The films of Akira Kurosawa, from his adaptations of Shakespeare's plays to his samurai films, have influenced filmmakers from the 1950's to the present. This influence is most obvious in the Westerns that were adapted from his samurai films. In 1960 Seven Samurai (Kurosawa, 1954) was adapted into The Magnificent Seven (John Sturges, 1960). This was followed by the adaptation of Yojimbo (Kurosawa, 1961) into A Fistful of Dollars (Sergio Leone, 1964). Then in the 1990's Yojimbo was adapted into Last Man Standing (Walter Hill, 1996). These adaptations raise an interesting question: Why do the Japanese samurai films of Akira Kurosawa lend themselves to being adapted into American Westerns? They are not identical films because the characters, settings, and genre conventions are extremely dissimilar. However, their connections are important. The films themselves are remarkably similar when one looks at the thematic conventions of heroic characters and action films. From the relation of cowboys and samurai to law and lawlessness, especially involving innocent people, one can draw a wide parallel between the two genres. The main differences lie in the general relation of the samurai and the cowboy to progress.
[...] The common thread through all of the samurai and western films mentioned is that they involve violence. Of course, both types of films involve much more than killing for killing's sake. But from skirmishes and standoffs to large-scale war and gunfights they are fundamentally action films. In “Seven Samurai” and Magnificent Seven” a village is going to be robbed of all of their crops after the harvest. Seven hired samurai/cowboys come to help them and multiple small fights occur, culminating in a climactic battle to resolve the conflict. [...]
[...] Chris shoots the guns out of their hands with modesty and sends them off disappointed. Chris and Vin risked their lives for a corpse because the man deserved the dignity of being buried. The feeling you have done something you should have is important to them. The fighting in the village recreates that feeling for both the samurai and the cowboys. They realize the good they did, even though of the seven only three survive in each film. Though their numbers dwindle, they understand the reasons they fought for. [...]
[...] In “Seven Samurai” the bandits are the only group that has rifles, and it is through Kurosawa's depiction of them that one finds his statement about firearms. This can be related to the larger historical concepts of the samurai and the integrity of its place in Japanese society. Toward the end of the battle for the village, a handful of bandits sneak into a house where a large group of the village's women are hiding out the battle. They threaten the women with death if they make a sound, brandishing the rifle at them. [...]
[...] This is certainly not a priestly way of living, but in the harsh West one must roll with the punches, so to speak. This willingness, if not often desire, to protect the innocent can be seen in cowboys when one looks specifically at the lone hero character in Westerns and samurai films. This long hero type in many Western films, played by stars like John Wayne and Clint Eastwood, mentioned already for their usual empathy toward innocents, is similar to one found in samurai films. One of the main characteristics of the lone hero is waywardness. [...]
[...] The mob is unruly, and the samurai begin spreading them away from the bandit. Kambei says to the villagers that they cannot harm the man; he is a prisoner of war. The of the village, the elder, enters behind an old woman with a tilling instrument. He says, her avenge her son's death.” Kambei and the other samurai understand that this is not a just act. Indeed, the bandits killed the woman's son, but justice dictates that you cannot simply kill a random bandit for retribution. [...]
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