Seven Samurai is a classic Japanese martial arts movie written and directed by Japan's most famous movie maker, Akira Kurosawa. More than 50 years after its release, movie buffs worldwide still regard Kurosawa's masterpiece as one of the greatest films ever made. Seven Samurai remains Japan's highest-grossing film. Its remastered DVD version has brought the movie to contemporary audiences. The effects of Kurosawa's film on subsequent movies have been considerable. Just six years after its release, Hollywood remade Seven Samurai as a Western, The Magnificent Seven, which became a classic in its own right. Plans are now underway for another remake, this time involving a group of present-day paramilitary mercenaries defending a farming village in Thailand. Yet no modern remake with its high-tech CGI action sequences can recreate the original impact of Kurosawa's Seven Samurai, which was filmed without a single computer or special effect.
A gang of vicious bandits is planning a raid on an isolated farming village. Learning of the plan, the villagers decide to hire some samurai warriors from a nearby city to help them defend their village. Eventually, Kambei, his pupil Katsushiro and five more samurai agree to help the villagers. The samurai build fortifications around the village and teach the villagers how to fight. When the gang of bandits finally emerges out of the mist one morning, the seven samurai are waiting for them.
The Way of the Warrior
From the 12th century until 1867, Japan was ruled by warlords called shogun. As the noblemen fought each other constantly for power and riches, the country was torn apart by war. The samurai were soldiers from aristocratic Japanese families who fought in the army of their local daimyo, or lord. All samurai took an oath of loyalty to their fellow soldiers and their master. The samurai could carry two swords and had the right to kill any commoner who stood against them. Their dominance came to an end in the 1860s when centralised rule was restored to the emperor. Yet the legend of the samurai would live on.
A ronin was a samurai without a master. He was a lone warrior for hire. Ronin often became monks or bandits or soldiers of fortune moving from job to job wherever they could earn enough to live. The story of the famous 47 Ronin is a legend that has been told over and over in Japanese popular culture. A group of 47 ronin decided to assassinate the warlord responsible for their lord's death. That done, each ronin then took his own life. Over the years, these warriors would become folk heroes. Their story has been made into plays, movies, poems and paintings. In modern Japan, high-school students who have failed university or college entrance exams the first time and are working for a second chance are often called 'ronin'.
A samurai's main weapon was the katana - a sleek, slender, slightly curved sword. A samurai's katana was his friend, his pride and his joy. The sword had a single-edged blade about 60cm long, which was set into a round or square guard. The sword had a long grip so that it could be used with both hands. The blade was made from special Japanese steel, which was heated, hammered and folded under intense heat. The blade was then polished and sharpened until it shone like a mirror. The katana, which was extremely sharp, was kept in a special sheath. Its owner regularly polished and oiled his sword with loving care. One carefully aimed swipe with a finely honed katana could easily behead or dismember an enemy.
Soldiers of fortune
A mercenary is a soldier who will fight for any army anywhere anytime for money. He does not fight for an ideal but simply sells his combat skills. Mercenaries move from one war zone to the next. In the second part of the 20th century, many of them grew rich by fighting in the civil wars that consumed much of Africa from the Congo to Angola and Sierra Leone. Foreign mercenaries involved in civil conflicts in Africa were mostly American and European. Some of them like Mike Hoare, John Derek Barker and Robert MacKenzie earned themselves formidable reputations, and made money by selling their stories to newspapers and book publishers.