Me: Kikuchiyo kills the bandit leader before dying of a fatal gunshot wound.
- The Team Wannabe: Katsushiro and Kikuchiyo approach this trope from opposite directions; the former is a child that wants to be a samurai while the latter is an adult peasant that pretends to be a samurai.
- Technician Versus Performer: Kyūzō and Kikuchiyo are the extremes respectively of this trope in terms of samurai; the former is a quiet perfectionist who practices his art for the sheer love of it - while the latter is a natural talent who loudly mocks his foes and basks in the glory of victory.
- Theme Naming: With the exception of Kambei all samurai have numbers in their names. Katsushiro: 4, Gorobei: 5, Shichiroji: 7, Heihachi: 8, Kyūzō: 9 (the kanji is different but the pronunciation is the same), Kikuchiyo: 1000. Probably intentional, but leaves one wondering why Kambei is an exception.
- Throwing Your Sword Always Works: Played with. Kyūzō does this, but only to show the others where his attackers are hiding before he dies.
- There Is No Kill Like Overkill: Kikuchiyo prepares for the last battle by stabbing several swords into the ground. His response why? "I can't kill five bandits with just one sword!" After his signature nodachi breaks, he starts to use his spare swords until only two remain.
- Took a Level in Badass: All the villagers, really, who greet the news of the bandits by literally hanging their heads in despair, but who under the samurai become a disciplined fighting force and successfully defend the village. However, Yohei stands out. After spending most of the movie vacillating between Lovable Coward and plain old coward—he advocates surrendering to the bandits, he wants to go home when the rice is stolen, he looks so ridiculous with a spear that everyone bursts out laughing—he stands his ground, kills one of the bandits, and dies during the final battle.
Yohei: (last words) I defended my post.
- Training the Peaceful Villagers: Trope Maker
- Unbuilt Trope: This movie subverts or deconstructs many tropes, but only because they hadn't become tropes yet. For instance, the villagers aren't utterly helpless - they simply need leaders. The seven samurai aren't invincible warriors just because they're Samurai. The bandits are murderous thieves, but not faceless Mooks - they're shown relaxing, complaining, weeping in terror as they run for their lives... And, of course, since the Gory Discretion Shot hadn't been invented yet, it isn't subverted. War Is Glorious, on the other hand, is a trope that did exist, and the movie worked to subvert it pretty thoroughly.
- Warrior Poet: Kyūzō, the most skilled samurai of the group, sits studying a wildflower while he waits to ambush some of the bandits.
- Weapon Tombstone: The graves of the four fallen samurai are marked with their own swords. Yohei's is marked with his spear.
- Wipe: Used many, many times by Kurosawa to transition from scene to scene.