"Seven Samuari" - the Western rips off the East!

I am not very knowedgeable about movies, so when a friend expressed amazement that I had never seen the Japanese movie “The Seven Samurai”, I sad a bunch of very foolish things: “I won’t like it - it’s three and a half hours long, a Japanese action movie in black and white, made in the '50s, with subtitles, and isn’t it just a Japanese rip off of Westerns? It can’t be very good, by today’s standards.”


Yes, it was made in the '50s; yes, it is long and subtitled; but I didn’t care.

This is truly one of the best movies I have ever seen. Indeed, it makes modern movies look sad by comparison, despite their huge budgets.

And far from being a “rip off” of the Western, the exact reverse is true - the great Westerns, like “The Magnificent Seven”, are direct remakes (in that case) or borrow heavily from this truly magnificent and visually stunning film.

The plot is really simple: in a time of anarchy in medieval Japan, a poor village is being preyed upon by a gang of bandits. Desperate, they seek to hire Samurai to protect them, but can only offer meals in return … This in not a spoiler, as it is obvious from the start.

But that simplicity is deceptive - a lot happens in this movie, from a penetrating and very realistic analysis of the class conflict in Japan at the time, to what it means to be an honourable person, to the conflict within a single individual as to who they really are - and the unfair workings of fate. The last scene lands a punch that I will not soon forget - ultimately, what does it mean to “win”?

I did not think at all that this was the sort of “art flick” that people are supposed to admire, but which are actually confusing and boring. Far from it. While the film was visually beautiful - and I do not know enough about the techniques of film making to say exactly what was acomplished or how, other than to say the eye was constantly entralled - it is the emotional power and action of the movie, and the story itself, which really stood out.

Above all, I was very amused to recognize that the ultimate “American” film genre - the Western - owes so very much to a movie that could not be more “Eastern”! :wink:

Shichi no Samurai is one of my favorite films. I have he script, the video, and the DVD, and I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve seen it. When it was first released in the US, it was under the title “The Magnificent Seven” (which is why the western bore that name). It was remade as a western starring Yul Brynner and Steve McQueen, among others. It’s the movie that “made” James Coburn (I suspect because he looked a lot like the Japanese actor who played the Master Swordsman). The plot was later solen for Battle Beyond the Stars (in which Robert Vaughn re-played the role he had in The Magnificent Seven), and as A Bug’s Life.
A lot of other Akira Kurasawa samurai epics have been remade as westerns, including Yojimbo and Rashomon.

Sam Pekinpah once said, “I want to make Westerns the way Akira Kurosawa makes Westerns.”

The coolest thing about the Kurosawa samurai “westerns” is that the cultural exchange went both ways. It’s apparent that the spaghetti westerns were remakes of Kurosawa movies, but it’s a little harder for Americans & Europeans to recognize how much the earlier Hollywood westerns influenced Japanese film. Kurosawa wasn’t making these in a vacuum, after all – Hollywood had been making and exporting westerns to Japan for decades by the time of Seven Samurai.

IMO, the real genius of Kurosawa (and to a lesser degree Sergio Leone) was recognizing the plot and form as aspects of storytelling instead of just aspects of “eastern” or “western” culture. Ran and IIRC another Kurosawa movie were originally Shakespeare plays (King Lear? I can’t remember) also set in medieval Japan. It helped push forward a global culture, which is a lot more valuable than putting forth stories that however well-told, enforce the idea that beliefs and ideas can be uniquely “Eastern” or “Western”.

Of course if you like Samurai movies and Westerns you should check out “Red Sun”. Toshiro Mifune, Charles Bronson and Ursula Andress in a Samurai Western.

Ran was based on “King Lear”; Throne of Blood was based on “Macbeth”. Both excellent.

If I recall, Kurosawa based Yojimbo on a Dashiell Hammett story; then Leone remade Yojimbo as A Fistful of Dollars, then it was remade as a sword-and-sorcery fantasy with David Carradine (The Sword and the Sorceress, I think), and recently remade as Last Man Standing, with Bruce Willis, almost coming full circle to the milieu Hammett wrote in. I guess as with the Shakespeare plays, if you’ve got a good story about universal human emotions – fear, courage, ambition – it can work in almost any culture.

Just wanted to mention that it has the most beautifully filmed duel I’ve ever seen.

Right at the beggining (so I don’t consider this a spoiler though some might) when they are recruiting samurai and they (master and the young one) see the duel in the middle of the city. The two unknown samurai first fight it with sticks but as the younger disagrees with the older as to who won they fight again with swords.

There’s this lateral shot showing the whole scene in wich we see both fighters still, with their swords at their sides after having attacked. And the younger crumples and falls as the older waits without moving.

I’ve notived it’s a very common way to do these things (Lone Wolf and Cub has a lot of those) but this is the best use I’ve seen of this. Is it the first? Has anyone else seen a better one?

<nitpick>It’s actually Shichinin no Samurai.</nitpick>

As I understand it, Kurosawa himself cited John Ford’s Westerns as a major influence on his own work.

So, it’s silly to say that American directors “ripped off” Kurosawa or vice versa. I prefer to think that a lot of talented people all over the world were familiar with each other’s work, and inspired each other.

That’s now how I remember it!

Ack, NOT how, NOT how…


Magnificent Seven was more than just “inspired” by Seven Samurai, it was a retelling of the story set in a different time and place. That is commonly done in the movie industry and it isn’t considered a rip-off, but a remake.

These two movies serve as a beautiful illustration of how it’s not a matter of what the movie is about. It’s a matter of how the movie is about what it is about. That is why The Magnificent Seven pales in comparison.

Can you tell I’m an Ebert fan?:smiley:

The Hidden Fortress heavily influenced Star Wars.

IIRC, Kurosawa was bankrolled by Spielburg and others for his lifetime epic work Ran. This was an extremely expensive movie to make and Kurosawa pulled out all the stops. I remember they built a castle the traditional way, so that when it was razed in the film it would burn and sound real. Anywho, I’ve always heard that Spielburg and others acknowledged the Kurosawa “influence” and made amends/paid homage by bankrolling his dream film.

This reminds me of something. Is Kurosawa the filmmaker being parodied as Jiro Nishi, in “The Big Hit”?

Seeing a familiar story told through the filter of another culture is often a way to relearn the original story. When the BBC made their I, Claudius series in the mid-1970s some of the actors playing Roman Emperors etc. complained that they couldn’t understand how to get into character. The director told them “think of the Mafia”, and because they’d all seen The Godfather they got it immediately.

I just rented this yesterday, and–having gotten the DVD–decided to check out the trailer.

I was amazed. It’s rather long. It gives away pretty much the entire ending. It even gives some brief epilogue that wasn’t even in the movie! And it shows large portions of the final battle.

If there’s a lesson here, it’s never write off a work simply because it’s old. Think of all you’d miss: Buster Keaton’s “The General” is a classic, funnier than any five Chevy Chase flicks put together, but it’s a (shudder) silent movie! And though the type of story done in “The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari” has been done time and again, it’s never been done better – plus you get all those expressionist sets.
Now and then, when watching a crap modern movie – like “John Carpenter’s The Ghost of Mars” I think about “The Seven Samuari.” In the climactic scenes of “Samuari,” I knew exactly where everyone was in the village and what they were doing. That made the experience seem very real. Many directors today think it is enough just to do a bunch of flash cuts interspersed with slo-mo. They think it’s supposed to capture the “chaos” of battle in an artsy way. That’s all well and good, but to me it seems like they didn’t really have a concrete picture of what is taking place and so it is just a jumble of images. Plus it just seems lazy.

I saw “Yojimbo” for the first time as part of a film class I’m taking, and I loved it. I had seen “Last Man Standing”, but found it more or less forgettable. I had heard that “The Hidden Fortress” was pretty much the basis for “Star Wars”, but I had never seen a Kurosawa movie before.

I think what I loved best about Yojimbo was Mifune’s character–the hero who has no morals and makes decisions simply based on what he finds interesting or amusing.

Our professor also said John Belushi was a huge fan of Mifune, and he based his Samurai Deli character on him. Can anyone confirm this?

And Sam Peckinpaugh? Hell yeah. I just saw “Straw Dogs”, and after being bored stupid for about 30-45 minutes, the movie kicked my ass. I totally have to see “The Wild Bunch” sometime.
“I’m gonna get the Duke, and John Cassavetes, and Lee Marvin, and Sam Peckinpaugh, and a case whiskey, and drive down to Texas…” --Denis Leary