8. Kikuchiyo brings the armor of a dead samurai to Kanbei and the rest of the band (Seven Samurai, 1954)
The six samurai are infuriated by this notion, since they realize the true, cunning nature of the villagers, who have killed samurai. Kikuchiyo initially shares their anger, stating that the farmers are liars and not worth defending. However, after awhile he turns his anger towards his comrades, accusing them and their class for battles, raids, taxation, and forced labor that turn the villagers’ lives into a living hell.
In that fashion, he reveals his origin as a farmer’s son, while the samurai’s anger turns to shame. He then leaves, heaves at Katsushiro and later turns away some children that come his way.
The scene makes a clear social comment regarding the actual role samurai played in feudal Japan, despite the fact that they were mostly hailed as heroes. Furthermore, Mifune is magnificent in this scene, which highlights the different sentiments he can elaborately portray, as much as Kurosawa’s subtle sense of humor.
7. Sanjuro kills Unosuke and the rest of Ushitora’s men (Yojimbo, 1961)
Sanjuro moves toward the middle of the village where the showdown is about to occur. From the opposite side, Unosuke and his men move towards him. Sanjuro manages to kill Unosuke, despite the fact that he has a gun, by throwing a knife at his shooting hand, immobilizing it. He then proceeds to slaughter the rest of Ushitora’s men, leaving only one alive.
The action is magnificently choreographed and very fast, while Kurosawa displays the constant movement that characterizes his scenes, as the fierce wind blows the dirt all over the action.
Furthermore, Kurosawa introduced the realistic sound effect to the jidaigeki genre in this film, particularly the sound of the sword cutting flesh, which is eloquently depicted in this scene. Lastly, Toshiro Mifune proves once more his prowess in acting with a sword in his hands.
6. In the opening scene, Shingen is sitting in his room with Nobukado and an unnamed thief (Kagemusha, 1980)
Nobukado saved the thief before he was crucified, due to his uncanny resemblance to the Daimyo. Shingen and Nobukado examine the thief, talk about his background and his similarities with Shingen, and in the end, Nobukado suggests that they use him as a body double.
Although they wear the same clothes, Kurosawa has placed them in a way that establishes their ranks in definite fashion. The thief is sitting on the floor, on the lowest point of the room. Nobukado is on an elevated floor, a little above, and Shingen in a dais, in the highest place in the room.
In terms of context, the scene does a wonderful job of establishing, from the beginning, the personalities of the three characters. The daimyo is utterly faithful to his clan and willing to do anything to protect it. Nobukado has the exact same inclination toward his brother. The thief is willing to do anything to survive, with his loyalty lying just to himself.
5. Jiro launches an attack to Saburo’s forces (Ran, 1985)
As the attack commences, Saburo’s forces, which are less, retreat into the woods. They then start shooting at Jiro’s forces, creating many casualties and disrupting the attack. In the middle of the battle, a messenger arrives to Jiro, informing him that Ayabe is marching toward the First Castle. Jiro has to retreat in haste.
Kurosawa’s skill in directing a plethora of actors in the same scene found its apogee in “Ran” and this scene is a distinct example. The troops move harmonically, showing their discipline, and the various armies stand apart from each other, due to their coloring that matches the official one of their leaders.
As Kurosawa almost exclusively uses long shots, through many static cameras, cutting between them, even the key figures appear irrelevant and the spectator cannot identify with them, but instead function as a distant observer of the despair that war causes.
The magnificent costumes, the makeup inspired by Noh theatre, and the scenery in general make for a true audiovisual poem.
4. Sanjuro duels with Hanbei (Tsubaki Sanjuro, 1962)
In the final scene of the film, Kanbei confronts Sanjuro as he is trying to leave town and challenges him to a duel, due to his frustration from becoming masterless and disgraced. Sanjuro tries to dissuade him, but he cannot change the young man’s mind. After some moments of silence, the two of them draw their swords and Hanbei is killed, with Sanjuro’s cut creating a shocking bloodbath.
The moment that the two of them stand silent and seemingly relaxed (their intensity is shown just in their eyes) lasts for 26 seconds, and Kurosawa used this pause to increase the agony and tension to their highest point. The scene has some similarities with the respective one in “Yojimbo”, that actually featured the same actors, but stands apart due to the hyperbolic amount of blood that comes out of the latter’s wound.
The technician who controlled the pressurized pump to spray Muroto’s fake blood was so anxious that Kurosawa would not be pleased that he added 30 pounds of pressure, which resulted in the fake blood coming out like a geyser.
The hyperbolic effect, though, which does not fit the general aesthetics of the film, pleased Kurosawa, who thought that this exaggeration echoed the agony the audience felt for the duel, and thus, it was a becoming outcome.
The scene is the most iconic in the film, and the extreme blood effect would later become a standard for the industry, particularly in the exploitation genre.
3. Washizu is killed by scores of arrows (Throne Of Blood, 1957)
As Washizu tries to get his troops to attack, they turn on him and begin shooting arrows at him, making him even madder. He moves toward one side of the building to avoid them, and then to the other side, but he cannot find solace anywhere. Many arrows hit their target, but he continues to run until one pierces his neck.
This scene is notorious because Kurosawa decided to use actual arrows shot at Toshiro Mifune, who played Washizu, in order to create a shocking and truly unforgettable finale. Mifune was wearing protective boards underneath his uniform, the arrows had long needles attaches to their end, in order to do less damage in case they hit, and they were shot by professional archers, but the fact remains that the scene was extremely dangerous and Mifune was very brave to agree to it.
The result, however, is astonishing, with Mifune portraying true terror and hysteria, since these were probably the sentiments he was actually feeling. The fact that scores of arrows flood the wall around him makes the scene even more terrifying. Of course, the final shot is a trick, as an archer shot an arrow in front of Mifune, in the correct direction, and the film then cut to another shot, where he was already punctured by an arrow.
The realism of the scene, though, is undeniable, and along with Mifune’s facial expressions of horror make for one of the most unforgettable sequences in cinema.
2. The final battle (Seven Samurai, 1954)
In the climax of the film, the samurai fight the bandits, helping the farmers defend their village, while heavy rain is falling.
Kurosawa used a plethora of cameras to shoot the scene, and this tactic allowed him to edit the film in the best way possible. The sequence takes place in various places in the village, depicting what is occurring with each of the characters at the same time, with Kurosawa guiding the spectator with the camera moves.
The pacing is short and curt in presentation, and along with the jump cuts and the cutting on action, demands the audience’s full attention, while retaining the agony until the end. When each of the sequences end, Kurosawa uses wide shots to stress the fact, and to release the tension.
This becomes particularly visible at the end of the film. Furthermore, the quick cutting and the use of telephoto lens stresses the chaotic and claustrophobic feeling the scene emits.
Kurosawa has been hailed as “the world’s greatest editor,” and his prowess in the field is magnificently displayed in this particular scene, which has been hailed as one of cinema’s greatest action sequences.
1. Watanabe sits in a swing in the playground, singing while snow is falling all around (Ikiru, 1952)
Watanabe reaps the benefits of his efforts to build a playground despite all the obstacles bureaucracy puts in his way, in his own distinct fashion. He walks to a playground where he sits on a swing and lingers while singing his favorite song. The thick snow that is falling does not seem to bother him and eventually, the fact that he died during this night is revealed.
“Ikiru” was the first film where Kurosawa decided to do his own editing and the result was magnificent, particularly in this scene, where his entire technical prowess is revealed. Kurosawa magnificently combines the white snow, the dark night, the cold breath that comes out of Watanabe’s mouth as he walks toward the swing, his later swinging, and the song that comes softly out of his mouth, “Gondola No Uta”.
The result is very touching, visually striking and a clear indication of the strength of the human psyche, which can triumph against all odds. Takashi Shimura, who is astonishing as Watanabe in the whole film, presents the apogee of his performance in this scene.
Author Bio: Panos Kotzathanasis is a film critic who focuses on the cinema of East Asia. He enjoys films from all genres, although he is a big fan of exploitation. You can follow him on Facebook or Twitter.