Rashomon and the Seven Samurai

The Seven Samurai and Rashomon are both masterpieces by the same critically acclaimed director Akira Kurosawa. The Seven Samurai is about seven wretched and destitute Samurai who lower themselves even further by working for mere board-and-lodging. Rashomon is about the a trial held to resolved the murder of a Samurai. Both are excellent examples, not only of Kurusawa’s directing genius but also of the insight and though he brings to modern Japan out of its gilded past. The movies feature Samurai. But first what are Samurai? They are a hereditary warrior caste in the strictly regimented Japanese society.

Only the Samurai class are allowed to bear arms and fight. They are the pinnacle of honor, skill and loyalty and were the equivalent of European Knights. Samurai are born, not made, they are born into honorable Samurai families who raise them in the traditions of Bushido, the Japanese Warrior code. For them there is no greater honor to die for their lord. Who in turn is expected to provide well for them. The Seven Samurai have fallen far from this noble ideal. They are wretched Ronin lord-less and poor they humiliate themselves by accepting the offer of board-and-lodging in exchange for their services with the villagers.

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As if to increase their shame their employers do not even give them a proper welcome instead they are shunned and feared by the villagers as if these ‘honorable’ warriors were no better than the ‘barbaric’ bandits they were sent to fight. The Samurai then, are unmanned and shamed from the very beginning. Rashomon begins with an equally dishonorable premise. A Samurai is murdered and his wife cruelly raped. During the trial conflicting accounts of the murder and rape are given. The rape varies from willing submission to actually sexual assault while the murder is either suicide, patricide or an honorable duel.

In any case the Samurai is severely dishonored. His wife is raped before his eyes, mocking his warrior prowess at not even being able to protect his honor by allowing a bandit to have his way with the wife. Even if his own death was as ideal as the duel account, he still lost in battle to an unworthy bandit which is still humiliating for one of the warrior class. However, all is not lost for the warrior caste. In the Seven Samurai, Kanbei, the samurai leader, comes to the epiphany that despite his skill and valor he has never won a battle.

Despite the victory they achieve in the end the Samurai lose because their friends died and they are again ostracized by the peasants they had just fought and died for. Their friends die honorable doing what Samurai should have been doing all along, protecting the weak from those who would oppress them. Rashomon too has its redeeming qualities. The lies and contradicting tales leave the murder unresolved until a medium brings back the Samurai to be witness. At last when the Samurai recounts how he died the contradictions begin to make sense.

Here we see the height of Samurai arrogance, he is unwilling to shame himself by using his sword to kill his unfaithful wife, in his account the wife submitted to the rape willingly, rather he kills himself to spare his honor. It is also shown that the Samurai’s suicide weapon, a dagger, is stolen by the woodcutter but at the same time he is willing to take an orphan into his home even when he already has six children to feed. To conclude, both Rashomon and Seven Samurai are period films about the Romantic era of the Samurai. Both, show less than perfect images of the over-idealized warrior caste told by a man who was born into Samurai class.