The director’s style of Akira Kurosawa is characterized by the special alignment of cinematic space in the film and the links to the historical context. Analyzing the historical background of Seven Samurai, it is important to underline the role of history in the film. The author filmed it in Jidaigeki, a popular Japanese genre which includes historical films about the adventures of the samurai. He managed to create a film with a deep meaning and fascinating form. Seven Samurai belongs to the Golden Age of the Japanese cinema. Having embraced classic samurai epic, it was created for the international audience to narrate the Japanese history to the world.
In the film, Kurosawa shows the end of the feudal civil war that had raged in Japan for almost 600 years. Thirty years after the described events, the dark period in the Japanese history would end. From the first glance, the events of the 1580s are typical for the epoch. It was a time when military operations or political changes rarely happened. That period became famous only because of the ban for the peasants to possess guns and constant conflicts. In each episode, Kurosawa tries to indicate the exact period. For example, the year in which the unfolding events of the film happened is presented in a comic episode showing a drunken samurai who declares that he was born in the second year of Japanese dynasty. Thus, according to the Japanese calendar, it means that he is only 13. This episode is reinforced by the sound at a background of the dialogues, rapid change of shots and the game of shadows on the walls of the house to recreate the tonicity of the situation.
The film is not about military glory, invincible warriors and their great commanders, high-profile battles, and heroic victories. The movie depicts severe medieval peasant life and the horrors of war that await anyone who is unable to protect themselves from the greed and cruelty. Initially, the director wanted to make a film-parable about a day in the life of a samurai and to trace all the actions of the hero until the evening, when he had to commit ritual suicide. However, in the course of work on this subject, he discovered a case when a village hired several samurai to protect peasants against robbers. Thus, Kurosawa changed the idea and shot it using eight cameras. It permitted to create a large scale shot which helped to ease the tension. The events in Seven Samurai happened in the 1580s. The second half of the sixteenth century is known for the dark times and constant civil wars. The film starts with the episode, which represents a village and shows a grief among residents, who do not know what to do. The residents of a village discover that their village is going be attacked by the robbers during the next rice harvest. The viewers hear a loud cry of the inhabitants and see them sitting in a circle. Having cut few shots, the director shows the despair of the villagers. They send three peasants to the city to hire samurai, who will protect the village from the bandits. The peasants are looking for the samurai, who will agree to serve only for food, because farmers have nothing else to offer them.
Later, the viewer sees how the villagers are trying to find samurai. This episode has deep philosophical context and raises a question of the difference between peasant’s and samurai’s morality in the medieval Japan. Kurosawa caught accurately the trends of the time. The episodes look frighteningly authentic, because Kurosawa paid his attention to every detail. Thus, seven samurai are portrayed as if they are superheroes in the context of disaster. The main samurai is a real prototype of the legendary Hidetsuna who changed his name to Nobutsuna and founded a school “ken-jutsu”. It is one of the oldest Japanese schools of fencing.
The actions in the film are developed according to the laws of the Eastern short stories. However, they correspond to the notions of cinematography which require a certain sequence of the episodes. The emotional effects depend on the dynamic change of episodes. The high quantity of cameras used during the filming contributed to the vivid representation of characters’ perceptions. Kurosawa refers to historical realism portraying heroic and romantic stories. It is important to underline that the film is deprived of idealization of seven samurai. They are typical human beings but also remain the best representatives of their class guided by the ethics of Bushido. Kurosawa insisted that during the film making process the actors were wearing their clothes to feel better their characters. He was very strict trying to keep to the antic traditions in the background. Thus, when peasants went to find samurai, the viewer can see a real Japanese town, which appears with the change of shot, different music. The viewers can hear the change of sounds at a background from rural to urban.
During the process of filming, Kurosawa had a target to pass a certan message to the viewers. Thus, by colliding morality of samurai and peasants, Kurosawa tries to represent the idea of human morality in general. With the help of Kurosawa’s personal approach, the viewers understand that samurai does not serve to peasants but to their own sense of duty and honor. They check their strength. In fact, the relations between samurai and peasants were tense in medieval Japan. The samurai followed old customs and were able to set the village on fire to illuminate the battlefield at night or to create a smokescreen during the day. Peasants were forbidden to eat their rice. Samurai could kill a peasant for that crime. The main quantity of rice was for the samurai and the nobility. Comparing their traditions, Kurosawa focuses on those who stand between the samurai and the peasants. Thus, in the inner yard, the players of the bones can speak directly to both the peasants and samurai. In fact, others would not be able to do it. These tertiary characters go into the shadows as soon as the main characters appear.
This film introduces samurai’s ethical paradox. The director emphasizes the events with the help of light and sound change. Whenever the samurai is either trying to be perfect or feeling the emotions surging inside, his actions carry dual consequences: they are good for someone and evil in the eyes of others at the same time. Kurosawa introduces the change of sound from instantly loud to very low. Thus, all the actions of the characters have a double meaning. For example, a savage reprisal of Cambay against the villain, who took hostage a baby, does cause a feeling of gratitude from the parents. They weep over the saved baby and do not pay attention to the savior, who also does not think to turn around. This episode is very short. The brevity makes it severe. In a minute, the light changes to more bright and the actions of samurai attract the attention of the young guy. Thus, the dynamism is reached by quick editing of frantic paces and swish pan which graphically match. Kurosawa mixes dynamic scenes with a large landscape and horizon of Japanese rural life.
The film Seven Samurai does not relate to the classical or realistic traditions. Kurosawa created special samurai saga with noble heroes who sacrifice themselves in the name of duty. The task of the director was to adapt the history of Japan to the audience of the 1950s. The director did it according to his personal style accompanying the image with light, sound, and cut episodes. With the help of sound effects, Kurosawa wanted to reorganize the described historical events to highlight the moral collapse of the national idea which appeared after Japanese defeat in World War II. It was necessary to find a new footing for traditional and essentially universal values, such as duty, honor, and sacrifice. In fact, Kurosawa managed to find it. By depicting the morality of different social classes, Kurosawa confronts traditional Japanese cinema. The film was shot in the combination of jidaigeki and sёmingeki. This decision represents vividly the relations between peasants and samurai. A mix of genres highlights the differences between two classes. Thus, a simple man despite his misery deserves compassion. Moreover, despite all the vicissitudes of life, the samurai always finds an opportunity to show the courage and generosity. In Seven Samurai, Kurosawa creates a new national epic with a high degree of personalization and attention to details, the main features of the contemporary art. Thus, Seven Samurai is destined to live long and have unfading glory.