Historically, Japanese cinema has heavily dealt with the dilemma of a person entrapped between love and duty. Many Japanese directors like Ito, Itami, Yamanaka, Mizo and Kobayashi have dealt with this theory in a historic backdrop. Well, Kurosawa goes a level deeper in Seven Samurai and conveys to us that there never was such a contest. The contest is indeed, between the real and the pretended. Kurosawa delights in resenting the pretended- that is, the illusion, and delights in revealing it as illusion.
Reality is much more difficult to deal with, and the major theme of any of his films is the search for reality. Most of these searches result in failures, which indicate the appropriate nature of reality. This is what Rashomon, The Lower Depths, and Ikiru deal with, and it goes layers deep in Seven Samurai, simply because of the fact that the context of the film is historic and simple to understand.
There are two scenes in particular which address the question of reality and illusion in the best manner. The first is the scene when Mifune says-
What do you think of farmers? You think they’re saints? Hah! They’re foxy beasts! They say, “We’ve got no rice, we’ve no wheat. We’ve got nothing!” But they have! They have everything! Dig under the floors! Or search the barns! You’ll find plenty! Beans, salt, rice, sake! Look in the valleys, they’ve got hidden warehouses! They pose as saints but are full of lies! If they smell a battle, they hunt the defeated! They’re nothing but stingy, greedy, blubbering, foxy, and mean! God damn it all! But then . . . who made them such beasts? You did! You samurai did it! You burn their villages! Destroy their farms! Steal their food! Force them to labour! Take their women! And kill them if they resist! So what should farmers do?
It is a startling question. One which Kurosawa asks in ‘Stray Dog’ and ‘High and Low’ as well. Good and bad might be identical. The farmers would find it so. They are almost as distrustful of the samurai as they are of the bandits.
The second scene of extreme disillusionment is the celebrated ending scene of the film. When Shimura says- “Again we lose. Those farmers… they’re the winners.” With this, Kurosawa shows us that, beyond illusion and duty, reality becomes truly lonely, truly frightening. More than the technical aspects, it is the inception of the film, that makes all the difference!
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