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Bob Hoose

Movie Review

[Note: Seven Samurai is receiving a limited theatrical rerelease beginning July 5 following a 4K restoration.]

The bandits rode up the hill outside the little village of farmers, their horses snorting and pawing the ground, ready for another raid.

But a wiser member of the raiders quickly points out the truth of things: It wasn’t all that long ago that they ripped through this village and took everything of value, he says. If they want another good take, why not came back in the fall? By then, the farmer’s crop of barley will be harvested and stored, and the pickings will be ripe.

The bandit captain rubs his gruff chin and agrees, sporting with a wicked grin. There’s no reason to ravage and rape now when a few months’ patience will also fill their pockets. So, with a chortle, the powerful baddies gallop away.

What the bandits don’t know, however, is that their conversation is overheard. A weathered old famer pokes his head up after their departure and runs to the village below.

What, however, can lowly farmers do with this knowledge? They have no fighting skills. They have no great stash of weapons. They have nowhere to run. Their only option seems to be to simply kill themselves now to avoid fruitless hard work and an inescapable date with death in a few months.

But the village elder suggests another option. Why not take the remnants of their rice supply and hire a samurai of their own? The nation’s civil war has left many warriors without a lord, fighters now known as ronin. They are also hungry. If the villagers can find one or two who are hungry enough, these men of the sword might just take the job of protecting the village.

It’s true, they likely won’t be able to stop a 40-member strong bandit mob. But they might save some of the innocent. A few survivors are better than none.

Some think the idea ridiculous. But others take the rice into the nearest town, putting their desperate plan into action.

After facing many sneering refusals, the farmers come upon one samurai that’s special. They watch as he puts his sword aside, shaves his head and pretends to be a monk in an effort to save an innocent child from the capture of a crazed man. And as impossible as it seems, he succeeds. He puts his life on the line and saves the child with a superhuman effort, proving he’s a warrior as wise as he is brave.

When the beleaguered farmers approach him, the samurai, Kambei Shimada, refuses their offer. But when he sees the poor farmers abused by others for even suggesting such a thing, his eyes narrow, and his mind is changed. His samurai honor demands that he do something for these downtrodden people.

Of course, to protect a village, one or two fighters won’t do. He estimates that they’ll need seven. So, Kambei Shimada gathers his crew.

Soon we meet the idealistic young samurai; the manly samurai; the old-friend samurai; the encouraging samurai; the seasoned swordman samurai; the drunken samurai. Each man has his own strengths and weaknesses, his own quirks and immeasurable worth.

Frankly, it’s a pretty motley crew. But they all have a common cause: honor. And in this day of hunger and loss, honor is as good a thing as any to die for.

The farmers are overjoyed.

But the journey … is just beginning.

Positive Elements

When Kambei is gathering his men, a young, unseasoned samurai wants to learn from the older man and join their ranks. Kambei initially sends him away in an effort to save the man’s life. But eventually, Kambei is forced to accept the younger man’s aid.

Most of the samurai join Kambei’s quest simply because they appreciate his character and earnestness. “In life, one finds friends in the strangest places,” one of the men notes. Another approaches a particular individual in their group and openly speaks of his utmost appreciation and respect for the man’s skills and bravery.

As we meet the various fighters who join Kambei’s group, we slowly come to care for each and see that each of the somewhat rough-edged men exhibit their own strength of character. Each is willing to give his all for the group of men he comes to admire and care for. They also train the male and female farmers with bamboo spears. Not only do the samurai instill a newfound strength in the farmers, but they help the group overcome a baked-in sense of cultural inferiority.

We also see these samurai—who get nothing but a regular bowl of rice for their efforts—part with some of that precious food to help feed the village children. Someone declares: “If you only think of yourself, you’ll destroy yourself.”

Spiritual Elements

An elderly grandmother in the farmer village declares that she wants to die and escape the suffering of life. One samurai assures her that there’s “no suffering” in the afterlife. Another samurai suggests that attitude is foolishness.

Sexual Content

Some of the farmers ask a father in their number if he’s willing to offer his pretty daughter to lure a samurai’s attention. He rebuffs that idea forcefully. He even goes to extremes to disguise his girl as a boy to keep her safe. But later, this same young woman, Shino, meets an attractive young samurai. They fall in love, and it’s strongly implied they have sex.

Shino displays cleavage while washing her hair.

After the couple’s offscreen sexual interlude, Shino’s father finds out and throws her to the ground for her actions, calling her a “slut.” He calls her damaged goods. But one of the samurai tries to speak wisdom to the situation, saying that two people in love is far better than some other violent and horrible alternatives that can befall the innocent in their world.

We see a number of men working in the crop fields wearing nothing but a white loincloth. In fact, we learn that a samurai named Kikuchiyo, was actually raised as a farmer. And in the heat of battle, he tends to wear nothing on his lower extremities other than a similar loincloth. (He later strips off most of his other garments, too.)

Kikuchiyo struggles with his lusts as well. He follows and leers at female villagers and cries out, I need a girl at one point.

Several of the samurai track the bandits back to a hideout where they find more of them drunk and lying with women who they’ve taken captive. (The women are wearing lightweight dresses and have bare legs.) We learn that one of the captive and abused women is the wife of a famer. And when she sees her husband, she …

Violent Content

… walks into a blazing building to kill herself from shame.

That incident is representative of the deadly situations portrayed here. Buildings are set ablaze, and characters run through the huge flames and crumbling structures. (In fact, it has been suggested that director Akira Kurosawa’s multicamera shots were originally a filmmaking necessity because of very real flaming sets that could only be shot a single time.)

In individual situations and in group sword battles, we witness lots of people being cut down. Others are shot with musket balls, hit with arrows, ripped off horseback and stabbed with bamboo poles. Still other combatants are slashed with swords and hit in the head with stout sticks. People get dragged off their mounts and attacked by crowds. Men tumble down steep hillsides. Much of the battling here is frenzied and filmed amid crowds of people.

A young woman is slapped and beaten by her father. An elderly grandmother takes a knife and kills a bandit (offscreen.) A wounded mother hands over her infant just before succumbing to her wounds. (The former farmer, Kikuchiyo, takes this fallen woman’s child and weeps over it. “This is me,” he cries.)

A group of drunken gamblers suggests that farmers should just hang themselves as a group and be done with it. “You’re better off dead,” they tell the men.

And though the above-noted scenes are never graphically bloody, some of the battling stunts appear to be quite wincingly painful in real life. People are hit by galloping horses and fall off elevated areas to thump to the ground.

Crude or Profane Language

[Note: All dialogue is in Japanese with English subtitles.]

A pair of s-words are part of the dialogue along with a dozen Japanese exclamations of “d–n” and a handful each of the words “b–tard,” “h—” and the phrase “son of a b–ch.”

God’s name is paired with “d–n” on eight occasions.

Drug and Alcohol Content

There’s lots of sake (a traditional Japanese fermented drink) flowing in the samurai ranks. Kikuchiyo, in particular, is a heavy imbiber and we see him guzzling the alcohol. He gets staggeringly drunk on one occasion.

Other Negative Elements

There are many less-than-scrupulous people around the beleaguered farmers. Some steal their rice, others cheat them.


Let me guess, you’ve heard about Akira Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai but never actually seen it.

That wouldn’t be a huge surprise, frankly. Hey, the fact that this film is presented in black-and-white, is in Japanese with English subtitles, and lasts a whopping three and a half hours can be rather daunting if you don’t count yourself a true-blue cinephile.

However, there are quite a few reasons to at least dip your toe in these movie waters, even if you’re just a duffer, like me. (And c’mon, black-and-white is so cool!)

So, what do you need to know about this pic? Well, there’s quite a lot to talk about, and people have been doing exactly that since Seven Samurai first hit theaters back in 1954. Let’s just cover a few important bits.

First of all, this was the most expensive film ever made in Japan at the time—requiring a massive budget of nearly $500,000. Fortunately, its international box office fame earned that truckload of yen back, and then some. And it was the first samurai film Kurosawa ever attempted (though, he went on to be considered the great master of that genre).

Now, you may look at the film today and think it looks pretty familiar, story and visuals wise. That’s because so much of today’s moviemaking—it’s technical artistry, storycraft and entertainment focus—drew inspiration from Kurowsawa’s creation.

The director was one of the first people, for instance, to use multiple cameras during a shoot, edit the captured film together, and give the audience a new sense of action, perspective, and transition. (Some have said that Seven Samurai is an example of a film where “every frame is a painting.”)

And Kurosawa’s story ideas have influenced American cinema for decades. As you watch this pic, you’ll catch hints of more modern movies that range from Star Wars, Three Amigos, A Bugs Life and many others. (And, of course, 1960’s The Magnificent Seven was director John Sturges’ direct American homage to the film.)

As far as Seven Samurai’s themes are concerned, this is a rich field of ideas to furrow as well. The movie depicts an era in Japanese history when civil war had left much of the samurai warrior class masterless. But Kurowsawa praises the few who put duty and a code of honor above profit and selfish desires.

He wrestles with the idea of shifting social-class changes and concepts of identity in a transitioning culture. And he raises questions of morality and ethics as his characters strive to save others in battle while, emotionally, saving themselves.

As distant as this film and its period may seem from us, the fact is that the ideas and concepts still ring wonderfully relevant today.

Of course, I also need to put my Plugged In hat on and point to the fact that despite all its positives, Seven Samurai has a surprising amount of content that viewers will have to navigate as well.

It’s not bloody, really, but there’s quite a lot of swordplay and death dealing in the tale. That violence is joined by a lot of rough language (in Japanese with English subtitles) and drunken sake-swilling. And, though the interludes are kept chaste onscreen, there’s some implied sexuality between a young samurai and his farmer’s daughter love interest.

So, yeah, this isn’t a movie for a cheery family movie night. But if you can make it through the rougher side of this 1950’s pic, Seven Samurai just might give you a little historical insight.

And, of course, help you see what that cinephile bud of yours is always on about.

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Bob Hoose

After spending more than two decades touring, directing, writing and producing for Christian theater and radio (most recently for Adventures in Odyssey, which he still contributes to), Bob joined the Plugged In staff to help us focus more heavily on video games. He is also one of our primary movie reviewers.