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SEVEN SAMURAI (3 of 3)

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Seven Samurai, continued

The farming community harvests its crops, which the bandits have been waiting for. Kambai's hair has grown back about a half-inch. Now the bandits return, about forty of them on horseback, and war begins.

Kumbei, has carefully planned his battle as good samurai leaders do. The samurai and farmers are to defend their circle – a few houses outside the circle are to be sacrificed as too difficult to defend. The farmers have their spears and military formations. The samurai have their swords. The samurai raise the spirits of the spear bearers through cheers. Fields have been flooded. Barricades have been built. A way is left open at the north of the circle. "Every great castle needs a breech," says Kambei. There, he says the battle will be decided. Kambei wants to draw the enemy into the circle and pick them off one or two at a time. In their circle he hopes they proove to be the stronger.

Kumbei speaks from experience, declaring that war is always a gamble. After the first skirmish he says that "hard times have just begun." Kikujjiyo, representing some youth going to war, is excited and demonstrative. He is eager to strike against and even taunt the enemy.

The farmers and samurai succeed with the first concerted attack from the north. A bandit knocked from his horse and surrounded by the farmers with spears begs for his life. His bandit comrades have retreated. Kumbai does not want to see the farmers tear the captive to pieces, but the impassioned farmers take their bloody revenge – as people have been inclined to do from ancient times to attacks on downed pilots such as John McCain.

The bandits have three muskets. One of the older samurai, Kyuzo, sneaks among the bandits at night and before the night is over brings back two of the muskets. The youngest samurai, a novice, Katsushiro, stares at Kyuzo amazed and describes his admiration, as Kyuzo is trying to get some rest. Kyuzo is annoyed. Like genuine heroes, he is not interested in attention. And he is not to be heard boasting about capturing the muskets.

The bandits lose something like half their number. A few decide that the war is too much and in the dark try to abandon their fellow bandits, who kill them. The leading bandit maintains his samurai honor – to fight on.

The samurai and farmers win the final showdown battle in the rain and mud against thirteen remaining bandits. They win but pay a price. Four of the seven samurai are killed by shots from a musket. (Firearms are to end war by the sword.) One of the dead is Kyuso, the master swordsman. Another is Kikuchiyo, his reckless aggression having made him more likely to be among the fallen.

Kambei speaks to the first samurai to have joined him in helping the farmers, an old buddy and right-hand man, Sheichiroji. "Once more," he says, "we survive."

The storm is over. The sun shines. There is peace. The three surviving samurai watch the peasants joyfully singing as they plant their rice. The youngest of the samurai, Katsushiro, is among the survivors, and he is with his love interest, a young woman engaged in the planting. A way of life endures – heroic in its producing what everyone needs, farmers and non-farmers alike: food.

Kambei has the modesty that comes with age and experience – none of the rah-rah and gloating common to youth. “In the end, we’ve lost this battle too,” Kambei tells Shichiroji. “The victory," he says, "belongs to those peasants, not to us.” The bandits are gone. Kambei and Shichiroji are no longer needed, and they leave the village.

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Kurosawa descended from a samurai clan, but in his film he did not glorify the samurai. He was thirty-one at the beginning of World War II. During the war, Japan's militaristic government promoted the samurai code of Bushido (the way of the warrior), as did wartime movies (jidai-geki films). Kamikaze warriors were viewed as samurai, fighting to the death rather than accept defeat. Kurosawa Made his samuria admirable but real. Early in his movie, when Kambei asks his friend, Shichiroji, how he escaped a battle they lost, Shichiroji replies that he hid in the grasses in a moat until dark,” and the two men laugh. Later, Shichiroji asks another one of the seveni, Heihachi, how he had survived, and Heihachi says that when there are "too many enemies to kill I usually just run."

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