A College Essay on Kurosawa’s “The Seven Samurai”

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The Seven Samurai was created by innovative Japanese film director Akira Kurosawa in order to inform the 1950s movie-going population of the shifting heritage within Japanese tradition. To do so, Kurosawa created seven characters to convey the embodiment of a dying traditional culture. These radical changes as symbolized by the seven ronin, when set against the back drop of the country in 1586, portray a stark symbolism meant to inspire dialogue amongst the viewers. Through their journey, the complexity of human nature is revealed.

Strategy in Leadership

Kambei, played by Takashi Shimura, represents the ideals of strategy and leadership. He is a humane man who plans before acting in a situation in order to ensure that all is handled to the best of his abilities. Ever prepared in case it should rain, Kambei is strong and independent when interacting with others. He readily volunteers to aid the farmers in their battle against the bandits, despite little compensation for the risk involved. Many other samurai whom the farmers approached reacted in disgust, fear of besmirching their honor the primary concern. They would rather starve than diminish their status in service. Kambei undertook the responsibility of helping the farmers, leading the search for six additional ronin to support the cause.

The Coming New Age

Katsushiro, played by Isao (Ko) Kimura, is the new young student of Kambei. He wants nothing more than to become an honorable, powerful samurai with the guidance of his master. Katsushiro represents the coming new age set to transform the face of tradition. He unwaveringly respects all samurai in his innocent desire to please them. Clamoring to impress through overreaching attempts is not an honorable trait. The young student fails to realize most of the revered experience he craves must be gained independently. Katsushiro is quick to act before thinking, which is representative of both young people and the change to new was within society. Change often occurs with little forewarning, overtaking the old ways with surprising speed.

Faith of the Old Way

Heihachi, played by Minoru Chiaki, is the ronin representing the old way. Well practiced in the old ways, he follows orders while maintaining a light and genial nature. He helps to train the villagers in combat techniques. Heihachi is the first ronin to die as he attempted to save one of the villagers.

Loyalty

Shichiroji, played by Daisuke Kato, is loyal to Kambei throughout the entire battle — from planning through celebration of freedom. His loyalty is unwavering, even at times when it seems the plan may fail. Shichiroji survives the battle to stand proudly at the side of Kambei, symbolizing the persistence of loyalty despite the death of traditional ways.

Optimism

Gorobei, played by Yoshio Inaba, is the ever-optimistic mediator, cheerfully completing tasks while forming a fast friendship with Kambei. His early death in the day before the battle takes place represents the fleeting nature of optimism in the face of unstoppable change. Gorobei’s death is mourned by the samurai and villagers alike.

Passion (and Inauthenticity)

Kikuchiyo, played by Toshiro Mifune, is an impostor who has somehow managed to acquire a samurai’s name and appearance. In reality, he is the son of farmers who were killed by a samurai, posing as that which he hates to pollute the samurai class. His strong desire to avenge his family leads him to passionately fight as though every moment may be his last. Kikuchiyo dies by gunshot after killing 15 bandits; a death befitting of his complicated internal struggles.

Impending Technology

Kyuzo, played by Seiji Miyaguchi, is the silent warrior who denies his own talent, rebuking compliments others provide. He is honorable, serious, smooth, and professional. Representing expertise in principle, Kyuzo knows exactly what to do and when to do it. Like Kikuchiyo, he is killed by gunshot. Guns are the weapons brought by the new age. The two samurai’s deaths are symbolic of technology looming darkly over tradition.

Mourning and Resolution

Kurosawa’s screenplay is devised to bring these profiles to a stand-still in the final scene. The three surviving ronin — Kambei, Katsushiro, and Shichiroji — are standing in the shadows of the four burial mounds in which their comrades lie. Katsushiro moves from beneath the shadow towards the farmers, leaving Kambei and Shichiroji a few paces behind. The new way moves forward with loyalty, strategy, and leadership as optimism, passion, principle, and staunch tradition lie dead in the wake of change. The way of the samurai is slowly dying under the watch of the new age.

For a brief moment, the seven come together in a final display of perfection in action before Kurusawa stoically reveals the evolution of Japanese society is now inevitable. Tradition lives only as memories and stories.