By John Hardin
Mercer Street (2006)
Excerpt: As a well-known supporter of individualist thought (and one of Japan’s most respected filmmakers), Akira Kurosawa works under the auspices of the mainstream “Samurai movie” to examine these themes in his epic 1954 film Shichinin no Samurai, or The Seven Samurai. Although all events of this film revolve around a small village’s attempt to defend itself from bandits, Kurosawa’s real focus over the epic’s 206 minutes is the uneasy alliance struck between the desperate village’s farmers and their impoverished samurai mercenaries. Through their often strained but determined relationship, Kurosawa explores not only the fierce tension during wartime between the needs of the community and one’s selfish instincts but also explores the implications of that tension in Japanese society as a whole.
Although the development of the character Kikuchiyo is the most overt example of the individual’s struggle for identity in Japan, Kurosawa’s willingness to pay great attention to the small details causes even the actors’ physical features to reflect some insight into the film’s themes. From the first moment that we see the members of the peasant village gathered morosely at their town center (weeping out of fear and hatred of the marauding bandits), the solidarity they have with one another is reflected in their bodies, most obviously in the nearly identical style of every male villager’s hair. This detail might seem to be an insignificant coincidence at first glance, but as the plot advances, the villagers’ uniformity affords a dramatic contrast to the diversity of the samurai whose wildly different personalities are revealed by the great variance of their hairstyles.