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Everything I Know About Filmmaking I Learned Watching Seven Samurai

Everything I Know About Filmmaking I Learned Watching Seven Samurai

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Published by Michael Wiese Productions
12400 Ventura Blvd. #1111
Studio City, CA 91604
(818) 379-8799, (818) 986-3408 (FAX)
Cover design by Johnny Ink. www.johnnyink.com
Cover art by Alessandro Bricoli
Edited by Gary Sunshine
Interior design by William Morosi
Printed by McNaughton & Gunn
Manufactured in the United States of America
Copyright 2015 by Richard D. Pepperman
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced in any form or by any
means without permission in writing from the author, except for the inclusion of brief
quotations in a review.
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Kenworthy, Christopher.
Kenworthy, Christopher.
Master shots. Volume 3, Te director’s vision : 100 setups, scenes, and moves for your
breakthrough movie / Christopher Kenworthy.
pages cm
ISBN 978-1-61593-154-5
1. Cinematography. I. Title. II. Title: Director’s vision.
TR850.K4633 2013
Printed on Recycled Stock
Akira Kurosawa
students of film everywhere
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Acknowledgments . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . vii
Prelude: East Meets West Meets East . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . x
Foreword: Sidney Atkins . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . xv
STORY: Teaching and Learning . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .xxii
DI SC 1:
+. M.i× Tirivs: . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .2
00:00:01 – 00:03:09
a. “Is Tnv×v No Gon ro P×orvcr Us.”: . . . . . . . .3
00:03:10 – 00:10:26
,. Snovvi×c ro× S.xu×.i: . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .17
00:10:27 – 00:17:09
¡. Dv.rn or . Tnivr: . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .22
00:17:10 – 00:24:58
,. A M.srv× .×n His Discivivs: . . . . . . . . . . . . .28
00:24:59 – 00:32:56
o. S.xu×.i Aunirio×s. P.×r I: . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .35
00:32:57 – 00:40:30
;. S.xu×.i Aunirio×s. P.×r II: . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .42
00:40:31 – 00:49:50
s. Tnv Svvv×rn S.xu×.i: . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .46
00:49:51 – 01:01:11
,. F×icnrv×vn Viii.cv: . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .51
01:01:12 – 01:09:44
+o. F.isv Ai.×x: . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .55
01:09:45 – 01:14:13
++. M.×i×c Pi.×s: . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .58
01:14:14 – 01:22:38
+a. “Sriii A Cniin”: . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .63
01:22:39 – 01:26:31
+,. S.xu×.i A×xo×: . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .67
01:26:32 – 01:34:14
StealingCuts.indb 5 5/14/14 11:57 AM
+¡. Tnv Svc×vr G.×nv×: . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .72
01:34:15 – 01:40:25
+,. T×.i×i×c: . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .79
01:40:26 – 01:46:38
+o. I×rv×xissio×: . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .84
01:46:39 – 01:51:52
DI SC 2:
+;. H.×vvsri×c (.): . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .86
00:00:01 – 00:03:30
+s. Nicnr W.rcn (a): . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .81
00:03:31 – 00:07:05
+,. Buiini×c B.××ic.nvs (,): . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .95
00:07:06 – 00:12:56
ao. Tnv Scours (,): . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .99
00:12:57 – 00:20:13
a+. Tnv Su×v×isv Arr.c× (,): . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 107
00:20:14 – 00:28:07
aa. Fu×v×.i (õ): . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 112
00:28:08 – 00:30:23
a,. Tnv Fi×sr B.rriv (,): . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 115
00:30:24 – 00:41:30
a¡. Nicnr S×i×xisn (:): . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 123
00:41:31 – 00:49:08
a,. Tnv Svco×n B.rriv (,): . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 128
00:49:09 – 00:56:55
ao. Bvni×n rnv Li×vs (.o): . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 133
00:56:56 – 01:08:23
a;. Tn.r Nicnr (..): . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 139
01:08:24 – 01:21:36
as. Tnv L.sr B.rriv (.a): . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 147
01:21:37 – 01:30:35
a,. Fi×.iv (.,): . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 156
01:30:36 – 01:34:51
Awaken: An Enduring Muse . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 161
Bibliography . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 166
Index . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 168
About the Author . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 171
W A T C H I N G S E V E N S A M U R A I • • • P E P P E R M A N vi
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E.sr Mvvrs Wvsr Mvvrs E.sr
Seven Samurai (Shichinin no samurai) opened to audiences
in Japan on April 26, 1954, released by the Toho Film Com-
pany. In August of that year it appeared at the Venice Film
Festival; director Akira Kurosawa was acknowledged with the
festival’s Silver Lion. American audiences received the film on
November 19, 1956 at the Guild Teatre in New York City,
released by Toho and Columbia Pictures. Te running time
that autumn day was 160 minutes, “far too long for comfort
or for the story it has to tell. Te director is annoyingly rep-
etitious,” wrote Bosley Crowther in the next day’s New York
Times. Mr. Crowther was fifty-one years of age on that date,
so it is possible that his discomfort was authentic, though
urinogenitally rooted.
A film’s actual running time, however exact in measure, is less
a vital figure than its perceived duration: the psychological or
emotional “feel” of time. I am into my seventy-second year, and
while I understand the distresses of aging, by way of empathy
and regard for Mr. Crowther, I’ll give attentive deliberation to
the duration; but I, unlike Mr. Crowther, do not face the edgi-
ness of a critic’s deadline.
Releases and re-releases accepted running times of 163 min-
utes in Argentina; 202 minutes in Sweden; 150 and 190
minutes in the United Kingdom; 141, 203 and 207 minutes
in the US; and a 202 minute DVD edition in Spain. Te film’s
original release — also the version used for this book — was
207 minutes.
Mr. John McCarten, writing for “Te Current Cinema” in the
New Yorker magazine of December 1, 1956, under the title,
“East is West,” suffered the running time not as much — “…
[the] tale meanders a bit in the course of this two-and-a-half-
hour film… ” — but nonetheless, he dispensed a flippant and
prickly appraisal:
“Te well-known Japanese talent for imitation is readi-
ly discernible in the movie called le Magnificent Seven,
an importation from the Orient. Directed by Akira
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Kurosawa, the man behind Rashomon, the picture is
supposed to be a depiction of life in a small town in
sixteenth-century Japan, but what it boils down to is a
kind of Far Eastern version of one of our own sagas of
the lone prairie, deficient in only such local ingredients
as six-guns, flap jacks, young ladies in dimity, and nasal
Mr. Crowther’s review begins:
“Te Japanese film director Akira Kurosawa, who gave
us that eerily exotic and fascinating picture Rashomon,
is now, after five years, represented by another ex-
traordinary film, which matches his first for cinematic
brilliance, but in another and contrasting genre. It is
called le Magnificent Seven… ”
Kurosawa’s film was originally released in the West entitled
le Magnificent Seven. Te title Seven Samurai was reappointed
by Toho following the 1960 John Sturgis film le Magnifi-
cent Seven, featuring Yul Bryner, Steve McQueen, Eli Wallach,
Charles Bronson, James Coburn, and Horst Bucholtz in the
“imitation” of (or homage to) Kurosawa’s film.
Mr. Crowther’s appraisal does prophesize Kurosawa’s — and
cinema’s — universality:
“… the qualities of human strength and weakness are
discovered in a crisis taut with peril. And although the
occurrence of this crisis is set in the sixteenth century in
a village in Japan, it could be transposed without surren-
dering a basic element to the nineteenth century and a
town on our own frontier.
… [Kurosawa’s] use of modern music, which is as point-
ed as the ballad in High Noon, leads you to wonder
whether this picture is any more authentic to its period
of culture than is the average American Western film.
However, it sparkles with touches that would do honor
to Fred Zinnemann or John Ford… ”
Te Japanese director often acknowledged his esteem for the
work of American director John Ford — Akira Kurosawa un-
hesitatingly and gratefully met the West. He was content with
Imperial Japan’s defeat in the Second World War, ending, as
he saw it, the rule of foolish and dangerous militarists. He was
jubilant with the freedoms offered by the West’s setting aside
Japan’s severe limitations on the arts.
In the December 29, 1951 issue of the New Yorker Mr. Mc-
Carten reviewed Kurosawa’s Rashomon:
“Perhaps I am purblind to the merits of Rashomon, but
no matter how enlightened I may become on the art form
xi P R E L U D E P R E L U D E
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of Nippon, I am going to go on thinking that a Japanese
potpourri of Erskine Caldwell, Stanislavski, and Harpo
Marx isn’t likely to provide much sound diversion.”
Mr. McCarten was but forty-five years old at the time of Seven
Samurai, and according to the recollections of colleagues at the
New Yorker — publicly reported in 1974 obituaries and memo-
rials — he was a kindhearted gentleman. I suspect that many
Americans of the day were patently blinkered when confronted
by things Far Eastern; most notably Nipponese. Te “Great-
est Generation” exhausted far more post–World War II years
scorning America’s Pacific adversary than their Atlantic foe.
In 1964 American director Martin Ritt cast Paul Newman,
Claire Bloom, and Laurence Harvey in Outrage — a West-
ern “imitation” of (or homage to) Kurosawa’s eighth-century
tale based on two stories by Akutagawa Ryunosuke. In 1951
Rashomon received the Golden Lion at the Venice Film Festi-
val, and a Best Foreign Film Academy Award. Mr. McCarten’s
apprehension notwithstanding, Kurosawa’s film granted Japa-
nese cinema opportunity and approval in the West.
Mr. McCarten’s “Te Current Cinema” of December 1956 as-
signed near equal space to Walt Disney’s Secrets of Life, and
the Doris Day–Louis Jourdan murder mystery, Julie — es-
pecially peculiar today, after a half-century of retrospection.
le Discerning Film Lovers Guide (2004) judges Seven Samurai
“a passionate, exhilarating epic that stands alone in the realm
of adventure films.” Film & Video Companion (2004) reflects,
“Much imitated, still unsurpassed. By critical consensus one of
the best movies ever made.”
In his autobiography, Akira Kurosawa tenders his reminis-
cences, summoned up as appreciations of decisive life glimpses.
One early chapter is entitled “Storytellers.” It includes memo-
ries of movie-going adventures to see mostly foreign films from
America and Europe. At the Ushigomeken theatre Kurosawa
saw action serials and films starring William S. Hart. While
particular images stayed “emblazoned in (his) mind,” what re-
mained “of these films in [his] heart [was] that reliable manly
spirit and the smell of male sweat.”
Kurosawa honors recollections of his father taking him to hear
storytellers (Kosan, Kokatsu, and Enyû) in the music halls
around Kagurazaka, and the bright sway these masters of re-
sourceful tales — many told with accompanying pantomime
— had on him; and he reports his pleasure eating tenpura on
buckwheat noodles on his return home with his father follow-
ing an afternoon of story-listening:
“Te flavor of this tenpura-soba on a cold night remains
especially memorable. Even in recent years when I am
W A T C H I N G S E V E N S A M U R A I • • • P E P P E R M A N xii W A T C H I N G S E V E N S A M U R A I • • • P E P P E R M A N
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coming home from abroad, as the plane nears Tokyo air-
port I always think, ‘Ah, now for some tenpura-soba.’”
In 1961, William Kronick, a Columbia University graduate
and an independent New York film director, saw Kurosawa’s
Yojimbo at the Toho Cinema in Los Angeles. Te experience
was so inspiring that Kronick joined with friends Robert Gaff-
ney and Robert McCarty — two other independent New York
filmmakers — and created Seneca Productions and distribut-
ed Yojimbo in the United States.
William Kronick grew up in Amsterdam, New York, with
Everett Aison. Aison had designed and titled Kronick’s first
theatrical short, A Bowl of Cherries, and Seneca Productions
engaged Everett to design the opening titles, graphics, and ads
for Yojimbo.
Tetsu Aoyagi, a graduate of the UCLA film school, was being
groomed by Toho to be their American representative in the
newly planned Toho Cinema in New York City. Mr. Aoya-
gi’s father was one of the original Toho studio directors, and
mentored Kurosawa in his early years as an apprentice and
assistant director.
Tetsu Aoyagi came to live in New York City and represented
the Toho theatre, which opened on Broadway in 1962 after the
success of Yojimbo. Impressed by Aison’s designs, Akira Kuro-
sawa met with Everett at the Plaza Hotel in New York. Everett
Aison said, “Tetsu introduced me to Kurosawa, and I spent an
hour in awe!”
Everett Aison retired as Film Chairman (1973), and screen-
writing teacher and thesis advisor at the School of Visual Arts
(2011). For a change of place, he left the East Coast of the
United States and went west for the moist moderate Pacific
climes of the Japanese (Kuroshio) currents. Living in Belling-
ham, Washington, Everett was invited to introduce a screening
of Yojimbo to an audience attending “Te Masters of Japanese
Cinema” series at the Pickford Film Center. Everett met Mr.
Sidney Atkins at that film center, and providentially intro-
duced me. Sidney — a connoisseur of the East — emailed this
book’s Foreword to me in Long Branch, New Jersey.
And today, following all the many weaves and loops and syn-
chronicities in film and personal histories, I am increasingly
confident that despite mankind’s ethnocentric propensities,
and their many instances of cruel foolhardiness, the past 120
years confirm that the lure of cinema is global — above all
because the allure of story paraded on light beams offers en-
during rejuvenation to the world.
xiii P R E L U D E P R E L U D E
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D    
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+. M.i× Tirivs
oo:oo:o+ – oo:o,:o,
Kurosawa begins with straightforward head credits: white text on a black ground.
No designed title fields or drop shadowed letters; no optically produced superim-
posed titles over live action.
A drum thumps in repetitiously sustained tension: a foreboding that will soon be “an-
nounced” and let loose. Traditional Japanese string and wind instruments offer an
effortless melody accompanying the listing of cast and crew.
Tere is something — and possibly many things — to be said for simplicity in
opening credits. Te obligation of contractual acknowledgments is fulfilled with no
meddling in the story’s images. Te music affords an anticipatory atmosphere, and
all that needs announcing is accomplished; so that story is immediately underway.
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a. “Is Tnv×v No Gon ro
P×orvcr Us.”
oo:o,:+o – oo:+o:ao
Following the Master’s [directing] credit, a fade to black holds till transverse Japanese
characters instruct:
“Te Sengoku Period was a time of civil wars; it was a lawless era and in the
country the farmers were at the mercy of bands of brigands…
And the farmers everywhere were being crushed under the iron heels of cruel
During the civil wars an endless cycle of conflict left the countryside overrun by
bandits. Peaceable folk lived in terror of the thunder of approaching hooves… ”
Te Criterion Collection DVD translates the last of these, while the earlier banners
are reported in Kurosawa’s screenplay, and subsequent to East Meets West Meets East,
it is a worthy note that Kurosawa sets the time — in part — with reference to Cath-
olic brutalities against France’s Huguenots: “Around the time of the St. Bartholomew
Day Massacre in France, Japan was in the throes of Civil Wars.” Kurosawa’s passage
supplies an historic and global context.
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A surveying of Seven Samurai sculpts an exemplar in story form: Where to begin, and
why? Kurosawa’s text puts forward a history — a pattern: the enduring peril plaguing
“peaceable folk” and “farmers.” Te primitive sound is segued into galloping hooves,
which succeed the fading drum and a dissolve — a simultaneous fading illumination
of an initial image with an increasing illumination to the next — replaces the text on
the screen.
It is an image split into three horizontal bands: gray clouds high in the frame, an early
light in the sky, and a near-silhouetted lower frame (and foreground) of a grassy hill
and tree. Tis shot with a slight upward angle soon reveals fast approaching horses
and riders.
W A T C H I N G S E V E N S A M U R A I • • • P E P P E R M A N 4
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A pan — a camera scanning right or left, simultaneous to continuous filming — fol-
lows the horsemen across the screen. Several cuts — the joining together of selected
filmed moments — bring other views of this action.
A long shot (LS) of the horsemen fades out (FO: diminishing illumination) to a black
screen, and immediately fades in (FI: increasing illumination) to another shot from
behind the horsemen as they hurry away from the camera.
Tis delineation expresses a purposeful ellipse from daybreak to a later time that
morning. Kurosawa also provides delineation in audio: the sound effect (Sd EFX)
of the pounding hooves has been a constant until this shot; with the fade in (FI)
comes an apparent “newness” to the galloping sound: time passage is obvious! But it is
noteworthy that there are moments in film where the audio can successfully play un-
broken even if images are changed.
5 2 . “ I S T H E R E N O G O D T O P R O T E C T U S ? ”
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A quick dissolve brings a high-angle shot of horsemen and a distant village well
below them.
Kurosawa smartly allows the last lingering movement and hard-riding sounds to
soften the transition to this scene after the breakneck images that preceded it. A few
equine snorts and whinnies assist in this!
Te essence of cinema is to be found in the many pieces, separations, and fragments
of images and sounds that need assembling so that the various selections vanish and
bits of moments create an easy form. Here too Kurosawa teaches us techniques to
make inconspicuous the many pieces that are joined together!
We have now a time-honored example of shot to scene organization:
Te shot is moviemaking’s smallest component. Shots are continuous camera-runs
capturing segments of words and deeds. Tey are frequently replicated via a variety
of setups — differing camera positions (visual compositions) presenting alternate an-
gles and distances of the same moments; and takes — additional repeats (“do-overs”)
of setups. In postproduction selected fragments from shots and takes are joined into
distinct scenes.
W A T C H I N G S E V E N S A M U R A I • • • P E P P E R M A N 6
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Bandit Captain: “Take this village too!”
Off-Camera Bandits: “Take it. Take it.”
Bandit Chief: “We just took their rice last fall. ley’ll have nothing now.”
Bandit Captain: “Very well. We’ll return when that barley’s ripe!”
Take note that following the shot of the (sleepy) village, the cut to the Bandit Chief
begins with the Bandit Chief looking downward and to screen right.
Tis choice provides a visible connection to the shot of the (Sleepy) Village. It in-
terprets the cut as a point of view (POV) — the village as observed by the bandit
— offering visual logic to the joined shots.
7 2 . “ I S T H E R E N O G O D T O P R O T E C T U S ? ”
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Selected moments from shots are assembled and reassembled into a movie’s final ar-
rangement of form — scene and sequence — pacing and rhythm.
A scene is a construction of shots joined in a continuum in time and place.
Te hard-riding bandits of Kurosawa’s initial images unite as scenes and combine
with the (sleepy) village to fashion a sequence.
A sequence is an arrangement of scenes that function in concert via inflection (atti-
tude/manner), subject (topic/event), and/or obstacle/cause and response/effect or
correlation. It is a progression of information distributed across shots and scenes com-
bined — at times with visual or aural delineations — and emotionally sustained
until a transition replaces the previous concentration — forming fresh scenes and
their sequences.
As a cut presents another high angle shot of the village, a hedge of brushwood, tied
with ragged and fraying rope, lifts above the foreground. A frightened farmer is car-
rying bundled kindling. He has heard the bandits’ plan, and now turns toward the
village. Te sound of hooves diminishes, signifying continuous time — the bandits
have withdrawn.
A wipe urges the retreating farmer “off the screen” as it progressively surrenders —
from right to left — to the first shot of the next scene:
W A T C H I N G S E V E N S A M U R A I • • • P E P P E R M A N 8
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A bird coos and chirps in synchronization to three ever tighter images of huddled
and crouched farmers and their families on the dry earth of the village square:
Te sorrowful cooing gives way to distressed moans and sobbing.
Te DVD chapter’s title, “Is Tere No God to Protect Us?” is derived from the
wailing protest of a village woman. Her off-camera (OC) grievances play against as-
semblages of submissively modeled farmers.
We need not “lock” dialogue exclusively to the character giving voice. Inclusive dialogue
assists in the creation of moment-to-moment reality across related images, and is, in
many vital ways, a powerful distinction between cinema and theatre. It is not uncom-
mon in a film scene to observe (only) the listener while hearing the speaker. In this case
the audio of ambiance and human sobbing advises the emotional atmosphere.
9 2 . “ I S T H E R E N O G O D T O P R O T E C T U S ? ”
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Kurosawa reveals the villagers in gathered despair. It is clear from the start of the
scene that the farmer who overheard the plotting bandits has already made the threat
known to the village. Kurosawa grants two significant notions:
Tere is no need for the audience to hear, yet again, of the bandits’ plan. Previous-
ly known information makes for feeble (and redundant) exposition; and, excluding
the farmer’s reporting encourages an intimate commitment to the moment at hand.
Te audience is affected by “emotional thinking”: the entire village is distraught — the
news has spread!
More directly, superior storytelling permits an audience to learn of a deed — already
known, or suspected, or its result — in past tense rather than in present tense. Te
farmer has told the village, rather than the farmer is telling the village. Tis fact also
grants immediate function to the next scene(s): What will happen next?
Te Villagers Crouched introduces a new scene. And, by giving clear notice to the au-
dience that the village has already learned of the impending peril, Kurosawa makes
the consequence of the subject urgent and immediate. Something analogous to a
chapter divide in literary forms; yet visually and aurally riveting so as to communicate
an emotional breath — a new dramatic inhale!
W A T C H I N G S E V E N S A M U R A I • • • P E P P E R M A N 10
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With this new scene, Kurosawa puts forward conflicts and obstacles: a vital attribute
that prompts the story is the contrast between farmers and bandits: a showing in sub-
stantial inequality, the invincible and the vulnerable. And, as well, a universal aspect:
Good vs. Evil.
Kurosawa finally reveals the sobbing woman. She is crouched low to the wind-
swept earth. Her wide backside and soles of her shoes are all that we view. A younger
woman embraces her in consolation. More sobs of additional complaints:
Woman: “Land tax, forced labor, war, drought… and now bandits!”
Te camera tilts upward and pans right bringing a group of farmers into the frame.
Woman: “le gods want us farmers dead!”
Te sounds of sobbing and the song of a bird blend into the setting’s atmosphere.
Ten one of the farmers stands:
It is Rikichi: “We’ll kill those bandits. We’ll kill them all!”
Kurosawa does not attempt a match cut — the joining of two shots across a con-
tinuous action so that the result imitates real-life time and gesture — nor even a
cut-on-action of the standing Rikichi. Instead, the farmer stands over the huddled
villagers as the camera follows him to his feet in long shot (LS). A brief pause then
11 2 . “ I S T H E R E N O G O D T O P R O T E C T U S ? ”
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allows a cut to an extreme close-up (ECU) of Rikichi’s face and words. Te difference
in composition in both scale and axis provides a dynamic join. Te audience has little
choice except to follow Rikichi to his feet; and the aesthetic of the farmer’s face in ex-
treme close-up (ECU) is not jeopardized by the actor’s movement upward and into
frame. Actions need not match across a cut or be the impetus for cutting.
Rikichi’s declaration is received in fearful rejections and practicable assumptions:
Yohei: “Not me. I couldn’t possibly.”
Manzo: “lat’s crazy talk.”
Kurosawa covers the scene from outside and inside the crouched farmers, and in so
doing, the two-dimensional display of the screen transports the audience into the
three-dimensional space of the village gathering: an example of the intrinsic duality
W A T C H I N G S E V E N S A M U R A I • • • P E P P E R M A N 12
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of cinema. Te audience moves from observation to participation instantaneously; and
back and forth yet again.
Yohei looks to screen left after his cowering words. A cut brings Manzo to the screen.
He is looking to the right — acknowledging Yohei. Manzo’s words and eyes now
focus upward and take us to the extreme close-up (ECU) of Rikichi. His eyes now
shift quickly from Yohei to Manzo.
Rikichi: “So we can kill defeated samurai, but not bandits?”
Te arguing and eventual physical contact occurs in a long shot (LS) until Mosuke
pulls the farmers apart, saying, “Stop it. lis is no time to fight amongst ourselves.”
Manzo: “It’s impossible. What if we lost the fight? ley’d kill us and the pregnant women,
and all of the babies. We were born to suffer. We’ll give the bandits our harvest. We’ll beg
on our knees that they leave us enough so that we won’t starve.”
Tis scene supplies a beautifully prepared study into the scope (and promising space)
of the two-dimensional screen. Tough moments are captured by the camera in a
three-dimensional setting, they are ultimately portrayed via a flat screen: images pro-
duced in the 360 degrees of a setting are then edited and projected onto a 180-degree
facade. Te proficiencies of the director and cinematographer during production, and
the director and editor in postproduction, can create a participatory space for the
audience; and a curious paradox in its distinctions to live theatre: an on-stage pre-
sentation resides in a 360-degree environment of setting (set design) and characters
13 2 . “ I S T H E R E N O G O D T O P R O T E C T U S ? ”
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(actors), yet for the most part, live theatre holds a proscenium view — that of a
180-degree world — a look into and through an imaginary fourth wall.
Keep in mind that the villagers’ quarrel suggests one of two options: fight the bandits
and likely perish, or beseech the bandits, a bartering of grain for mercy.
Rikichi’s accusation — and near denunciation — about “defeated samurai” com-
municates a subplot. Manzo and perhaps others in the village have a history stained
with the blood of samurai. Tis distribution of information shared with the audi-
ence will eventually tally up to apprehensions. Kurosawa will not let this comment
go unresolved!
Te film’s title advises what the farmers’ ultimate determination will be. And so, in
due course, the audience will, along with the villagers, own knowledge that the (soon
to be) employed samurai do not possess: dramatic irony. Simply, it is a fascinating ele-
ment in storytelling: secrets shared with the audience, but not with each character.
Te distraught Rikichi exits the circle of villagers. He crouches alone at the outer
ring of farmers.
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More often than not, a new sequence will be introduced at the start of a scene, yet
here Kurosawa begins the next sequence at this point in the continuing Villagers
Crouched scene. Rikichi’s new position outside the gathered farmers, and the many
beats of respite from arguing and agitation begin a new sequence — a poignant pause
and new proposal to solve the villagers’ dilemma.
Mosuke moves toward Rikichi, then looks back to the villagers: “We should go see the
Old Man.”
15 2 . “ I S T H E R E N O G O D T O P R O T E C T U S ? ”
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Kurosawa directs and edits a magnificent example of cinema’s ability to “break” a pro-
scenium view; and he takes the audience not merely into close-up (CU) and master
shot — and varying scaled compositions — but to every side of the gathered villag-
ers: depicting east and west, and north and south!
An illustration in simplicity of story: an instantaneous and unambiguous plot! Te
villagers face the threat of deadly assault — or starvation — at the next harvest. Here
is a conflicting irony. Te farmers must find defenders or face the loss of foodstuff
(and life) when the crop — and bandits — comes in: a harvest yielding produce and
bandits. Te old man (Gisaku) furnishes advice to appease the desperate villagers
and their impasse: “Find hungry samurai.”
W A T C H I N G S E V E N S A M U R A I • • • P E P P E R M A N 16
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A wipe from screen right to left concurrently announces in composition and in-
strumentation a march of unapproachable warriors. Te camera pans in the same
direction alert to a single samurai laden with warrior trappings assigned firmly to a
long rod carried over his far shoulder.
Here is a transition made visible in its optical effect: a wipe! It provides a clear delin-
eation of scenes: a response to the villagers’ quarrel, which also merges fresh moments
in conflict, tension, and obstacles, plotting another scene in the sequence activated in
the moment of respite and the isolated Rikichi.
Kurosawa creates a procession in dance: a cinematic choreography. Before the quick-
striding samurai exits frame left, another somewhat taller samurai steps into frame
left and the camera pans with him to the right. He is less burdened with gear. Te
knob of a sword designates a weapon borne slantways on his back. Te pan ceases,
and the camera “hold(s)… on Rikichi, Mosuke, Yohei and Manzo.” Te farmer quar-
tet shifts in near unison: “Tey watch him go.”
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A cut brings a frame filled with the face of Rikichi — Mosuke is visible just be-
hind in screen left. Te join from the long-shot (LS) preserves an elegant overlap,
sustaining the deferential tracking of the farmers’ eyes. Te out-of-focus forms of pe-
destrians pass in the foreground, intermittently obscuring Rikichi.
Kurosawa again demonstrates an editing motivation: cuts result from the attention
in the eyes of the characters — visual logic. Te overlapping, and various degrees of
focus, of the many passing townspeople contribute to a stimulating illusion of space
on the screen.
When a lens is focused on a specific point in space, objects in front and beyond that
point can appear in precise focus, slight focus, or out of focus, depending on illumina-
tion, lens, the camera’s distance from the primary object, and distances to background
and foreground objects. Tis range of focus is known as the depth of field.
Tis scene seems to substantiate Rikichi as protagonist. An audience rightly requires
highlighting a character that can be celebrated as central to the recitation of plot and
point-of-view. Feature-length forms allow a flexibility to such determinations. We
shall see how and why it is possible to alter this purpose and judgment.
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Are the farmers taking the Old Man’s admonition directly? Are they trying to iden-
tify “hungry samurai”?
Tey do take note of a particular samurai. Rikichi glances at the others as if to con-
firm “this must be our samurai,” and he dashes off:
No time is spared — we hear no request from Rikichi — as a wipe reveals a very
angry samurai tossing Rikichi to the ground. Te hopeful farmer is sympathetically
(yet disappointingly) cared for by his village neighbors.
A new sequence begins. It is late in the day, and late in the drenching downpour in
town. Te farmers try to keep dry — even as they fetch water — “wearing straw hats
and matting on their backs.”
19 3 . S H O P P I N G F O R S A M U R A I
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Mosuke, Manzo, and Yohei rush to the foreground and a patch of ripening barley.
Te farmers are alarmed! Te urgency of their mission — now in its tenth day — is
called to their attention (and the audience’s).
Rikichi reminds them: “lis barley is early. Mountain barley like ours is later.”
Rikichi enters a house (“a rough sort of inn”). A few laborers exit and one ridicules
the farmer: “You found any samurai yet — strong, willing and cheap?”
In Kurosawa’s script this scene ends the chapter and sequence. In the film Kurosa-
wa continues into the night and the inn lodging the farmers, the ongoing derision of
town laborers and their threats against a timid samurai, and sarcasm toward a blind
musician, and a peddler of buns.
W A T C H I N G S E V E N S A M U R A I • • • P E P P E R M A N 20
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Te many characters encountered at the inn might easily intrude as irrelevant sub-
plot — entertaining perhaps, but a distraction to the story’s flow. Tis does not
happen because Kurosawa assertively integrates the laborers — in the scene’s (and
story’s) emotion, and action, and its moments’ setting — within the essential scenar-
io, here and in coming scenes. Te laborers are assimilated as town antagonists, and
as “messengers” of sixteenth-century social conflict, and eventually serve as narrators
of impending proceedings.
Te moments and unpleasant lodger-strangers complete the farmers’ inescapable du-
ress, frustration, and approaching hopelessness! Tis is crucial to the next chapter’s
opening: an emotional plausibility that tolerates Rikichi and Manzo’s angry brawl.
21 3 . S H O P P I N G F O R S A M U R A I
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Te chapter opens with a fade-in (FI). While this is not an uncommon transition, it
is worth noting that the fade-out (FO) at the conclusion of Chapter 3 occurs at a late
night moment; and while ending a scene with a fade-out is familiar, there is a simple
yet splendid reason for the choice:
Te optical effect of a fade-out and a fade-in is a sensible visual version of light and
dark — as opening and closing of a scene; and as phase of day.
Te fade-in also provides a contrast to the farmers’ “fixed-settling” composed inside
the dark stable-like shelter — described by Kurosawa in his screenplay as “a rough
sort of inn,” which could refer to either architecture or guests — and the brightness
of the new day, then contrasted in violent argument.
Tere is immediate chaotic action: a clash between Rikichi and Manzo. Mosuke and
Yohei are trying to stop the scuffle, clutching the farmers to keep them apart. It is evi-
dent that Manzo has come to believe that Rikichi will return to the village, accepting
the failed effort to secure samurai, and Rikichi is outraged that Manzo has mischarac-
terized his intentions, and is willing (once again) to consider a bargain with the bandits.
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Rikichi sneers at Manzo and threatens that the bandits might accept an offer of
Manzo’s daughter: “Shino’s pretty enough, it might work.” Manzo is — and looks
— horrified!
Te scene’s distribution of information avoids redundancies of the earlier adversarial
perspectives, all the while disclosing this dispute with a harking back to the villagers’
dilemma, with added particulars: Manzo’s daughter! Kurosawa will not forget Shino.
A wipe addresses a brief duration. Te audio of light wind and ready water holds in a
continuum. Te farmers wash at the side of a minor flat bridge, bordered by timbers.
With the clarity of the plot keeping story and viewer focused, this chapter introduc-
es a storytelling lure: life’s unexpected and unprompted moment of chance — what
might classically and spiritually be considered fate!
Te camera draws back slowly as Mosuke and Yohei take note of something in the
setting’s foreground. On screen left a few figures enter in near silhouette, and this
grants a straightforward cut to a reverse behind the farmers, and the now fully vis-
ible entrance of a crowd through the gateway of a “prosperous” house. In the lead
is Kambei.
Te chapter’s title might well be referencing a ritual execution: a man directed (?) to
a pond’s edge. Positioned to kneel, he cuts the topknot (chonmage) off of his head. A
blade is passed to a priest, and Kambei’s head is shaved.
23 4 . D E A T H O F A T H I E F
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Te inquiries from the crowd inform the farmers — and the audience — that this
man, Kambei, is a samurai, and has volunteered to impersonate a priest in an at-
tempt to rescue a child held by a thief in a nearby barn. But, of course we first learn
about the thief, and wonder, as does Katsushiro, how one thief can so paralyze
the townspeople.
Tis scene will set a new confidence in the farmer’s original venture, and will intro-
duce Kambei and the farmers and the audience to Katsushiro and Kikuchiyo — two
other samurai gathered with the onlookers.
W A T C H I N G S E V E N S A M U R A I • • • P E P P E R M A N 24
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Watch the many magnetic moments as the faces in the crowd create portraits in
varied groupings; and Kurosawa gives time to a slow disclosure of the curious
As requested by Kambei, the child’s mother hurries from her house with two rice
balls. Tis moment elegantly proceeds the farmers, townspeople, and Katsushiro ex-
iting the composition — to again attend to Kambei’s preparations. Wind whips dry
earth about the scurrying mother.
We get our first look at Kikuchiyo. He scowls at the returning onlookers when they
stand behind him.
25 4 . D E A T H O F A T H I E F
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An intensely somber Kambei becomes aware of Kikuchiyo.
Te intercutting between Kambei and Kikuchiyo demonstrates cinema’s expansive
models of dialogue: film dialogue need not hold words!
Kambei is closely followed by the townspeople (back) through the gateway and blow-
ing earth. Kikuchiyo is especially eager and aggressive to get the best view.
Te bandit all but screeches, “Stay back! Any closer and I’ll kill the brat!”
W A T C H I N G S E V E N S A M U R A I • • • P E P P E R M A N 26
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Tough the action is swift the reactions are anything but; and it is the reactions that
empower the scene; then, simply and efficiently, assemble the perfect feel for the next
scene — and chapter.
27 4 . D E A T H O F A T H I E F
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Seven Samurai’s collective construction is a storytelling progression in absolute chro-
nology; that is, as the story unfolds each scene represents the most current and
present moment in events. Tere may be hefty or slight interludes in time, but at all
times the story travels from the present to the current. Tere will be no flashback!
No scene — or sequence — that will fracture the enduring “now” time so as to re-
veal an episode out of the past — a depiction of character history; and so, no risk of
a story-break to divulge moments (always) less urgent in substance or competence
in progression.
A medium shot (MS) begins the chapter. We follow a respectful distance behind
Kambei. He is familiarizing himself with the feel of his new head. Te early phrases
of the samurai theme mimic his stroll and isolation until:
Now, a long shot (LS) “drops” us back. We are behind the village’s four farmers. Tey
are eager to enlist Kambei. Rikichi: “[Y]ou can’t object to a samurai like that”, and
Mosuke: “Ask him quickly. It’ll be harder in town.”
Kikuchiyo swiftly enters the frame and is much quicker than Rikichi to close the dis-
tance to Kambei.
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Watch the three-cut arrangement: long shot (LS) behind the farmers, medium shot
(MS) of Rikichi in profile looking right, and the medium long shot of Kambei from be-
hind at first, then he turns looking over his left shoulder. Kikuchiyo is the focal point
across the cuts: in the actions carrying across the compositions and, as well, the focus
of the story’s moment. Kurosawa builds a tempo that accounts for both Rikichi’s and
Kambei’s awareness of Kikuchiyo’s sudden arrival, rather than joining shots that are
only concerned with the action. Tat is, it is possible and likely efficient to maintain Ki-
kuchiyo in each out and in frame of each of the joined shots, and produce an effective
arrangement. But! Tat would be at the (great) expense of context.
Into this composition runs…
“My name is Katsushiro Okamoto. Please make me your disciple!”
29 5 . A M A S T E R A N D H I S D I S C I P L E S
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Te parade follows the heroic Kambei Shimada.
Kambei advises that he does not take disciples, and that he is a ronin. During the six-
teenth-century civil wars in Japan, many samurai were without a warlord or master,
thereby finding they were without salary. Some of these ronin joined together orga-
nized as bunches of hooligans and bandits.
In modern Japan the etymology of the word ronin has led to its use as “wandering
man” and “between employment.”
A wipe and Kambei’s laugh introduce the next scene. Kambei and Katsushiro walk
left to right and the camera tracks with them.
Kambei: “I’m at a loss. You think far too highly of me.”
In due course, Kambei forbids Katsushiro’s pleas to attend him as disciple.
Kurosawa’s script carefully considers the influences of time and argument on plau-
sibility. Kambei provides good reasons for Katsushiro not to select him as master:
“lere’s nothing special about me.” “I may have seen my share of battle, but always on the
losing side.” “lat about sums me up.” “Better not to follow such an unlucky man.” Kat-
sushiro rejects these, and jumps in front of Kambei, saying, “No, I’m determined to
follow you whether you allow me to or not.” Plausibility is resolute only if the informa-
tion and inflections of earlier moments are respected.
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As Kambei moves to pass Katsushiro, Kurosawa cuts to an above-angle long shot
(LS) from behind the trailing farmers. And, as before, Rikichi begins to move toward
Kambei, when Kikuchiyo hurries along the road and shoves Rikichi aside. We now
see all the characters, and that they — and we — have arrived in town.
By beginning the scene in a medium shot (MS) that focuses on Kambei and Kat-
sushiro alone, Kurosawa recognizes that the following above-angle long shot (LS)
cannot help but distribute an array of additional information. And, there is no bet-
ter view to display the fullness of a setting than an above-angle shot. But! Remember
there is a great number of heights and angles to consider, and the choice must take
into account the other and varied compositions for the scene.
Kambei asks Kikuchiyo, “Can I help you?” Kikuchiyo scratches his head and wanders
to the front of Kambei. “What do you want?” Kikuchiyo wanders back to the left of
the frame.
Katsushiro scurries to Kambei’s side. He scolds Kikuchiyo, “Insolence!” Now Ki-
kuchiyo speaks for the first time: “Stay out of this, little chick.”
Kambei leads Katsushiro away and down the street of the town. Kikuchiyo kicks
high in the air cursing, “Bastard!”
Katsushiro is now an attendant to Kambei.
31 5 . A M A S T E R A N D H I S D I S C I P L E S
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Rikichi once again pursues Kambei:
“I beg you sir.”
A wipe and we are inside the gloomy “rough inn.” Yohei is preparing rice. Te aggres-
sively abusive laborers are still lodged there.
While Kambei speculates on battle and defensive strategies, and a likely number of
samurai needed for the tasks, the laborers ridicule the peasants: “Better to be born a
dog” and “Go ahead and hang yourself and die.”
Kambei estimates, “All you have to offer is food. Only those out to fight for the hell of it
will agree. Besides I’m sick of fighting. Age, I suppose.”
Te tenor of this moment persuades Rikichi that all is lost, and he breaks down and
cries. His whimper is accompanied by deep tones of a solemn slow chant.
It is Rikichi’s uninhibited sorrow that encourages the full sarcastic attack of
the laborers!
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Katsushiro grabs his sword to combat the insults, now directed at the samurai as
well: “Don’t make me laugh. If you know about the farmers’ suffering why don’t you
Kambei shouts, “Enough!”
A laborer takes a bowl of brilliant white rice from Yohei, and holds it out to Kambei.
“Hey, samurai, look at this. lis here is your dinner. But what do you think these block-
heads eat? Millet. ley eat millet to feed you white rice. lis is the best they can offer.
What do you say to that?”
Kambei stares across the room. Manzo and Mosuke gaze back in pity. Rikichi has
turned to the wall, his face hidden.
Te firm and noble samurai theme fades
in. Kambei takes the bowl of white rice
from the laborer and says, “Quit your
jabbering.” He extends the bowl to the
farmers not in offering, but in respect:
“I won’t let this rice go to waste.”
Rikichi turns to face Kambei. He drops to his knees and smiles before bowing.
33 5 . A M A S T E R A N D H I S D I S C I P L E S
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It is probable that the preceding two chapters have seen an adjustment to Kambei as
the story’s protagonist. Rikichi has initiated — more than any other farmer (or char-
acter) — the actions that construct the plot, and its moment-to-moment recitation,
and the audience’s commitment to the story. Now the characters and audience follow
W A T C H I N G S E V E N S A M U R A I • • • P E P P E R M A N 34
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o. S.xu×.i Aunirio×s. P.×r I
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Te musical theme, somber yet heroic, that concludes the previous scene — and
chapter — wraps with a fade-out (FO). Kurosawa then holds silence across black.
Tis chapter opens with a scene that returns the viewer to the threatened farm village.
Tere are two categories of transitions: Te first is distinctly cinematic; it is visual,
and noticeable in appearance. In Seven Samurai, Kurosawa makes regular use of an
optical effect called a wipe that slides the early frames of the incoming scene across
the screen as it replaces the last frames of an outgoing scene. Tis chapter opens
with a fade-in (FI) — a progressive increase in illumination that finally settles and
holds the chosen brightness. A dissolve is another (universally used) visual transi-
tion. I would include in this first category an associate transition, no less valuable to
the filmmaker, but less exclusive to cinema. Tese are the audio designs applied to
designate a change — at times they benefit a film’s structure by creating an appealing
harmony across switching scenes. Te audio (or sound design) can embrace music,
effects, dialogue, ambiance, or blends of some or all.
Te second category — also used in theatre and literature — might be no less ap-
parent, but it is internal: it resides in attitude, inflection, scene subject matter, and
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dramatic performance. Movie moments happen when the two categories and as-
sociate transitions play in concert. Chapter 5 ends in Rikichi’s grateful gesture
— kneeling to Kambei. Te business and sentiments that conclude the scene are in-
toned by the score, and the fading to black.
Tis chapter fades in (FI) with a quiet ambiance, and the sound of speedy footsteps
— heard off-camera (OC) — as the audience is scarcely aware of a straw shelter
in the background. Into close-up (CU) darts Gosaku, who shouts to all the village,
“Ahhh, Ahhh” and runs to screen right, stopping in the village square:
“Manzo and the others are back!”
As villagers in the foreground hurry into the square, villagers in the background
quickly stride forward, and other villagers appear on screen left moving to center and
W A T C H I N G S E V E N S A M U R A I • • • P E P P E R M A N 36
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background. It is an unruly congregation. But note the glow on two farmer hats, ap-
proaching from the background. Te reflected light creates an instant focal point to
the extreme long shot (ELS). Te audience’s eyes know immediately where to look;
and the chaos assumes (some) order.
Manzo and Mosuke explain the absence of Yohei and Rikichi; and that samurai will
be coming to the village… “Seven of ’em!”
Te gathered farmers repeat the number, not as confirmation, but as apprehension.
A wipe brings Gisaku’s darkened mill interior. Mosuke and Manzo face the Old Man.
Te audio is the vibes of thumping beams and flowing water.
Gisaku repeats the number. Manzo makes clear, “I was against it because you said four,
Old Man.” Gisaku confesses, “I figured we’d need at least ten. But if I’d said ten, we’d
have ended up with fifteen.”
37 6 . S A M U R A I A U D I T I O N S . P A R T I
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Manzo is worried: “le village girls will go crazy over the samurai. If the samurai touch
’em all hell will break loose.” Te Old Man responds:
“Bandits are coming, you fool.”
Manzo’s close-up (CU) in shamed expression brings the scene to an end.
On a cut, the samurai “parade” theme returns us back to town.
Rikichi summons the “services” of a ronin. Katsushiro and Yohei watch at a dis-
tance… a scheme of sorts has been calculated.
Kambei, seated in the center of the lodging, hands Katsushiro a cut tree branch, as-
serting, “Don’t hold back. Give him a real whack.”
W A T C H I N G S E V E N S A M U R A I • • • P E P P E R M A N 38
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Yohei takes shelter behind stall-like timbers and Kambei is calmly settled as Katsu-
shiro takes his stand to the right of the doorway, the tree branch high above his head.
Te unsuspecting samurai enters the inn. In an instant he identifies the threat, and
in half an instant he grabs the branch, twirls, and, grabbing the back of Katsushiro’s
neck, throws him across the room.
Kambei calls out, “Excellent!”
Getting to his feet he apologizes: “Please don’t take offense. I am Kambei Shimada. We
are seeking expert swordsmen and have no time to waste. Forgive me.”
All in all, the samurai finds the query to join in a fight against “bandits” on behalf of
“farmers” — the only “reward” to be “food” — “ABSURD.”
Kambei exits into the street. A disheartened Rikichi remains outside.
39 6 . S A M U R A I A U D I T I O N S . P A R T I
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A screenwriter or a screenwriter/director can demand anything of the script and ac-
tors, but the story’s credibility and the storytelling qualities are expected to embrace
consistencies made plausible by all previous information about characters, places, and
the story being told. Kurosawa does not make it easy for Kambei to overcome the
burdens and obstacles of his task.
Rikichi, Yohei, Kambei, and Katsushiro watch as another ronin passes the “rough
Te samurai theme music reflects the unsuccessful attempt thus far.
Te music carries the cut to the village. Streaming water adds to the audio. Manzo
and Mosuke stop near the village’s cemetery, and debate concerns about the character
of the “other six” samurai.
Now, the bold samurai “parade” theme strikes on a cut back to the town. Te camera
again pans right with a lone samurai and then left picking up two samurai; and then
“finding another lone samurai, the camera pans right again.” We hear Kambei’s voice:
“lat one there.”
And the tree branch/doorway scheme is again enacted!
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Tis time the samurai pauses, steps back, and does not enter. He smiles, then laughs:
It is Gorobei!
“I’m with you.”
Gorobei credits Kambei’s character for his acceptance and adds, “In life one finds
friends in the strangest places.”
41 6 . S A M U R A I A U D I T I O N S . P A R T I
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;. S.xu×.i Aunirio×s. P.×r II
oo:¡o:,+ – oo:¡,:,o
Te opening shot is contained by the dark interior of the inn. A square of light fea-
tures the outside in background with Rikichi fruitfully setting a cooking fire.
Te composition commands a precise focal point. Rikichi is framed within the il-
lumed square; and so, while a foreground object might more easily secure our eyes,
Kurosawa gives proof that light, character, and motion are the prevailing fundamen-
tals that seize our attention. Te darkness of the interior is acceptable and appealing
because of light reflected off textured and soft surfaces. Te planking tenders visi-
bility as a result of light skimming the wood grain, and/or reflection resulting from
moist (if not wet) surfaces. And, as well, the scene’s shadow and light establish a vi-
sual contrast: an effective addition in cinemagraphic design to the many contrasts in
Kurosawa’s story and characters.
Tis opening moment does not exist in the screenplay, and without it in the film
— and its continuation to Rikichi and Yohei’s “stolen rice” confrontation, the film’s
structure becomes abrupt and inadequate as, far too quickly — and therefore, much
too easily — samurai are enlisted during this and the previous chapter.
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Rikichi calls to Yohei, “Hurry and wash the rice.” When he gets no reply, Rikichi en-
ters to see “What’s wrong.”
Yohei’s anguished response: “Someone stole the rice.”
Yohei pleads to the fuming Rikichi, “I slept all night hugging that rice jar.”
Rikichi resolves to go back to their village and return with more rice; but of course,
there will be no provisions till then. A motivating irony: bandits are intending to
pilfer the village’s food supplies; farmers are seeking the shelter of samurai, and some-
one has made off with the nourishment needed while securing samurai guardians.
And a skillful turn on the irony: Katsushiro (the youngest samurai) extends coins to
a thankful Rikichi and Yohei!
Note that Katsushiro concedes little sympathy or appreciative acknowledgement of
their respect: “Stop being so (acting) foolish.”
Kambei returns to the inn, followed
closely by a new samurai. It is Shichiroji!
Kambei’s words are presented in senti-
ment and motion: “But this is wonderful.
It is so good to find you alive. I’d given you
up for lost. How did you get away?”
43 7 . S A M U R A I A U D I T I O N S . P A R T I I
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Te integration of the physical action of Kambei’s forward strides and his blissful
line reading cleverly restrains blatantly severe exposition. Tere is a lucid and affect-
ing subtext of chance, spontaneity, and back-story.
At a short distance from the inn, Gorobei sits admitting surprise to “the Stall-Keep-
er”: “I never knew they were so few.”
Te identification in the script likely means an innkeeper — few if any livestock ap-
pear to warrant a reference to a stable-keeper. Te Stall-Keeper asks, “What is it
you’re after?” Gorobei announces, “Samurai.” And the Stall-Keeper explains that a
samurai “is at the back of my house.” Heihachi is chopping firewood in compensation
for food.
We now see Kambei and Katsushiro In the town square. A group is gathered to
watch “two samurai in the grounds of a temple, preparing to start a practice bout with
long bamboo shafts.”
Here is a master class in coverage. Kurosawa’s camera presents the samurai with the
gathered crowd and Kambei and Katsushiro in long shot (LS), and following medi-
um shots (MS) and medium close-ups (MCU) of Kambei and Katsushiro, we see
their point of view (POV) as their eyes fix left and right — the cuts then display set-
ups with the camera situated between the crowd and the fighting samurai.
W A T C H I N G S E V E N S A M U R A I • • • P E P P E R M A N 44
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Te Tall Samurai (so described in the screenplay) in due course challenges Kyuzo:
“Let’s use swords.” Kyuzo offers fair warning, but upon the Tall Samurai’s deaf ears.
A single swipe of Kyuzo’s blade finishes the “stupid” samurai.
Tis chapter holds the enlistment of three additional samurai, but Kurosawa con-
cedes only that of Shichiroji; and that by the old friend’s accepting reaction to
Kambei’s, “Are you ready for another fight?”
Te very smart non-reply of the firewood-chopping samurai to Gorobei’s, “Inciden-
tally — are you interested in killing twenty or thirty bandits?” is a simple technique that
poses “what will happen next?” and thus instantly furnishes incentive for the audi-
ence’s eager participation in the scenes to follow.
45 7 . S A M U R A I A U D I T I O N S . P A R T I I
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