Cast: Takashi Shimura, Yoshio Inaba, Daisuke Kato, Seiji Miyaguchi, Minoru Chiaki, Isao Kimura, Toshiro Mifune
Oscar Nominations: Best Art Direction-Set Decoration, Black-and-White (So Matsuyama), Best Costume Design, Black-and-White (Kohei Ezaki)
SUMMARY: A group of Japanese bandits visit a small rural village with the intention of raiding it for food. However, they realize that they have raided it not long ago, and it will not have much food stored up; they decide to return after the grain harvest. Fortunately for the village, one of the members overhears the bandits’ plan and warns the others. On the advice of the village elder, they decide to hire samurai to defend them. Because the village has no money to offer, they must hire samurai who will work for food; in order to pay them, the villagers subsist on only millet. A small group of villagers is sent into town to find the samurai, but for several days they have no luck. They are preparing to return home when they happen to see an older samurai, Kambei (Takashi Shimura), rescue a child from a thief. Kambei leaves the town after this, but the villagers follow him — as do young samurai Katsushiro (Isao Kimura) and a half-crazy man who also claims to be a samurai. Katsushiro asks to be Kambei’s disciple, and even after Kambei refuses Katsushiro refuses to leave. The villagers are able to convince Kambei to help them out, and also to help them find six other samurai (Kambei decides they need seven total). After several days and meetings, they find four others: Shichiroji (Daisuke Kato), an old friend of Kambei; Gorobei (Yoshio Inaba); Heihachi (Minoru Chiaki); and Kyuzo (Seiji Miyaguchi), a silent but masterful warrior who Katsushiro deeply admires. Katsushiro is selected as the sixth samurai when nobody else is found in time; Kambei is forced to settle for six samurai instead of seven. The crazy samurai has attempted to join the party, but is found to have stolen a family scroll to prove his identity. For lack of a better name, the group calls him Kikuchiyo (Toshiro Mifune), the name on the stolen family scroll. When the samurai and villagers leave town to head to the village, Kikuchiyo follows them the whole way. When they arrive, the villagers are all hiding: they are afraid that the samurai will be brutes who will rape and abuse all the women, whom they have sent into hiding. All of the samurai are irritated by this, especially Kikuchiyo. In retaliation, he sounds the bandit alarm, which brings all of the villagers running out of their homes. The samurai are so amused by this that they accept Kikuchiyo as one of them.
With a few weeks still to go before the harvest, the samurai began to plan their defense of the village, and to train the villagers in fighting tactics. Kikuchiyo is thrilled to find that the villagers have a hoard of samurai weapons, but the other samurai are angry. When they explain that the weapons must have been taken from retreating or injured samurai (whom the villagers then killed), Kikuchiyo hotly replies that it is the samurai who have put the villagers in such a horrible situation. His passion for the subject reveals to the other samurai that he is really the son of a peasant, and his defense of the villagers opens their eyes. Although all of the young women have been hidden outside the village, Katsushiro comes across one of them one day in the woods, and the two start a secret relationship. Some time later, several bandit scouts are seen around the village. To keep their presence a secret, the samurai kill two of the scouts and capture a third, forcing him to reveal the location of the bandit camp. The samurai plan to spare this third scout, but the angry villagers attack and kill him. in an attempt to mitigate the superior numbers, the samurai launch a night raid of the bandit camp and burn it down. A few villagers accompany them, and one of them spots his kidnapped wife in the camp, apparently now a concubine. When she walks back into a burning hut, the villager tries to follow her; samurai Heihachi is killed when he saves the villager. The raid is a success, but the samurai are still vastly outnumbered by the bandits. However, when they do attack, they are stunned to find that the village has been turned into a fortress, and the villagers into warriors. A moat and fences limit the points of entry to the village; when the bandits do try to enter, one at a time, they are killed by the waiting villagers. The few bandits who get past the first attackers are then hunted through town and killed. The bandits stop their attack at night and camp outside the village. In addition to their numbers, the bandits have an advantage in that they have three firearms, while the villagers and samurai have none. However, Kyuzo volunteers to steal one and bring it back, which he does after killing a few more bandits. Kambei’s gratitude toward Kyuzo makes Kikuchiyo jealous, and he manages to steal another of the guns. However, in order to do this he has to abandon his post and the villagers he was commanding. In his absence, some of his men were killed by the bandits. Another attack begins in the morning, and Gorobei is killed, but the bandits are again repelled. That night, Katsushiro’s relationship with the village girl is discovered, much to her father’s shame. He attacks his daughter until Kambei pulls him off; Shichiroji attempts to calm the villagers by telling them that the two were simply caught up in the passion of battle. The next morning, in the pouring rain, the last of the bandits (thirteen in all) launch one last assault on the village. Most of them are killed, but the leader, armed with the remaining gun, makes it into the hut where the women are hiding. He manages to shoot and kill Kyuzo from there, which infuriates the hot-tempered Kikuchiyo. Kikuchiyo bursts into the hut, and manages to kill the leader, but is shot and killed in the process. Some time later, the remaining three samurai watch as the villagers begin planting the year’s crops. As they stand near the four graves, Kambei states that the samurai lost after all, that the victory belongs to the villagers.
MY TAKE: In case you didn’t figure it out, this is the movie that inspired the American remake The Magnificent Seven, which was itself remade just recently. The 1960 American version stars Yul Brynner, Steve McQueen, Charles Bronson, Robert Vaughn, Brad Dexter, James Coburn, Horst Buchholz and Eli Wallach, but in my opinion it doesn’t hold a candle to the Japanese original. It may be three and a half hours long and entirely in Japanese, but I was thoroughly entertained. The crazy samurai, Kikuchiyo, is an absolute riot — I actually laughed out loud on several occasions, and I was completely alone. He provides the comic relief both for the movie and for the villagers/samurai, who are in danger of being overwhelmed by the approaching battle. Some of my favorite moments: After cussing out his villager troops, Kikuchiyo discovers that they have a hoard of samurai weapons and armor. The next time we see him, he is dressed to the gills in samurai armor and is nearly dancing through town. He forms a love-hate relationship with a certain villager (whose face looks exactly like the classic “tragedy” mask), who happens to own the only horse in the village. Kikuchiyo announces that he is a master horseman, and tries to turn the horse into a warrior steed. As virtually everybody else watches, he rides the horse into a barn — but only the horse comes out. Kikuchiyo comes running after it, cussing and throwing his shoes at the horse, much to the amusement of the villagers and other samurai. He is later forced to ride this same horse when the samurai go on a recon mission. During the harvest, Kikuchiyo realizes that the younger women have suddenly appeared to help harvest the grain. After voicing his appreciation to the villager friend (“Hot damn!” was among the phrases), Kikuchiyo himself starts harvesting for all he’s worth, in an effort to impress the ladies. I was very sad that he died at the end. However, it was an extremely enjoyable movie.