The movie itself never had any sequels, but it’s been remade so many times, in so many countries, it may be one of the longest-running franchises in all of film. And we’re not talking about the Magnificent Seven, of course. That got three direct follow-ups and a TV series long before Denzel Washington took over Yul Brynner’s role in this latest remake.
No, we’re referring to Seven Samurai, the Akira Kurosawa “Jidaigeki” adventure which some 60s flick so famously transferred from olden Japan to the Wild West.
A handful of wandering warriors are hired by peasants to protect their home from the marauders who regularly raid it. That basic premise has been paid homage on countless occasions, translating well to many disparate settings; from Roger Corman’s outer space Battle Beyond the Stars to Pixar’s microscopic A Bug’s Life. With Samurai 7, Studio Gonzo keeps the martial arts, jargon, and feudal politics, but catapults the conflict into a steampunk world crowded with giant robots–and naturally, swordsmen who can slice up giant robots.
The bandits in this world are cyborg “Nobuseri,” preying upon the helpless villagers of Kanna in the aftermath of a horrible war. After the latest raid, the village elder orders some youngsters to head out to a sprawling megalopolis and hire as many samurai as they can find. Of course, these peasants are still dirt poor, and they can only afford to offer rice as payment, so they barely manage to convince even a handful of mercenaries to follow them back to Kanna.
These heroes are a motley crew, with archetypal personalities mirroring those in Seven Samurai. There’s the reluctant veteran, haunted by years of lost wars and bloody battles. There’s his old war buddy, and the untested novice desperately hoping to impress him, the happy-go-lucky battle engineer, and so on. Most colorfully, Toshiro Mifune’s clownish braggart is now basically an empty shell of cybernetic armor. These cantankerous personalities must first learn how to cooperate, then they have to teach the harmless peasants how to fight in anticipation of their big showdown with the Nobuseri. As in the original, there’s even a forbidden romance between a villager and one of the samurai.
Though, at 26 episodes, this series is significantly longer and more ambitious than the epic it updates. Indeed, the most striking portion occurs after the samurai have faced the bandits. For it turns out that the Nobuseri are actually part of a much more systemic evil, and the heroic band must bring the fight back to a newly-anointed Emperor in the big city. It’s in these portions that Samurai 7 delves into the greater ramifications of the iconic plot–going deeper than any other adaptation has, really.
Being so closely tied to one of cinema’s most venerated classics, Samurai 7 as an excellent entry-level title, and it continues to shine as a sterling paragon of accessibility. There’s none of the over-complicated mumbo jumbo, off-color humor, or muddled endings that prop up such barriers-to-entry in modern anime. It’s a well-paced tale of good vs. evil, with appealing heroes and compelling villains, and is also absolutely gorgeous to behold, having a very substantial per-episode budget. No other version of this story–American or Japanese, live-action or animated–enjoys the level of grandeur Samurai 7 performs on.
This is the “official” Seven Samurai anime, but are there any other series more broadly inspired by the film which are worth recommending? Drop all recs in the talkback.
Image Credits: FUNimation