Film Analysis: The Seven Samurai

The film industry in Japan has been in existence for the past one century and is one the oldest globally. It is this rich history that saw Japan named as the fourth largest producer of feature films in 2010. The production of movies started in 1897 when the Lumière brothers’ cinematograph, was the first foreign camera crew to arrive in Japan. The Gaumont camera was the first motion picture camera brought by these foreigners to the Japanese empire to record geishas dining at Shimbashi’s traditional restaurants. Shots taken during this filming session are thought to be the first film ever made in Japan for entertainment purposes (Benshoff 12). Its production was then closely followed by a Japanese cinematographic production by Tsunekichi Shibati whose content were purely theatrical. Japanese films are divided into five main genres; genidaigeki, jidaigeki, kaiju, shomingeki and anime (Benshoff 67). The genidaigeki genre contains historical pieces set in the Endo Period (1603-1868), jidaigeki with contemporary themes and set in the present day,kaiju featuring monster film, shomingeki, realistic films about lifestyle and typical working people and anime which features the production of animation films.

Under the Japanese constitution, citizens enjoy full freedoms in as far as speech and expression are concerned, but only with minor interventions when obscenities are involved. Strict censorship perpetrated by the government was however present in Japan during the war period. Censorship was also applied after the Second World War by the occupying Allied force in bid to enforce their new pacifying mandate. The Censorship Board of Japan was formed in1949 as a self-regulation organization. In 1962 it was mandatory for all films produced Japan to have the EIRIN (film board) seal. The Motion Picture Code of Ethics Committee (ERIN) was thus given the mandate to classify films with regard to their suitability to minors and their violent or sexual material content. As a tradition that steadfastly holds on to its culture and tradition, open displays of affection such as kissing are alien. It is for this reason that films with scenes openly dealing with love and affection are often frowned upon.

Visual arts also play a major role in the contemporary modern pop culture that exists presently. Visual arts represent various psychological, sociocultural and literary perspectives that affect the Japanese people on a day to day basis. The first Japanese cinematographic production by director Sha za Makino was HonnÅ ji gassen in 1908. The 1950s marked the beginning of the Golden Age for the Japanese film industry. Rashomono (1950) directed by Akira Kurosawa put Japan on the world map of cinema when it went ahead to win the Golden Lion award at the Venice Film Festival. Gate of Hell (1953) was also an important development in the Japanese film industry as it is the first to use the Eastman Color Film and also released outside of Japan. it received international recognition when it scooped the Best Costume Design during the 1954 Oscars. Other influential films that were released in 1954 were Gojira (later translate to Godzilla in English) and Seven Samurai, receiving massive international acclaim. Director Ishira Honda had released an anti-nuclear film that soon gained popularity globally creating a new genre in the Japanese film industry; Kaiju monster movies. For the purpose of this essay, the film analysis will focus on Seven Samurai, of the jidaigeki genre, and why it is also considered one of the most influential Japanese movies.

The Seven Samurai

The Seven Samurai is an annihilating melodrama directed by Akira Kurosawa. It is set in the 16th Century when the feudal Japan was in a continuous state of warfare. The tale presented is that of a village tired of habitual bandit attacks that rob them of their crops and kidnap their women. Instead of waiting for the oncoming raid, they vote to fight. Realizing that they are short of any military expertise, they decide to seek help from any samurai that would be willing to help them. They are well aware that finding samurai warriors that will fight or free without promise of money or esteem is a difficult task, but fortunately, they encounter Kambei (Takashi Shimura). As an honorable Samurai, he decides to come to their aid and even auditions other suitable candidates. They are expected to offer protection in return for food and shelter. Kambei finally assembles a team of seven samurais ready to protect the villagers and experience the excitement that battle brings. They embark on teaching the villagers how to fight, defend themselves and employing offensive strategies. As expected, the bandits strike and the battle that ensues leaves behind a trail of carnage. Although they are successful in repealing the attack, four of the samurai are killed in action while defending the village.

One of the most important issues raised in the film is devotion to one’s code of honor. The ronin, leaderless samurai warriors, know that the farmers have little to offer, but still decide to follow the way of the warrior and defend the farmers. The Bushido (Way of the Warrior) code required them stay self-discipline and loyal to all those they pledge their allegiance to. Their selfless act of defending the villagers, even when they had little to offer, is a humanist approach hence the samurai title by the director instead of ronin. They remain true to their bushido code (Prince and Kurosawa 45). The main purpose of the film is a depiction of what a sense of purpose can do for people who collectively come together to fulfill a specific goal. Moreover, the film brings to light themes such identity, duty, warfare and fluidity of class. Identity focuses on the Japanese culture and acts as a reminder to its viewers. After the Second World War, the Japanese nation was slowly losing its identity as they were suddenly hurled into the modern world and forced to conform, like the samurai warriors. The theme of duty is represented by this group of seven samurai warriors who follow their bushido code and defend the village from any attacks. The theme of warfare permeates the film. Kembei is also categorical in informing the villagers that warfare cannot be selfish. It is an opportunity to defeat the invaders and protect their property (Yoshimoto 413). Finally, fluidity of class, during the Sengoku period of Japan’s history was a common phenomenon. Most notably, Kikuchiyo tries to jump class by faking a birth certificate and claiming that he is of the samurai class.

The set of the film is of the highest quality during that time with real props employed to ensure that the actors settle and acclimatized with their new environment. It makes use of music motifs to represent different periods during the three-hour long film. The theme music was composer included instruments such as piccolos, bongos, and bassoons to enriching the sweeping landscape shots in the film. The director also makes use of multiple cameras, as opposed the shot-to-shot method of filming a scene, to ensure that all the important action is caught on tape. Evidence of multiple cameras can be seen in the bandit attack scene during heavy rainstorm where all the action can be viewed from multiple angles. In addition to this, the director also incorporates cutting on movement (tracks, intercuts and fast), short funny scenes and the use of telephoto lenses to put the viewer in the middle of the action. These techniques give the film rhythmic pace and movement, preventing any dragging. One of the film’s strengths is that it offers a clear description of the samurai way of life during the Shogun period. Their way of life, ethics and code of conduct are all addressed in the film to aid the viewer understand how life was like during the 16th century. The film is also successfully in its depiction of the life of a pheasant and how the caste system affects every single facet of their life. The honor that came with being a samurai saw pheasants try to jump class to escape the life of poverty that they often led. A noticeable weakness in the film is that there bits of incorrect information use for the purpose of entertainment. In the director’s quest to see a fierce battle, the seven samurai warriors can be seen issuing swords to the villagers before battle (Thorne 12). It is only the samurai who were allowed to have swords, with this scene coming into existence ONLY for its cinematic value.

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