May 19th, 2010 14:25 EST
Samurai Seven versus the Seven Samurai
In 1954, the movie theaters of Japan were filled with the general populace to see the latest blockbuster, The Seven Samurai, which tells the story of a poor Japanese farming village who hire unemployed samurai to protect them from the bandits that regularly take most of the rice that is produced. Seven samurai are found to defend the village, and the story reveals Akira Kurosawa as a master storyteller. Coincidently enough, it`s this story that we Americans based the Magnificent Seven off of. In the development stages now is a rewrite of the 1954 film, set to come out next year.
In 2004, the Japanese animation studio Gonzo decided that this epic story needed a rewrite into the popular medium of anime. What became known as Samurai 7 proved to be equally powerful in storytelling, but significantly different.
As soon as some of you heard that Samurai 7 is anime, I know you were rolling your eyes and had a whole list of things to say about anime. This is different than most. There are no hairstyles that defy gravity, there`s no fanservice, and there aren`t any ridiculously anime proportioned boobs. There are mechas, but those work into the story really well.
We start off in both stories with a group of bandits preparing to raid the village of Kanna, where the farmers don`t know much else besides growing rice. The bandits in the 1954 movie look like pirates that couldn`t find a ship, and the anime makes them robots. Does a good job of demonstrating the difference in power. The village elder is summoned because the farmers decide that this can`t go on. He gets the idea that samurai could be hired to defend the village, because it worked for other villages in the past.
Enter nonexistent character number one for the anime: the water priestess Kirara, one of the villagers sent to recruit the samurai, with her sister Komachi. They are joined by Rikichi, who actually is a character in both movies.
In the big city, we are introduced to Shimada Kambei, who is the first samurai recruited for either movie. The villagers decide they need him when he uses cunning and clever strategy to save a child from a bandit. Watching the whole battle is Katsushiro, who immediately takes to Kambei, wanting to be his pupil. Following them is Kikuchiyo, who is eager to prove he is a samurai. The anime renders him as a cyborg in a large metal exoskeleton, who is really a farmer who traded his flesh body to serve in the war. In 1954, he was a vagrant who didn`t even know his name, so he stole a family history scroll and found a name he liked no it.
The anime next introduces you to a street performer named Gorobei. We don`t know what his profession is in the old movie, but it still makes it known that he is awfully skilled. He senses that a samurai is hiding behind a doorway ready to strike him as he enters. Kambei set it up as a test in both movies.
Also in the big city, we meet the noblemen, including a merchant`s son, Ukyo, who upon seeing Kirara decides he must have her. The movie of 1954 doesn`t have anything to do with the noblemen, but it fits the story well.
The final three samurai are soon found: Heihachi, who was found chopping wood, Shichiroji, who fought alongside Kambei in the previous war, and Kyuzo. Kyuzo is an interesting character. In the black and white film, he doesn`t say much, never gives much of a reason for doing what he does. The anime made him an assassin working for the noblemen, who joins up with the seven samurai to protect Kambei until he can kill him himself.
The Japanese movie sends them straight back to Kanna village. The seven samurai in the anime aren`t so lucky, mostly because of the noblemen seeking to pamper Ukyo by bringing him Kirara. It`s a nice storyline, and I have to give it credit because it doesn`t feel like some anime that needlessly stretch the storyline to make it a full season. There`s actually good writing going on.
The bandits get beaten soundly in both movies, then the anime takes it a step further and takes out the capital. Four of the seven are killed. They kill off all the characters we actually liked, leaving the sad and pondering Kambei to give a monologue at the end while he watches the farmers planting rice: "We are once again on the losing side." He tells Shichiroji. "This victory isn`t ours, it belongs to the farmers." Then they disappear.
Both stories are longer than usual, with Samurai 7 being 26 episodes long, while the Seven Samurai is around three hours. It was a long movie in the 1950`s. Both, however, have great storytelling, and are worth the effort to watch.