Themes: Kurosawa expanded the samurai movie concept by introducing themes of significant interest over and above the obvious superhero conquers all potential. Perhaps the most important theme developed in The Seven Samurai is one that echoes through Kurosawa’s entire oeuvre. Kurosawa was the most westernized of Japanese directors of his generation and became increasingly so over the course of his career, much to the consternation of Japanese film critics and, to some extent, audiences. In his early films, Kurosawa pretty much adhered to the relatively rigid Japanese precepts of culture that view the individual as a cog in the machinery of the society. Kurosawa’s later films increasingly emphasized the more flexible humanism and emphasis on individuality characteristic of western culture. The Seven Samurai stands at the threshold of Kurosawa’s gradual shift in view. We are shown, in this film, mainly the detrimental consequences of the strong Japanese insistence of acting on social obligations. The farmers rigidly adhere to cowardly unwillingness to fight, the bandits can’t abandon their raid on the village when they find it well defended, and even the samurai can do nothing other than fight and die for honor. It all seems so futile in the end. We are also shown the stubborn persistence of caste divisions, even when the samurai and farmers must join together in defense of the community. The romance between the young samurai and the village girl is still scandalous and Kikuchiyo must shamefully hide his heritage as the son of a farmer. Only Kambei, who symbolizes reason and wisdom, is able to bridge the gap between the castes to any extent.
A second important theme in The Seven Samurai is the transience of bonds and community. In the middle segment of the film, the farmers and the samurai gain mutual respect as they become more acquainted with one another. In the end, however, the villagers go about their business in disregard to the warriors who saved their village and their lives. They prove as deceitful and selfish, in their own way, as the bandits. Even among the samurai, we gain a sense of the fragility of their bond. They come together in temporary alliances that form based on battles lines but the bonds are broken by either death, victory, or defeat. In the end, the transience of human ties is linked to life and death itself. The bonds that each person forms are dictated by the chance of when and where he or she was born and who happens to be there concurrently. Then we die alone. The Seven Samurai offers a complex message of human honor, decency, striving, and endurance, along with a sense of futility and the ultimate emptiness of glory.
It may not quite qualify as a theme, but it is also worth observing the Kurosawa’s film work is mainly male cinema. His are rooster-flicks, not chick-flicks. Women in Kurosawa films are mostly abominations – either uncontrollably sexual or pathologically vicious.
Have a pleasant day.